Venice Acqua Alta: We were there!

Venice acqua alta

When wheels are useless: during the acqua alta in Venice

We’d been expecting at the very least chilly weather, perhaps a bit of rain and slightly elevated water levels for our November city break in Venice, but we hadn’t expected water levels to have risen some five feet, with 70% of the city under water on the day after we arrived, but that’s we got. Welcome to acqua alta 2012!

For those not already in the know acqua alta happens between autumn and spring and is a result of Adriatic high tides in the Venetian lagoon, made worse by local rainfall and increased baromatic pressure, subsidence caused by the natural sinking of the soil level in the lagoon, and perhaps a little global warming.

A siren woke us at 5:30am on the first morning, followed by a little electronic tune, four notes only, reminiscent of the tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The notes were repeated over again a few times. The whole thing sounded again at 6:30am. We didn’t know at that stage that it signified some serious flooding.

We found out later that one tone tells you the water will peak at 110cm above normal, two notes 120cm or more, three of the tones will probably end with a rise of over 130cm and our particular combination warned of a level of 140cm or more – in the end we got 150cm – exceptionally high water. In fact, it’s the worst flooding in the city in 22 years and sixth highest since 1872.

Two chaps having their photo take, Venice acqua alta 2012

The sight that greeted us when we got up that morning was spectacular – there seemed to be a river flowing through the street below us (we were on the first floor). Prepared locals had their wellies and waders on, tourists flip-flops, trainers and some rashly had bare feet. But there was a lot of good humour.

A shop opposite had set up a table outside piled high with wellington boots; outside another two local men were having their photo taken by a photographer they were toasting with their espressos (photo above);  a husband stops to snap his wife and kids who are obviously having a ball:

Photo opportunities during the flood, Venice 2012

My husband bravely offered to go and get us some boots. (He’d borrowed a pair from a guy on his way out of the b&b to get there). This is him at the welly boot stall:

Wellie boot stall, Venice acqua alta 2012

To be fair they only cost 15 euros per pair and we didn’t see them priced any higher than 20 euros that day, even though the shopkeepers really could’ve charged what they liked.

The water was so high as we stepped outside our building that the water emptied into the wellies straight away, but we were still thankful for them as we wandered through the sodden streets.

A in his wellies, Venice acqua alta 2012

St Mark’s Square was the worst affected area. Waders-only were the order of the day further into the square – this was taken on the edges of the deepest part:

Lion's head, St Mark's Square, Venice floods 2012 

And you’ll have seen this picture of nutcases further in:

Venice acqua alta in swimming costumes

We were wondering if someone leaving the tap on at this fountain near the Rialto Bridge had caused the whole thing:

Somebody left the tap running, Rialto, Venice during acqua alta 2012.

Thankfully, the water dropped significantly the next day, although it took a couple of days for the water to clear from St Mark’s Square.

Although we weren’t able to see the Doge’s palace or the basilica as a result of the flooding, we wouldn’t have missed this experience for the world, and we hope that the planned flood barriers (that sound similar to the Thames Barrier) get put into place sooner rather than later.

Because even with the threat of a waterlogged visit, we haven’t been to a more impressive and atmospheric city in a long time and November, with our expectation of fewer visitors realised, is a fantastic time of year to visit.

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3 thoughts on “Venice Acqua Alta: We were there!

    1. Hi Micki – I was amazed at the good humour displayed, even from locals who must be fed up to the back teeth of flooding. The two guys drinking coffee outside their shop and another group of local men in a cafe were having a great time that day!

  1. I’m a Venice buff, having been there many times, and several years ago read that over the years, the industries on the mainland (think: Mestre) have drawn out so much ground water that the base of the lagoon has lowered, adding fuel to the “acqua alta”.
    I don’t know if that is true or not, but maybe.

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