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09.02.2020 Europe

Venice has been taking high tides in its stride for centuries

By Sabina Castelfranco - RFI
REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri
LISTEN FEB 9, 2020
REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

High tides in Venice have been par for the course in recent months, with the lagoon city sustaining significant damage to its buildings, churches and cultural heritage after a particularly destructive episode in November.

Now the water levels have receded and tourists are again able to enjoy the wonders of this unique city without having to wear rubber waders.

As they walk around the city in colourful masks and elaborate costumes for Carnival month, it is difficult to imagine what occurs when the waters rise.

Venetians are certainly accustomed to the water coming up and then going down; they have lived with this all their lives and for centuries.

The Tides Centre in Venice is able to accurately predict the rising levels of the water, and has an extremely efficient method of informing the city's residents which neighbourhoods will go under water and for how long.

November tide 'a perfect storm'
Alvise Papa of the Tides Centre said the 12 November tide was a rare event caused by several factors leading to a “perfect storm”. It is without question that maintaining this world jewel of a city is no easy matter, and the costs are high.

Venetians deal with the high waters in their stride and as quickly as possible endeavour to clean-up, remove the water and immediately return to going about their lives.

They stress that Venice is safe and clean and that it should be visited not just for a few hours or a just a day but for a longer period so as to fully appreciate what the city has to offer.

As one walks around the narrow alleys, it is as if the high tides never happened.

Clean-up operation driven by volunteers
Residents of Venice and local authorities are very proud of their city and take huge care in ensuring that no garbage is seen lying in the streets or in its canals.

The cleaning operations do not only involve homes and shops flooded by the waters. Another significant and delicate clean-up effort carried out once a month in Venice involves gondolier divers inside the canals, supported by volunteers.

For a number of hours they submerge themselves inside the canal waters as tourists visiting the city watch these strangely equipped divers with special suits bring up all kinds of objects including bottles, cans, tyres, bricks and pieces of iron that fall off transport boats, and much more.


Hundreds of kilos of garbage come to the surface from the city's many canals every time these recovery operations occur.

In addition to this, the city council has charged a company called Insula to dig up 30 canals and remove 30,000 cubic meters of mud in this way lowering the canal beds.

“There is a dual objective: one is to ensure hygiene and health conditions are maintained and the other is to guarantee the canals can be safely navigated by the boats”, said Insula president Nicola Picco, adding the cost of the operation over the past two years has been 5 million euros.

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