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By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks


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By now, you may have heard a sneaking rumor that Venice’s sea level is rising. But is Venice sinking?

Venice is a beautiful but small city in northeastern Italy. Many people visit the city yearly for its romantic Grand Canal, gondola rides, and St Mark’s Square. The top travel tip for visiting Europe is to know when you should visit your destination.

This is especially true for Venice. Every few years between October and January, it’s time for acqua alta when the city experiences high tides. But, slowly sinking? Can something that sounds that far-fetched even be true?

If you’re wondering the same thing, keep reading because this post will dive deeper into the validity of this rumor. And, if it’s true, find out if it is a serious problem and what you can do to help.

Stunning Venice Canals

What is Venice’s Sea Level?

Venice is built in the Adriatic Sea atop about 120 islands and has about 177 canals running through it. Its underwater channels have a few functions, some of which have changed as the years (and population) grew.

Initially, these canals were used as a way of protection and transportation back in the Middle Ages. Today, the city uses these canals for transportation in and around the city. So, Venice’s sea level is an essential factor in the everyday life of a Venetian.

High-Tide (Acqua Alta)

The city sits about 118 inches (3 meters) above sea level. When it’s time for acqua alta, which happens once every four years, it’s not uncommon for the city to become flooded.

If the water level just rises about 3 feet (90 cm), St Mark’s Square will flood. This is because it’s the lowest point in the city and is usually one of the first places to fill with water.

Now, while this sounds concerning, it’s nothing to worry about. In fact, the floods are actually built into the city’s planning. Venetians are so used to the city’s high and low tides that you’ll often see them sporting water boots while about.

Coastal flooding usually only lasts a few hours twice a day. For a more accurate prediction, check the tide times when you’re nearing your visit. Still, the high waters usually won’t interfere with your sightseeing of historic buildings and attractions.

Flooded St Marks Square in Venice, Italy

Low-Tide (Acqua Bassa)

In the same way Venice experiences a high tide, there is also a period when the city has a low tide. Of course, the sea levels rise and fall hourly, but water levels are particularly low around January and February.

During this time, the Venetian Lagoon dries up so much that some waterways are totally unusable. You’ll also probably smell it before you see it, as the low water level also has a particular smell due to built-up debris.

As mentioned, low tide happens annually, and they usually occur due to high air pressure meeting abnormally low tides. But, sometimes, the low tide can last a bit longer than expected. For example, the city had a particularly arid winter in 2023, leaving Venice’s canals dry.

However, climate change can also be a reason, as in 2022, Italy experienced such a massive drought that it was declared a national disaster. Thankfully, the country is expected to return to a high water level soon.

Flooded Hallway in Venice

The Impact of a Sea-Level Rise on Venice’s Buildings

Venice is a coastal metropolis surrounded by water, which is the reason so many tourists have enjoyed visiting here for many centuries.

However, its setting also carries many issues for its infrastructure. The main problem is that flooding can have a massive impact on the city’s structures and their foundations.

For one, the constant exposure to salt water slowly erodes the brick walls of the buildings. The walls also solely erode as the canals pass by, creating unnatural waves against them.

Not only that, but because the buildings are built in the water, they have to be held up by long wooden piles. As the tides rise and fall, these piles are exposed to the air, which dries them out and causes warping.

‘The Great Venetian Flood’

The worst flood the city ever saw was in 1966. It was so bad that it was officially dubbed ‘The Great Venetian Flood.’ During this acqua alta, the water levels rose 37 inches (1.94 meters) and caused incredible damage to the city’s buildings, leaving many homeless.

St Mark’s Square is the lowest point in the city. So, it’s no surprise that the basilica also suffered a lot of damage as many of its artworks became soaked and, as a result, were destroyed.

The aftermath of this sparked the idea for a project to prevent this from happening much later called the Mose Project (more on this later).

Flooded Street in Venice, Italy

Recent Floods

More recently, in 2019, the city had another incredible flood that saw waters rise about 70 feet (1.87 meters). This meant about 80% of the city was submerged, flooding houses, restaurants, and ancient monuments.

So far, this has been the second-worst flood the city has ever experienced. Again, St Mark’s Basilica underwent a lot of damage, costing a few million to repair once again. These included replacing and repairing ancient tiles, windows, crypts, and tombs.

When Will Venice Sink?

So, with the sea level rising, is Venice a flood risk? And when might it sink? While Venice’s average sea level has risen in the past, it’s not the only factor contributing to this city’s sinking concern.

When Did Venice Begin to Sink?

Venice has been “sinking” since its conception in the fifth century. However, this process was expedited between the 1950s and 1970s due to the city extracting groundwater from Venetian soil. This caused the city’s soil to compress and sink.

Remember that the city was already built quite low and close to the sea level. Now, add the growth of the city and newly built buildings on top of all of that, and you can see why Venice’s sinking could be a concern.

