After decades of controversy and delays, a series of floodgates have passed their first test in Venice.
Every year, the “acqua alta” or high water of Venice’s lagoon floods the city streets in several feet of water. But this year, after the installation of 78 flood gates, the water managed to stay back.
“There wasn’t even a puddle in St. Mark’s Square,” Alvise Papa, director of the Venice department that monitors high tides, told the New York Times.
The floodgates have been tested several times over the summer, but this weekend’s trial was the first time they had been put to the test in threatening weather conditions.
According to CNN, this was the first time the water has been held back in over 1,200 years.
Venice’s floodgates, called the MOSE project, were designed about four decades ago and construction began in 2003. But the project has been beleaguered by a series of corruption cases, cost overruns and opposition from conservation groups. The project is infamous for its 2014 bribery scandal, which prompted the arrest of Venice’s then-mayor and dozens of politicians and businessmen.
Last year’s acqua alta flooded Venice in more than five feet of water and caused an estimated $5.5 million in damage to the city’s historical attractions, like St. Mark’s Basilica. In order to protect the basilica against future flooding, the city was considering installing a four-foot glass barrier in its main square.
While all of the floodgates have been installed, there is some final infrastructure on the project still awaiting completion. The project is due to be finished in December 2021. Upon completion, the floodgates will be activated whenever the lagoon floods more than 3.5 feet. Until then, the gates will only be used for tides larger than four feet.
“We found a difficult situation and slowly, slowly we’ve been able to resolve things,” Giuseppe Fiengo, a commissioner on the project, told the New York Times. “The important thing is that today, for the first time, with high water, Venice didn’t flood.”
While many are praising the floodgates, critics believe that they won’t withstand the effects of climate change. Increasing sea levels may cause the floodgates to close for 150 days or more per year, which could risk turning Venice lagoon into a stagnant swamp.
Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. When in a new city, she's usually out to discover under-the-radar art, culture, and secondhand stores. No matter her location, you can find her on Twitter, on Instagram or at caileyrizzo.com.
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