A disastrous flood: Venice, 12-17 November 2019

Bad weather causes floods (acqua alta) in Venice during November every year, Venetians have learnt to live with it. We did had an uncanny feeling about last night, but it was a surprise when the sirens sounded four times, annoucing acqua granda > 170 cm.

People rushed and tried to save as many belongings as they could from the first floor of their homes and shops. At 10:50 pm, the high tide reached level 187 cm at Punta della Dogana, and obviously more in some areas of Venice and the Lagoon: Up to 197 cm, as my uncle says. If that’s the case, this flooding is worse than in 1966.

Speaking with people who witnessed the acqua granda of 1966, they stressed how surprising the flooding of 12 November came. The electricity and phone lines at the office predicting the sea levels (Previsioni maree) broke down, so updates still arrive at irregular intervals.

The water in the Piazza never went down below 120 cm for the past 36 hours, another sign that the maree (tides) have become confused.

So what happened in Venice last night and today? This time, it’s a dire combination of libeccio (southwesterly wind, causing the rivers discharching into the Lagoon to swell), scirocco (southerly wind, pressing sea water into the Lagoon), and even bora (northerly wind, which feels icy cold and blows so strong that vaporetti were destroyed and the waves became pure disaster). Storms like these happen more often as the climate changes and also caused heavy rain in other parts of Italy and in Dalmatia.

image by Gente Veneta (Facebook Page)

When storms like these hit a Lagoon weakened by deep water canals, bringing the floods directly into the city (direttissima), Venice is struck by disaster. At the same time, the Lagoon soil and some islands are slowly sinking (due to subsidenza): Along the quays fortified by concrete and in the area around the inlets where the Mose barrier is installed, the ground sinks up to 3 cm per year!

The crypt and nartex of the Basilica were flooded and all night long, people were working to empty it from the salt water with buckets. For now, we can’t say what will happen: Salt water attacks the facades. It climbs up the walls and penetrates inside. Its effects can’t be seen immediately when still wet but in 1-2 weeks, we will notice the damage: more porous bricks, white lacings and a rotten smell all over.

Lina witnessed both incidents, 1966 and 2019. What makes me thougtful is that she says that 2019 WAS worse: 53 years ago, Venice was so much stronger and fitter to survive.

Today like in 1966, Venice was saved from her worst fate, being washed away by an infuriated sea, by the stone barriers called Murazzi, built on Pellestrina between 1714 and 1768 to counter the rising sea levels after the end of the Little Ice Age.

The murazzi are huge stone barriers raising and shielding Pellestrina from the open sea: Inaugurated in 1767, they were built to shield Venice for the next 500 years (or so the engineers of the Republic of Venice envisaged). They are the only protection Venice has, to this day. These barriers work and have saved Venice from being TOTALLY SUBMERGED, today and in 1966.

18 responses to “A disastrous flood: Venice, 12-17 November 2019”

  1. Janet Simmonds Avatar


    1. Iris Avatar

      Thank you, but I wish we wouldn’t need this blog post ..

  2. Ginnie Avatar

    I visited the crypt of the basilica on the occasion of a night time tour in the spring of this year… It is shocking to see it flooded to this extent, especially since I am due to return in December at the time of the next full moon!!! Thank you for sharing your beautiful city with your readers. I particularly enjoy how real your descriptions feel. I also love your Venessiana course, a superbly constructed and very enjoyable program. I am sure that all who read your blog will be sending love and wishes for the magic of Venice to carry on radiating and for all to be safe.

    1. Iris Avatar

      Dear Ginnie, thank you for your good wishes and love for Venice!! This is the most difficult day in our lives, we have never seen Venice devastated like this. While Lina, my grandmother, recalls very well what happened in 1966..
      Our generation is responsible for the survival of Venice. That’s why we created the online class as a little step towards learning more about the city and her history. I’m very glad that you are enjoying it!! Grazie + Best regards, Iris

  3. Gary Francis Avatar

    We’re all thinking about you and the others in Venice, and hoping there is some way to prevent this from occurring again.

    1. Iris Avatar

      Dear Gary, thank you so much!!! About the way to prevent future flooding like this, I’m afraid we’ll have to rely on the Murazzi for now. The answer, supported by ALL hydraulic experts, is (a) reduce the size of the inlets considerably and (2) reduce the depth of the canals in the Lagoon to their natural level (at most, 1.5 meters) and (c) increase the area of the barene (marshlands in the Lagoon) by 2.5 so they can soak up water ..

  4. Jennie Olbrych Avatar
    Jennie Olbrych

    Following and holding you in our hearts. Prayers for you all to have strength and wisdom as you go through this terrible time. From Charleston, SC, USA.

    1. Iris Avatar

      Thank you so much Jenny! This will take some time to restore, and we’ll really know what happened only in a few weeks.. xx Iris

  5. America On Coffee Avatar

    Awful! 😨 Let us pray God’s Divine intervention! 🙏

    1. Iris Avatar

      Thank you!! We really need it now..

  6. David Avatar

    It is so sad to see so much destruction in Venice recently, when it is so apparent that more proactive efforts are needed to protect this beautiful city from the ravages of weather, climate change and man. I visit Venice every year, love its character and beauty, and hope to be able to do this for a long time.

    1. Iris Avatar

      Thank you David, this is so kind of you to say! We hope that Venice can be restored soon, but the damage is done and there are priorities what to do next. At the same time, so much time has been lost to find a long-term solution, and we’re very late now. Will keep you posted on the blog. xx Iris

  7. foodinbooks Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this with us my dear Iris and please do keep us posted as to how we can help. If it means sending letters or emails to the Venetian government to effect some positive change I will more than do my share.

    1. Iris Avatar

      Dear Vanessa, thank you so much!! We will have to wait to see all the damage, it will be clearer in 2-3 weeks. And hopefully, the weather will improve .. will keep you posted. Much love, xx

  8. […] The count of damages to the city  is not over yet, and they are almost impossible to list thoroughly: the basilica is heavily damaged; many (work)shops are damaged and most of the products can no longer be sold; books and old manuscripts are destroyed; the ovens of the glassmakers in Murano were flooded and the production lost; newspaper stands have floated away; gondolas and other boats were smashed onto the pavement or stuck between calle…if you want to know more about what happened, we suggest you watch the interview with Luisella Romeo or read the articles of Monica Cesarato and La Venessiana. […]

  9. […] closed shops remains to be seen, but is part of the transition chapter our city first embarked on last November, when a disastrous flood hit the Lagoon. We think that the future belongs to shops offering quality artisan goods, based on family business […]

  10. […] closed shops remains to be seen, but is part of the transition chapter our city first embarked on last November, when a disastrous flood hit the Lagoon. We think that the future belongs to shops offering quality artisan goods, based on family business […]

  11. […] morning of 2 June 2019. Another near-accident with a cruise ship happened in July, and in November, Venice was hit by the most serious bout of acqua alta, comparable to the acqua granda of 1966. And then in February 2020, the lockdown came as Covid-19 spread in […]

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