Venice’s Canals Have Run Dry During a Winter Drought, Leaving Gondolas Stuck in the Mud

When Venice was way under water a decade ago, we post­ed about it here on Open Cul­ture. By that time, the City of Canals was sup­posed to have been pro­tect­ed by MOSE, a $7 bil­lion flood-con­trol sys­tem not actu­al­ly com­plet­ed until 2021. But a drought struck the fol­low­ing year, and what afflicts Venice right now isn’t an excess of water but a lack of it. “Weeks of dry win­ter weath­er have raised con­cerns that Italy could face anoth­er drought after last sum­mer’s emer­gency,” reports Reuters, “with the Alps hav­ing received less than half of their nor­mal snow­fall.”

Venice in par­tic­u­lar “faces unusu­al­ly low tides that are mak­ing it impos­si­ble for gon­do­las, water taxis and ambu­lances to nav­i­gate some of its famous canals,” a phe­nom­e­non blamed on a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors includ­ing “the lack of rain, a high pres­sure sys­tem, a full moon, and sea cur­rents.”

The Guardian video above includes, among oth­er dispir­it­ing scenes, a gon­do­lier strug­gling to maneu­ver through one of the canals of Venice not quite reduced to mud­dy ditch­es. It also shows the con­trast with the flood­ing Venice endured as recent­ly as 2019, which had tourists and locals alike up to their knees in water.

These con­di­tions are strik­ing, but not unprece­dent­ed in Venice’s his­to­ry of over a mil­len­ni­um and a half. “Although they’ve become sig­nif­i­cant­ly less fre­quent over the past two decades due to ris­ing sea lev­els, Venice still sees one to ten low tides every year,” writes The Local’s Giampi­etro Vianel­lo. “The city has seen 160 low tides with lev­els equal to or low­er than ‑90cm since 1872, where­as the cur­rent tide has ‘only’ reached the ‑70cm mark so far.” Fore­casts do indi­cate a rain­fall to come across north­ern Italy, but at least until then, mod­ern-day Robert Bench­leys will have to alter their mes­sage back home: “Streets emp­ty of water. Please advise.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Huge Hands Rise Out of Venice’s Waters to Sup­port the City Threat­ened by Cli­mate Change: A Poignant New Sculp­ture

How Venice Works: 124 Islands, 183 Canals & 438 Bridges

Venice in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images 125 Years Ago: The Rial­to Bridge, St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, Doge’s Palace & More

The Venice Time Machine: 1,000 Years of Venice’s His­to­ry Gets Dig­i­tal­ly Pre­served with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence and Big Data

A Relax­ing 3‑Hour Tour of Venice’s Canals

Watch Venice’s New $7 Bil­lion Flood Defense Sys­tem in Action

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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