Travel | October 6, 2020 12:14 pm

Venice’s New Levee System Stopped Flooding for the First Time

MOSE is designed to keep 10-foot tides at bay

girl in a yellow raincoat in venice
The Mose flood defense saved the city from high water levels on Saturday.
Giacomo Cosua/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Venice has been rocked by extremes as of late. At this time last year, we were sharing photos of the medieval city’s grim overtourism problem: just 55,000 people live full-time in the historic old city, but at least 50,000 visitors were showing up each day, clogging ports and canals for endless photo ops.

Early this year, of course, the pandemic arrived. The Venetian wish for fewer tourists came true, but it came a little too true. The city has lost billions in revenue. Some city officials have framed this time as an opportunity to rethink Venice’s relationship to the world — When travel opens up again, what can Venice do differently this time around? — but the truth remains that the city is hurting right now, and dealing with a ton of uncertainty in a very unforgiving year.

All that to say, Venice needed a win. And it got one this weekend, when its “MOSE” defense system, a multi-billion-dollar project to defeat rising sea levels around the lagoon city, successfully held back the tide during a storm, as Skift reported. Venetians are used to flooding in the city’s lowest areas, like the San Marco Piazza. The devastating phenomenon is called acqua alta, and last year it reached its highest level in over 50 years. Climate experts have long warned that without a sustainable solution, Venice could be underwater by the end of the century. After all, it was 70% underwater at one point last year.

MOSE is a huge step in the right direction. A network of 78 yellow barriers, lined up on a sea bed at the entrance to the Venetian Lagoon, the system was designed to withstand 10-foot tides. Construction began way back in 2003. For this weekend’s storm, experts had predicted swells of just 4.27 feet. The threat was concerning enough that businesses put furniture away, and workers put out raised walkways for pedestrians. But MOSE delivered, keeping the water at bay. In a year like 2020, that’s no easy feat. Consider it one for one.