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The fragility of Venetian beauty

The fragility of Venetian beauty

The fragility of Venetian beauty

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Venice is known internationally as a beautiful and romantic city, not least for its lagoon location, countless waterways and, of course, the age-old gondolas on which lovers drift dreamily amid the buildings. But the dark side to this watery ambience is that nature is not a force that one can control, and thus now and again man and his creations and the surging ocean do battle.

Floods, sadly, are no new occurrence in Venice. They are the price Venetians pay for having settled so close to the Adriatic. Back in 1966, for example, the lagoon level rose 6.5 feet above its usual level, as a result of high tides and strong winds, and many historic palaces and piazzas were underwater. Homes were destroyed, as were priceless artworks.

The recent floods in Venice, caused by heavy rain and strong winds, haven’t reached the severity of 1966 disaster, but they covered 95 per cent of the historic city centre with waters reaching 1.5 metres in depth – too deep to even wade through safely. Businesses, schooling, tourism: all ground to a halt as Venetians waited impatiently for the sea to reclaim its overspill.

According to recent research, not only are global warming and rising silt levels causing the lagoon levels to rise, but the effect of the floods is that Venice is sinking and tilting to the east, heading out to the Adriatic Sea. Floods are growing more common – and residents are becoming used to walking on wooden planks to stay above the floodwaters some four or five times each year.

The Venetians are investing heavily in a flood defence system. But in the meantime, ‘The Floating City’ is coming a little too close for comfort to living up to its name. The result: this historic, elegant, visually stunning city to which lovers worldwide flock for the ambiance is infused with an air of fragility, of the threat of impermanence, of becoming the modern-day Atlanta.

Do the precarious foundations make Venice any less of a city of love, of beauty, of mystique? Not at all – if anything, I think the city is all the more precious for its watery predicament. I just hope that in the future readers of my Venetian-set novel The Echoes of Love are transported to a vibrant, real place they can aspire to visit, and not to a lost city that has become little more than a memory on the pages of books.

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