Venice History and the MOSE Project

Written by Tara Reel and Jacki Wilson

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June 15, 2016

Our day started with an early wake up call for a 9:00 a.m. train ride from Riva San Vitale, Switzerland to Venice, Italy. Traveling has provided ample opportunity to experience Europe’s vast transportation options firsthand. We have traveled via high speed rail, trams, bicycles, and by foot. Venice provided a unique perspective since the city is situated in a lagoon and travel includes an aquaculture of water taxis and gondolas. During our morning train ride, we rode through northern Italy with a breathtaking view of the Alps. Once we arrived in Venice, we had to trek to our hotel that was only twenty minutes away, but seemed much longer with our caravan of luggage on a hot, sunny day. We were very relieved to finally see the refurbished monastery that is now student housing. Our apartments were fantastic!

During the afternoon, we had a lecture on the “History of Venice: Urban and Environmental Adventures” and an introduction to the MOSE project (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, Experimental Electromechanical Module) by Francesca Zennaro, Program Assistant Researcher from the Thematic Environmental Networks (TEN). We learned that Venetians originally moved to the lagoon for its natural beauty and a landscape that created a barrier of defense against the barbarians during the collapse of the Roman Empire. The Venetian infrastructure consists of cobblestone paths forming a walkable city of narrow alleys surrounded by an aquaculture that lends itself to tourism. Given the crowds throughout the city, we were shocked to learn that at its peak population, the historic city of Venice had approximately 100,000 inhabitant. Nowadays, the population is 60,000.

Francesca elaborated on the city’s struggle to remain a vibrant tourist destination and livable city while dealing with sea level rise and recurrent flooding. Venice has known rising sea levels were an issue since 1975 when a call for proposals went out for solutions. Many options were debated through the years and it took nearly twenty years for leaders to settle on the MOSE project. The MOSE project is part of a combined sustainability effort to deal with higher tides and flooding. The city has taken measures involving coastal reinforcement, raising of quaysides, and paving the lagoon. The MOSE is designed to protect Venice and the lagoon from tides of up to approximately 10 feet.

The MOSE project has not been without its share of controversy. There have been arguments that it was chosen for political motives and only offers a short term solution by providing the city protection for the next hundred years. Francesca stressed that there needs to be a global discussion to find longer term sustainable solutions to this wicked problem impacting coastal regions.

With a day of travel and presentation concluding, it was time to try some local Italian food. For dinner we went to a pizzeria called All’Anfora. The food was great with a wide variety of options!

June 16, 2016

Today we had our boat tour with Francesca! We started from a dock close to our hotel and made our way around the island. We went through the Lido Inlet and saw the infrastructure of the MOSE project up close. The final stages of the project are underway and the system has been tested successfully throughout the past few years. The MOSE consists of rows of mobile gates at three inlets, including the Lido. The system temporarily separates the lagoon from the sea in the event of a high tide. At the Lido Inlet, the widest barrier consists of two rows of gates. The gates consist of metal structures connected to the concrete housing structures with hinges. When the tide rises, the structures will be activated creating a temporary dam that protects the lagoon. Under normal tidal conditions, the gates are full of water and rest in their housing structures. Over the years, there have been arguments that the structures will disrupt ecosystem there, but according to Francesca, the project hopes to preserve the lagoon and its marine life for years to come. When we returned to the main island following our tour, we went to Osteria Al Portego to enjoy traditional Venetian tapas.

During our lecture the day before, we learned about the alert system that warns Venetians and tourists of high water. In fact, we experienced an unseasonal high tide during our free afternoon and students navigated throughout the city as the water slowly creeped to higher levels. Local businesses who are used to dealing with flooding have found ways to adapt. Open cafes and businesses put up shields to protect their property from water damage. Vendors also sell collapsible boots to assist patrons in navigating the high water. In San Marco Square, the flooding was particularly bad with water rising above our knees!

On Thursday, we had free time in our afternoon and Venice certainly gave us many options to explore. Many of us spent time at the Piazza San Marco, known in English as Saint Marco or Saint Mark’s Square, which is the principal public square of Venice.. The site runs along the Great Canal and has many attractions including Saint Marco’s Basilica (Cathedral) and the Doge’s Palace. Doge’s Palace served as the epicenter of Venetian political and social institutions during the Middle Ages. While the palace contains secret rooms that housed prisoners, torture chambers, and council chambers alike, it is also richly decorated by the great artists of Venice.
Other students went to the Biennale, an architecture exhibit with displays from different countries from around the world. We went to the New Zealand and Hong Kong exhibits that were very impressive. We know everyone will continue their explorations during our free day in Venice on Friday.

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