During our recent trip to Venice, we experienced for 5 days the high tides, known locally as aqua alta. On occasions previously in the summer and fall we have seen it for 1 day, but due to the weather conditions, it persisted from Wednesday until Sunday.
Imagine waking up in the morning to 4 to 6 inches of water in your house. This is exactly what happens. Locals know to put their furniture and goods up on blocks. In many places, the ground floors have simply been abandoned. It's true that weather forecasting today gives you advance warning and you can check the tides by calling a local number or on the internet. And about 3 hours before the high tides, sirens go off in the city to notify everyone of the approaching water. It certainly is a good alarm clock!
When the water is very high, the vaporetto (bus boat) cannot go under the bridges along the canal at Cannaregio therefore the boats to Murano can only come to the first bridge. Fortunately high tide lasts about 3 hours and occurs twice daily, though we only had to worry for the first high of each day. It was also occurring at 9:30 - 12:00 during the day. Imagine if the high tide is at 3 a.m.!.
Here we had to be extra careful as the wind was very strong (about 45mph) and the waves coming on the sidewalk made walking (wading) difficult, but it's the only way to get to Murano from Venice.
San Marco waters were about the knee for about 3 of the days. Tourist take it in stride, the 1st day, it's amusing, the second it becomes a chore and by the third they began to sympathize with the locals. Hotels have no exemption for high water.
The best protection is through use of metal barriers to prevent the water coming in from outside. Locals jokingly refer to these as their "Mose" referring the the project under consideration to install gates at the entrances to the lagoon.
This is a main street in Murano. Murano has some very low lying areas. Work is underway to raise the sidewalks (fondamente) about 8 inches which will alleviate much of the flooding. It is a very costly project, not only the construction, but tourist which are one of their main sources of income, tend to avoid the construction areas. It takes about 8 months to complete a small portion as first they must install a barrier and then pump out the water before working. Obviously when high tides occur, it overflows also the barrier and some work is lost.
FACTS ABOUT HIGH TIDE: - It occurs when the high tide is above 90cm (which is only 3.54 inches above a normal tide) - At 90cm only 10% of the city is affected, however when the water reaches 140cm (as it did in October this year), 90% of the city is under water. - The city is not sinking (only at about .5 to 1mm each year), rather the ocean levels are raising. - The combination of a normal high tide which usually occurs with a full or new moon, low atmospheric pressure, and the scirocco wind blowing up the narrow, shallow Adriatic Sea, which forces water into the Venetian Lagoon all conspire to soak one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Everyone wears their boots as in low lying areas, the water surfaces through the pavement due to the water table level. At every turn of a corner, you maybe wading.
To get from our apartment required boots.
Our friends in front of their store. Notice the barrier at the door, hoping to avoid the tide. Previously they had moved all their rugs and electrical wires for safety. We had promised to help them clean up both the store and their restaurant, which takes about 4 hours. They were elated they would not have to scrub both locations.
Luckily the water missed his store, because cleanup takes hours and requires disinfecting the store.
Note the bags in everyone's arms. It's your normal shoes as within 3-4 hours the water recedes and life is back to normal, that is once you scrub your ground floor, put back your carpet and furniture...only to have to repeat the process the following day.
Another main street in Venice. Here only a couple of inches above the sidewalk and recedes in a few hours.
Word of the Day:
Stivalli This is what everyone is wearing: boots. And the local stores bring in carts of boots to sell to the tourist, disposable ones costing up to 25 Euro. (Locals know you can buy good boots - known as wellies at Panarama for 9.50 Euro. But tourist just know they need to reach their hotels!) Note that some people have on hip waders. The height of your waders depends on the area in which you live. Some places are very low and require the taller boots - the kind you might wear for fly fishing.
We hope that you enjoy this insight to daily life in Venice. Tourist often enjoy the high water but it is devastating to the residents. Their have been many studies over decades and projects to save Venice, the most famous the MOSE project whose goal is to close off the lagoon with inflatable gates which will pop up several hours before high tide, securing the openings. Environmental groups and business in the lagoon protest this method and it seems unlikely to proceed. Whatever the solution, it is decades away.