How the Acqua Granda of 1966 Changed Venice Forever

Imagine just another mild November morning in Venice, starting slightly misty and clad in silvery clouds. The skies are leaden like in the picture above. In the late morning, light rain sets in and the wind feels warm in your face while the rain is getting more persistent and so is the southerly breeze. In the evening, the water level rises to 1,20 meters, but then a peculiar thing happens.

The water doesn’t recede as it usually does after 4 hours at most in fall. Instead, about fifty rats start climbing up the walls, onto the balcony and terrace in a wild frenzy. They also reach this 2nd-floor balcony where they have never been before (NB: and have never returned since then).

It seems that the animals are afraid of something and by midnight, Venetians remember that there are times when the the laws of the Lagoon, that is, low tide comes after high tide, are suspended. Statistically, this happens every 300 years.


A dire combination of southerly wind, low pressure, rain on end and water currents can cause the Lagoon to become paralized. Water enters the Lagoon but doesn’t find its way out. Currents become confused as the low pressure and southerly winds push more sea water in northerly direction. It happened before – the severe flood in 1716 was as important as the one in November 1966 and as consequence, the Republic of Venice built the stone barrier called murazzi on the island of Pellestrina. This dam held and saved Venice from drowning completely in 1966.

In the morning of 4 November 1966, the water continues to climb and in the afternoon electricity breaks down. Venice is cut off from the mainland completely with the water rising to 1,94 meters in Piazza San Marco. My grandfather needs to light the candlesticks on the first floor. The ground floor has been flooded completely and the family can just save a few things from the kitchen downstairs.

Last November, we actually got a taste of what those days in 1966 were like. My grandmother told me on 21 November 2016, watch out, the air smells like it did on 3 November 1966. In 2015, things went differently for in the early evening, the wind turned bitingly cold. Bora wind coming down from the north began pressing the water out of the Lagoon, clearing up the rain at the same time.

This happened on 4 November in a video shared by Rai 1.

Not only did the power lines go down in Venice but the Lagoon was covered by large black patches of nafta (petrolium). A Yugoslav boat sank in the Lagoon. Petrolium blackened buildings in town and infiltrated wells. Clearing up didn’t take months but years. One can safely say that 1966 marks the beginning of the “trend” of Venetians moving to the mainland.

Every island in the Lagoon suffered huge damage. From Burano to Pellestrina to San Lazzaro degli Armeni. Little known is the damage done Sant’Erasmo where half the area dedicated to cultivating vegetables and wine couldn’t be used in the following 20-30 years.

Two thirds of land in the Lagoon required to cultivate vegetables couldn’t be farmed for decades. Below you can see what the flood did to the estuary and what it looked like on 5 November 1966.

We may lose Venice for three reasons: Venice may die from being flooded by high tides of water and tourists. These reasons are man-made. The third reason is the fact that the Lagoon is located above a falda sismica, a fault line, and we can’t change that. But November 4 could make us think about how to remove the first two reasons for Venice to die.

Venice remembers the 50th anniversary of Acqua Granda via exhibitions and conferences. For example, the Unesco holds a conference About the global value that Venice holds for the world on 4-5 November at Fondazione Cini.

It was Ranieri da Mosto who spoke in the evening of 5 November about what had happened to Venice, starting his broadcast “Vi parlo al lume di candela …. I’m speaking to you by candlelight …”

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