“A historic day!” lived this saturday Venice after activate, for the first time, the system of artificial mobile dikes to prevent ‘high water’, the floods that for centuries deteriorate its immense historical heritage. Residents and tourists gathered despite the wave of bad weather in front of the canals to attend remotely the lifting of the 78 gates of the system, known by the name of Mose (Moisés). “A historic day marks a before and after for Venice”, summarized the local newspaper “Il Gazzetino”.
With the torrential rains and winds, it was calculated for this Saturday a rise in the waters of about 135 centimeters towards noon, so the authorities decided to raise the barrier that prevents the entry of the sea into the lagoon and thus avoid the flooding suffered by the city, made up of 118 islands.
“It is much better for Venice. Today the shops remained open while yesterday many were closed. And we do not need to use the wooden walkways” installed in St. Mark’s Square, in front of the basilica, Eric Faure, a tourist, told AFP French.
“We are satisfied, especially by the people, because the city is alive, it acquires meaning. Not only are museums and palaces saved, but life in the city is made easier,” said the Mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro.
Ambitious and controversial engineering work
The ambitious piece of engineering, which had drawn criticism and controversy and took more than 15 years to build, can be raised in 30 minutes and then disappear completely underwater when not activated, a unique structure in the world. In the United States and the Netherlands, barriers have been built at sea but none disappear completely under water.
Devised in the 1980s, the system had to be ready three years ago but was delayed by corruption scandals and cost overruns, and has so far cost about 7 billion euros.
“There is only a small pool in the square,” says Claudio Vernier, who remembers that the water could reach up to the knees at that point in the city.
Many remember the fateful date of November 12 last year, when Venice suffered the worst flood since 1966 and the city was paralyzed with knee-deep water. Dirty and salty waters swirled that day around the marble tombs of the famous Byzantine crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica, which was badly damaged.
“Day of hope”
“Today is a day of hope”, confessed this Saturday the Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, who has mobilized resources to restore the magnificent monument.
The Association of Merchants of the Plaza de San Marcos, which has registered a strong crisis due to the floods, which has been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, also feels that a new stage is opening.
The city, classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, rests on millions of stilts stuck in the mud until it reaches a more solid bottom, which support palaces and houses. But rising sea levels and the constant flow of cruise ships have contributed to gnawing away at the surrounding swamps and mud banks. Hopefully the system continues to work. This is how Venice can be saved “, says Nicoletta De Rossi, 56.