Within this 20-year gap, the city sank a total of five inches (12 centimeters) alone. This number is only growing as in the last 20 years, the historic city has sunk about nine inches (22 centimeters).

Catwalks in Venice, Italy

When to Expect Venice to Sink

If the current trends continue, you’ll still have plenty of time to visit the city. Experts estimate that Venice is only expected to be completely submerged in water by the year 2100.

There are a few reasons for this conclusion, but much of it concerns rising sea levels due to global warming. Our oceans constantly expand, and the Mediterranean Sea is expected to rise to 57 inches (1.4 meters) in the coming years.

However, while there are no ultimate solutions to this conundrum, a few possible remedies are set in place to prevent this event.

Future Plans to Stop Venice Sinking

So, can we “save” Venice? Well, there are already a few protective changes being made to slow down the sea level rise from sinking the entire city.

Bocca di Lido, Venice
Mose Project image from Wikipedia

Mose Project

The Mose Project is a system aptly named after the biblical Moses, who parted the Red Seas. The project started in 2003 and has had quite a few hurdles along the process. However, it is expected to be completed and operational by 2025.

This system sees 78 mobile gates weighing about 300 tons built at three inlets, Lido, Malamocco, and Chioggia, across the city. These strategic locations are the city’s entryways from the Adriatic Sea to the Venetian Lagoon, which flows to the Grand Canal.

But how does it work? The whole system actually works with a hydraulics method. Once the water level gets high enough, the floodgates also rise and stop any major flooding events from happening.

Venice Lagoon Map
Venice Lagoon map from Wikipedia

Venice Project Center

The Venice Project Center is an institution. They, along with help from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) And Grantham Research Institute (GRI), have worked for years to help solve several issues in Venice and its lagoon.

As you can imagine, they are currently working on ways to solve the Venice flood issues. While not as advanced as Mose, this initiative does do a lot of critical research in the area. While they agree that Mose is onto something, they propose a Dutch-style solution using pumps and dikes instead.

Saint Mark's Square at Night, Venice

Don’t Let High Tides in Venice Sink Your Trip

While Venice sinking is a hot topic right now in so many spaces, you still have plenty of time to visit before that actually happens.

A few plans are also set in motion to protect Venice and prevent the city from becoming the new Atlantis. The Mose project is currently in action and is on an excellent track to avoid future rises in disastrous floods.

And, while there may be some debate about which method is the right way forward, the fact that there is some form of sea-based defensive barriers being put up is already a good thing.

So, now that you know you’ll be safe on your trip to Europe, why not add Venice to your itinerary?

Essential Info: Logistical Tips and Tricks to Book your Trip

BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Regarding cheap airfare, I highly recommend using Skyscanner and Expedia. These are two of the sites I use the most due to their exhaustive search on several websites and airlines around the world. They usually bring the cheapest fares.

Additionally, I recommend getting the WayAway Plus membership to save money on cheaper fares and earn cashback (sent straight to your PayPal) on your bookings.

BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
For hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and other types of accommodation, I highly recommend Booking.com. They are my go-to booking site because they usually have the cheapest fares.

If you’re a registered Booking.com user (“Genius”), you can take advantage of their “Genius discount” to save even more money. I almost always book my accommodation with Booking, and I’ve saved thousands of dollars with their Genius discount.

And of course, as one of the largest travel booking sites in the world, Expedia is another excellent accommodation booking site with a free reward program and discounted member prices.

If you’re looking to save money by staying at a hostel, HostelWorld has the largest inventory of hostels with shared dorms and private rooms. On the other hand, Vrbo offers a wide variety of rooms and apartments at affordable prices.

DON’T FORGET YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance with comprehensive coverage will protect you against unexpected events like theft, cancellations, injury, and illness.

I use HeyMondo to insure my trips and recommend them. Their affordable plans offer a 24/7 assistance platform for claims, medical coverage for every traveler, adventure sports and covid-19 coverage, and more. And better yet, GloboTreks readers get 5% off their plan! Get a quote.

Alternatively, if you’re a nomad and travel often or long-term, then SafetyWing could help you save a lot of money on long-term travel insurance.

FIND THE BEST TOURS AT THE BEST PRICES
If you’re looking for the best day tours and cheapest ticket entrances to local attractions, I recommend checking Viator, as they have the largest selection of attractions, passes, and activities all around the world.

BOOK YOUR LOCAL TRANSPORTATION AHEAD OF TIME
Bookaway
 offers the easiest and most accessible way to book overland transportation with local operators, be it by bus, train, ferry, plane, mini-van, or even private transfers.

If renting a car, then I highly recommend DiscoverCars to get the largest car selection at the best price.

OTHER TRAVEL AND MONEY-SAVING TIPS?
Lastly, check out my resources page for some of the best products and companies to use for your trip. If you like saving money (like I do!), then this page will help.

Is Venice Sinking | Rising Sea Levels and the City's Vision
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