Venice holds again the water for first time in 1,200 years

Venice, Italy (CNN) – Sebastian Fagarazzi is used to moving his goods around. As a Venetian citizen who lives on the ground, every time a city encounters a flood – a flood caused by big waves – they have to lift everything to the ground, including furniture and electrical equipment, or be destroyed.

But on October 3, it’s a prediction of 135-inch (53-inch) waves – which can be seen around half of the city under various waters – when the sirens sound, they did nothing. “I had faith,” he says.

Saturday was the first opportunity to experience Venice weather. It was also the day on which, after decades of delays, quarrels and corruption, the city finally tried to block the long-awaited floodplains.

The previous case in July, under the tutelage of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, had gone well – but it was a good season, with a few waves. Previous tests have not been able to raise all 78 gates on the barriers installed in the Venetian pool.

Against all odds, it worked.

At 12.05 pm, a huge tidal wave, St Mark’s Square – which starts at just 90 inches[90 cm]and must have reached the knee – was extremely dry, with only large droplets filling the ponds.

The pub and shopping center, which usually has to be closed for hours until the end, are open.

And in the northern part of Cannaregio, Sebastian Fagarazzi’s home was dry.

“I heard [warning] early in the morning but I didn’t take my seats this time because the obstacle was removed at the final test, and I was confident it would work, “says Fagarazzi, co-founder of the Venezia Autentica coalition.” it’s history. “

The protection is called MOSE, the Italian version of Moses, the name derived from the Sperimentale Elettromeccanico Module, meaning Electromagnetic Experimental Module. It has 78 floodwaters that have been submerged at the bottom of the three-lane pool.

When the waves come, they can rise to form a pool, stop the Adriatic Sea, and overflow the city.

Delay by bribery

A new obstacle to the work being done in Malamocco was raised in Lido in Venice.

ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Photos

Acque alte (“high water”) is located between October and March, and lasts for several hours, affecting two of the city’s lowest (and most common) areas: San Marco and the surrounding Rialto. This phenomenon is caused by very deep waves, short-term storms, and the presence of southern winds in Sirocco.

In recent years, their decline and resilience have increased as a result of climate change. On November 12, 2019, the city was devastated by a landslide that reached 187 inches, with about 90% of the city flooded. Traders have been struggling to recover since then, significantly reducing the number of visitors at affordable prices. The devastation, followed by the plague, brought the local people to their knees.

The MOSE project has been in operation since 1984, but it has been so affected by delays and corruption that many Venetians did not believe it would work.

“It doesn’t seem real,” says Serena Nalon, at the Bottega del Mondo shop in Cannaregio. His business – selling fairly – was severely damaged in the floods last year.

“I was very skeptical – at least because they spent a lot of money, with nothing so far, so this morning I was expecting less,” he says.

“I was worried when I saw foreign prophecies, and then somewhere between disbelief and rejoicing when it worked. You appreciate things so much when you least expect it.”

Nearby, Federica Michielan, the owner of the bar Ae Bricoe, felt the same way. “That’s fine – in the end it’s over,” he says. “At least, I believe it did, because if it broke, we would be underwater.”

‘Unforgettable Day’

Visitors wait for the waves in central Venice.

Visitors wait for the waves in central Venice.

MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP via Getty Photos

The test for the harsh weather was the next phase of MOSES, which has not yet been completed. And on Friday, when a full moon and hurricane were announced early in the morning, the city council asked permission to raise barricades.

The sound of floodwaters was heard throughout the city around 8 a.m. Saturday, when the test began half an hour later. By 10.10, the barriers were completely lifted – and as the water rose to 132 cm outside MOSES, inside the pool, it remained 70 inches – enough for San Marco to dry.

“This was a memorable day in Venice,” Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who witnessed the raising of barriers by MOSE’s special commissioner Elisabetta Spitz, told reporters.

“There’s a lot of excitement, as we’ve spent decades looking at helplessly as water comes everywhere in the city, destroying a lot.

“We have shown, not only by the waves that would overflow the city but also by the Sirocco winds of 19 points, that it works.”

When St.  Mark's Square dried up on October 3, flooding the next day.

When St. Mark’s Square dried up on October 3, flooding the next day.

MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP via Getty Photos

In the city, the Venetians – many of whom had closed their territories in anticipation of the coming waters – could not believe their chance. At the El Fornareto bakery in Cannaregio, locals sweat and represent bread on wheels instead of the gumboots they are wearing. At the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli in the southern state of Dorsoduro – often about 130 inches[130 cm]wide – the priest, Paolo Bellio spoke of the success of his evening sermon.

“Today we are saved,” he said later. “We didn’t have to use pumps. It was amazing, but I’m glad it worked – especially because it was so much criticized. It’s a happy day for everyone.”

Calling it “an obvious victory,” Commissioner Spitz confirmed on Saturday that it was “the most important part of the city’s defense and pool.” The project – which also involves upgrading roads in the city’s lowest elevation to 110 cm, and fortified walls near water barriers – is expected to be completed by December 2021, when they will be handed over to the city.

Until then, it has been agreed that from now on, the barriers will be raised each time the waves reach 130 centimeters, meaning that floods like last year should be a thing of the past (at least, in the middle. Climate change means MOSES will not stop the water forever). However, as soon as the city is captured, the barriers will rise at first, at 110 inches.

‘Bitter taste’

People walk past high ground outside St. Peter's Church.  Mark at St.  Mark in Venice while flood controls are being tested.

People walk past high ground outside St. Peter’s Church. Mark at St. Mark in Venice while flood controls are being tested.

MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP via Getty Photos

The implication, however, is that the awareness at St Mark’s Square – which overflows at 90 centimeters – will continue. And in fact, on Sunday, just 24 hours after the victory of MOSES, the city’s familiar landscape was as deep as a calf, 40 inches[106 cm]high.

As guests began to take selfies and dance in the water, the relentless air hung in the markets and bars that had to close again.

In Quadri, one of the most famous restaurants, where everyone from Proust to Brangelina sat under the viewing walls, manager Roberto Pepe was off to a clean-up job.

Although the high tide was 12.25 in the evening, they had closed the coffee all morning, to pile up velvet chairs on raised tables and close the entrance. Not that it helped; even an hour after the sharp waves, the odd and unstable towel was still bathing under the green.

“As a Venetian I’m happy yesterday, but as a person who works at Piazza San Marco, it doesn’t change anything, leaving a bitter taste,” he says.

“We have an answer. Yesterday the piazza was dry. Today is the next day of the exam, and look. We just want to work – this is the heart of the city, it provides a lot of work for many people.

The removal has been in operation since 1984, but has been plagued by delays and corruption.

The removal has been in operation since 1984, but has been plagued by delays and corruption.

ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Photos

“We’ve been talking to alta to step down, but now it’s frustrating because we know there’s an answer. We’ve been waiting for 30 years – now let’s do this.”

Mayor Brugnaro told CNN that the success of MOSE was a “return”, not only to Venice but also to Italy, after a great deal of suffering in the country. “Given the idea of ​​a simple, simple city, even if we had a little bit of knowledge – because a few inches is nothing compared to damage – I think it could show the world that we have expertise here, and it could be another resource for tourism.”

Fagarazzi, meanwhile, has just revived right now. “Last year it was terrible – you hear the funeral and it’s impossible. I think we still don’t understand how strange this story is. It’s a new day in Venice because it’s the first time in 1,200 years. [since the seat of power moved to St Mark’s Square] that the great waves did not cause the city to flood.

“For the Venetians, this sounds like the first part of Armstrong’s month.”

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