Venice has new flood barriers – and they’ve already prevented potential disaster

The city’s new defence system successfully stopped the Acqua Alta high tide in its tracks last weekend

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver
UK Editor
Venice in the rain
Photograph: Bob Hilscher /

Just under a year ago, the world looked on in horror as Venice was hit by its worst floods in more than 50 years. Some 90 percent of the city was submerged to a greater or lesser extent, and in the worst spots, the water was nearly two metres deep.

Now, though, it appears such scenes could be a thing of the past. On Saturday the first Acqua Alta – high tide – of the October season was forecast. And yet when it arrived, a new dam system successfully prevented the city from being flooded. Finally, it seemed, Venetians could relax.

Venice in November 2019, flooding
Photograph: Mclein/Shutterstock.comVenice in November 2019

A previous trial for the defence system, called MOSE (which stands for ‘Experimental Electromechanical Module’), had taken place at low tide in July. But Saturday’s 1.35-metre Acqua Alta was its first real test. Normally, such high tides would have left at least half the city under water. Instead, the worst it got at St Mark’s Square was a few puddles here and there, with shops and cafés still able to open, according to CNN.

The next day, the water was calf-deep on the famous piazza, but the rest of the city was still relatively dry. With the raising of pavements in low-lying areas – still to come as part of the MOSE project – it is hoped this very localised flooding may be prevented too.

The first part of MOSE comprises 78 barriers installed in the seabed at the three main entry points to the lagoon. At high tide – 1.3 metres – these rise to form a dam. The scheme has been subject to countless delays and corruption scandals over nearly four decades, so for it to actually be up and running – and, whisper it, actually working – must feel pretty miraculous. Viva la Serenissima!

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