Venice is sinking fast. Inch by inch this beautiful Italian city which almost literally floats?
Venice is sinking fast. Inch by inch this beautiful Italian city which almost literally floats on water, is crumbling into the Adriatic - and the confusion which surrounds all the efforts to save it merely underlines the fact that the city and its architectural and artistic treasures may soon be lost.
Two events which occured earlier this month point up the problem.
The first was an exhibition of paintings and artefacts which told the story of Venice and its succession of rulers - a story of intrigue and political double-dealing which gave the word Byzantine its sinister meaning.
The second event was a meeting of the International Committee to Save Venice whose well-meaning intensions have been brought to nothing by that same kind of political intrigues.
That something needed to be done to shore up the city has been obvious of the fabric of Venice by its canals - made worse by frequent flooding - and the effects of pollution from nearby industrial installations have left deep scars.
It was in 1973 that the first positive move was announced. The Italian government declared that it was to spend GBP200 million sterling to save the city. But to date, not one Lira has been spent.
Actually starting the work was to depend on a master plan to be drawn up by the International Committee. But eighteen months later, it has failed to reach agreement and the report has been continually delayed. The latest date for publication is the end of September this year. The manoerings surrouding the scheme would surely have pleased the old Byzantines.
For example, plans to curtail industrial development across the lagoon from the city, which experts all agree is slowly ruining the face of Venice, have had to be shelved because the regional government is intent on expanding it to provide employment for the area.
One of the methods by which the sinking of Venice can be reduced is to provide an alternative water supply and close the wells beneath the city. work will begin soon to bring water supplies from the Alps, but the delay means that work originally estimated to cost GBP40 million sterling will now cost GBP80 million. And since there is only GBP200 million in the budget, other work will have to be cut back.
Similarly, the establishment of a laboratory to investigate ways of restoring buildings and statues will come too late to save some of the finest of them.
Meanwhile, it is being left to small charities and groups of interested people to show the way. But their contribution is limited by lack of funds. They have enough money and people to discover what ought to be done, but not enough of either to do much about it.
That Italian government has accepted responsibility for saving Venice and has often declared that it will do so for the sake of the world. But the influence of Byzantium which still overshadows this ancient city has smothered the best intentions with a fog of argument, disagreement, greed, self-interest and politics.
And maanwhile, Venice itself is still slipping away.