Swell time in Venice as flood gates protect canal city from high tide

Mose flood barrier scheme is used for the first time, in Venice, Italy, October 3, 2020.
Mose flood barrier scheme is used for the first time, in Venice, Italy, October 3, 2020. © REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

For Venice, this was a weekend to go down in history and one Venetians will not forget for a long time. There is a renewed sense hope and relief after the MOSE flood gate system kicked into action for the first time to protect the city from flooding during high tide.


On Saturday morning the 78 bright-yellow flood-barriers of the long-delayed 'Mose' project, were raised from the sea-bed for the first time during a high tide to stop the water fuelled by a strong scirocco wind from flooding the lagoon and the city.

It took over an hour and a team of 100 technicians to raise all the barriers but the operation was a huge success.

This came to the delight of Venetians and tourists who were able to continue walking in a dry Saint Mark’s Square and Basilica without having to resort to elevated walkways that had been laid out when the experts forecast a tide of 130 centimetres.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro was emotional and beyond happy as he expressed his satisfaction over the success of the Mose system.

"Everything is dry today. We stopped the sea," he said enthusiastically.

Climate change linked to rising seas

Last November, Venice witnessed a high tide of 187 centimetres, the second highest this century, that caused major damage to the city and its spectacular buildings.

Experts warned that climate change and rising sea levels have brought an increased frequency of high waters to Venice and that making the flood-barriers operational was urgent.

Works on the system were accelerated and while all the barriers have already been installed some infrastructure still needs to be completed.

The 1.5 kilometres of the Mose system was designed in the 1980s to protect this extraordinary and unique lagoon city from tides of up to 3 metres, which is well beyond the current records.  

Work began in 2003 on the system of mobile barriers that are now located at the inlets of Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia, the three gates of the coastal cordon through which the tide spreads from the Adriatic Sea into the Venice lagoon.

When the barriers are raised the entire lagoon is isolated from the sea and protected from events of high tides. When the barriers are inactive, they are invisible as they are full of water and lie on the seabed.

Reference to biblical parting of the waters

To raise them, compressed air is introduced to empty them of the water, and they have been designed to remain above water for the duration of the high tide event.

Mose is an acronym for 'Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico', or 'Experimental Electromechanical Module', and refers to the biblical figure Moses who parted the Red Sea to enable the Israelites to flee to safety from Egypt.

Critics says the project is 10 years too late, due to scandals and corruption and that the costs have been exorbitant, three times over its original budget.

But supporters say that the raising of the barriers to deal with Saturday’s high tide event was the demonstration that when Italy wants to do things right it is capable of doing so.

And lovers of Venice now are thrilled that this unique city with all its art and culture will be able to be admired for many years to come.

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