By rights, Venice shouldn’t even exit at all. Built on small islands and mud banks the city is testimony to centuries of human ingenuity when it comes to dealing with nature. But the threat is growing and the Pearl of the Adriatic is struggling to fight off the tides.
Well over a thousand years ago the first wooden huts were built out on the middle of a lagoon off the coast of northern Italy. The archives tell us these were the homes of people fleeing barbarian invasions in the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Later, with land in short supply, man-made areas were developed. But construction was far from easy; the bed of the lagoon consisted of sediment and mud, forming a foundation that was constantly moving. Yet Venetian architects managed to build the city’s palaces, towers, and cathedrals. Venice stands on a forest of wooden piles which anchor the buildings to the lagoon’s muddy bed. The buildings themselves are constructed in such a way that they can compensate for movement, even earth tremors, without suffering noticeable damage. But the water the Venetians built their city on is becoming more and more of a threat. Industrialization has played its part in disturbing the natural balance of the lagoon: The sea bed has subsided and the effect of the tides has changed, resulting in water levels in the city’s canals that 24 centimeters higher than when they were first constructed. Added to that is the controversial presence in the lagoon of giant cruise ships: A source of income for the city, but also one that contributes to severe atmospheric pollution, as well as causing wake damage.