Restorers at Work: 20 Years' Achievement in Venice 1966-1986

A remarkable number of organizations, both public and private, from almost all the major countties ofthe Western world have been wotking for the past 20 yeats to restore the buildings of Venice and its art treasures. This international effort, unique in its scope and ambition, has come about as a tesult ofthe threefold attack that the city faces: from the sea, ftom the land and ftom the ait. The danger from the sea is essentially that of flooding.

The Venetian lagoon is almost landlocked, being cut offftom the open Adtiatic by a line oflong, low sandbanks - the lidi - which is broken only by thtee relatively natrow channels. Over the centuties these sandbanks have usually affotded adequate protection. However, the slow but steady rise in the mean level of the Medirerranean has left the lagoon increasingly vulnerable to a number ofdangers. The tide is obviously one. The wind, rather less obviously, is another, since the frequent southeasterly scirocco, ifit blows for any length oftime up the axis of the Adriatic, and particularly ifit then chances to coincide with a build-up of low atmospheric ptessure in the area, has the effect of piling up the waters at the northwestern end, from which there is no natural ourlet.

The consequence is the acq/la alta - high waterwhich manifests itself not as an intushing wave but as a slow, deadly welling up of water around the city's buildings. Every few years, the greater part ofthe city is inundated to a depth ofseveral feer. The most disasttous flood of all came on Saturday, November 4, 1966, when the waters tose more than six feet (1. 81n) above the mean sea level and much of the city was submerged, not only in water but in every sort ofdetritus: garbage, sewage and- most damaging ofall- fuel oil. The second attack that Venice has to face is from the land: in a word, subsidence. Some of the 117 interconnected islands on which the city is built may be stronger and firmer than others, but all are essentially composed of the sand and mud of the lagoon, and it is one of the many miracles ofVenice that her immense marble churches and palaces have not centuries ago ctumbled into the canals.

Open PDF