Venice, perhaps the most beautiful city in Europe and one of the world's great storehouses of art treasures, is sinking into the sea.
Venice, perhaps the most beautiful city in Europe and one of the world's great storehouses of art treasures, is sinking into the sea. Experts have estimated that if the present rate of sinking continues, two-thirds of Venice will be under water by 1990. But after years of inactivity, the Italian government has at last promised urgent action. The estimated cost is 245 thousand million lire (169 million sterling).
The 118 islands of Venice are now subsiding for a variety of man-made and natural reasons. Man's extraction of natural gases have left large subterranean cavities, and the thousands of public and private artesian wells which supply the city and the surrounding industrial areas combine to weaken the weight-bearing surface. The city is now sinking five times as fast as it was ten years ago.
Adding to the destructive factors is the phenomenon of "high water", an artificial tide cause by the winds in the Adriatic. Now, much of Venice is flooded several times a month, sometimes to a height of five feet.
Industrial activity on the outskirts of the city has brought with it pollution, and chemicals carried in the smoke are causing irreparable damage to the paintings, sculptures and buildings which form Venice's cultural heritage. Dampness, flooding and an atmosphere of decay have dimmed the gloss of the city for many of its inhabitants. The population of the city has decreased by a third in 15 years.
Various proposals have been put forward in the past to redeem Venice. One of the latest weapons is a sea platform bristling with instruments to measure wind and water currents, barometric pressures, sun radiation, temperatures, tides and the chemical contents of air and water. A computer sorts out the data obtained and this provides the basis for organised action.
Without funds no real action was possible. But now the Minister of Public Works has promised to draft a bill aimed at meeting the city's problems. The artesian wells will have to be replaced by a more modern form of water supply; to stop the high tides the three outlets from the Venice Lagoon into the Adriatic will have to be closed; and Venice must be given answer system, which the city at the moment lacks. The Italian Government will have the strong support of Unesco when the funds for the programme are raised.