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"The drawing room of Europe"

Posted by
Michael Skorulski (Toronto, Canada) on 11 December 2008 in Cityscape & Urban and Portfolio.

That's what Napoleon famously called St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy. I went there expecting immense flooding but as you can see it was bone dry.
Here's a story I wrote about my trip entitled, Have Boots Will Travel:

Carry an umbrella and it's bound to be sunny. Take rubber boots to Venice and it's sure to be dry.

In December 2001, I went to Venice bootless. The notorious Aqua Alta or high water inundated the city. Vaporettto stations were under water so I couldn't take the water bus from my hotel to the train station. I followed the traditional raised walkways for part of the route. But inevitably, I had to step off and the water sloshed over the top of my shoes or seeped through the "waterproof" leather.

Finally, I took off my footwear and waded through the streets barefoot. It was a fun and childish thing to do. An older Venetian lady scolded me for risking my health in the freezing Adriatic. At the train station, I put my soggy shoes back on and watched Venetians arrive carrying rubber boots which they quickly donned.

I vow to come prepared the next time I hit Venice in winter. I buy a pair of rubber yachting boots a foot high.

Hours before I get on the plane for Venice on Tuesday, December 2, my friend, Luke, rings. According to The Daily Beast internet reports, Venice was experiencing its fourth highest flood in contemporary history, 153 cm. above normal. In 1966, flooding was a record 190 cm.

Mayor Massimo Cacciari is telling residents to stay indoors and warning tourists not to come to the city, he says.

"The water's so deep, you can swim across St. Mark's Square," he cautions. Suddenly my preparations seem inadequate. I will need hip waders or an inflatable kayak for this trip. I picture myself dressed in a wetsuit fording narrow alleys searching for a washed-out hotel, my bag held over my head army-style.

I go anyway. At Venice's Marco Polo Airport, I buy a three-day transportation pass for 31 Euros. I ask the information lady, if I'll need to put on my boots. Venice is now dry as normal, she says.

"You would have needed high boots for fishing on Monday," says Sandro, owner of the Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo near San Stae vaporetto stop. "We're on one of the highest points of Venice so it didn't quite get into the hotel. But we were watching the level closely. Just a few cm. more and it would have been inside." He attributes the ultra high water to a combination of the moon, rain and a strong wind from the southwest which drove the Adriatic into the city.

He says the Moses Project, a $5.5-billion system of offshore dams to protect the city won't be finished until 2011.

A day after the flooding, Sandro was still dealing with cancellations caused by news stories.

The Ca Dei Dogi Hotel nearer to St. Mark's Square switched on its pumps when the water got 15 cm. deep on the first floor.

"We were lucky we could deal with the water," says owner, Suzanna. "But we'll still have to replace some of the wooden doors damaged by the water." She tells me a local shoe store wasn't so fortunate. Stocks of footwear were completely destroyed by the water and the owner was forced to close.

She says that several guests at the hotel had to walk through the flooded streets to catch road transportation at the Piazzale Roma because vaporettos couldn't get under the bridges due to the high water.

"We bought boots for the guests and they walked," she says. "It's a long way but they wanted to do it." She says that at the height of the flooding even the raised wooden walkways were useless because they just floated away.

She agrees that if you come to Venice in winter it's best to be prepared and bring along boots.

I brought an umbrella too. And it looks like it will get some use. It's starting to pour.

SONY DSLR-A300 1/60 second F/11.0 ISO 100 27 mm (35mm equiv.)

1/60 second
ISO 100
27 mm (35mm equiv.)