A chronicle of the floods in Venice

Floods in Venice have not been so violent as in the past two years. On November 12th when the tide reached 1,87 meter above the sea level in the middle of the night, the sense of helplessness seized everyone. I could not believe the tide was almost at the level it had reached in 1966. 

The “acqua granda” of 1966, the highest tide ever recorded in Venice, was a legendary event. I was not born yet, but of course knew about it. All of the sudden, it was not just photos of a past event. It was the present time and it felt like a point of no return.

The days after were affected by more floods, or, better said, high tide peaks — water normally recedes after some hours. The evidence of the damages grew as time passed by. Two dead people. Homes and boats devastated. Almost 87% of the city under water for hours. Venice’s world heritage threatened in the years to come as the effects of salt water are not immediately visible. Artisans’ workshops recording economic damages that could force them to close. Maybe going to be replaced by cheap junk. A nightmare.

Floods are emergencies. So the first thing was to act as soon as possible to limit the damages.

Floods affecting the Music Conservatory’s library in Venice

A couple of days after the floods, I passed by the Music Conservatory “Benedetto Marcello”. There, a group of young men and women were taking care of the 65-meter long library of ancient funds that had gone under water. Manuscripts will be freeze-dried. No mould will form while water will be let evaporate. As for Fausto Torresana’s fund including 15,000 highly precious volumes, it will also be saved. Featuring a first edition of works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Benedetto Marcello’s Psalms dating back to 1724 and much more, the fund has already been sent to the restoration laboratory run by Pietro Livi in Bologna (www.fratielivi.it).

Books sealed to be restored after the floods in Venice, Music Conservatory Benedetto Marcello

Books sealed to be restored after the floods in Venice, Music Conservatory Benedetto Marcello

Ode to Joy by Ludwig van Beethoven, a book of the Music Conservatory's Library in Venice to be restored after the floods

Ode to Joy by Ludwig van Beethoven, a book of the Music Conservatory’s Library in Venice to be restored after the floods

Sonate da Cembalo by Benedetto Marcello, a book of the Music Conservatory's Library in Venice to be restored after the floods

Sonate da Cembalo by Benedetto Marcello, a book of the Music Conservatory’s Library in Venice to be restored after the floods

The Querini Stampalia Foundation damaged by the floods

Similarly, at the Querini Stampalia Foundation, the library (and not just) experienced serious damages. Around 35-meter long miscellany of the late 19th century together with more 600-meter long modern publications and magazines need to be restored. The Carlo Scarpa ground floor area, too. And as for the Music Conservatory and the rest of the city, also for this important library and museum, “guardian angels” came to help. Volunteers, especially university students, but also younger, reached Venice to help from all over Italy. Thanks to social media, they were very well organised.

Damaged books from the Querini Stampalia Library in Venice after the floods

Damaged books from the Querini Stampalia Library in Venice after the floods (photo by courtesy of Querini Stampalia Foundation)

The Carlo Scarpa area at the Querini Stampalia Foundation in Venice after the floods

The Carlo Scarpa area at the Querini Stampalia Foundation in Venice after the floods (photo by courtesy of Querini Stampalia Foundation)

Young students at the Querini Stampalia library in Venice take care of the damaged books after the floods

Young students at the Querini Stampalia library in Venice take care of the damaged books after the floods (photo by courtesy of Querini Stampalia Foundation)

After the floods in Venice

In a few days media spotlights on this tragedy will be turned off. What will be left? It would be essential that once the emergency is over, some long-sighted politics takes place. 

Surely engineers and environmentalists should find a way to go beyond the MOSE project (some say it will likely not work) and maintain it (www.mosevenezia.eu/mose/). As climate change and the consequent rise of the sea level are clearly turning exceptional floods into ordinary events, this point is essential. 

A plan for constant and daily maintenance of the city and its services is also needed.

What I fear most, though, is that November 2019 floods will impoverish the city social texture. In particular, in this age of over tourism, Venice has already lost a lot of artisans’ activities. These floods may affect these businesses at their chore. 

An idea for a future Venice stemming from its past: my hopes

In 2018 in two weeks 62,500 visitors from all over the world came to Venice for an unprecedented showcase of the finest European craftsmanship, called “Homo Faber”. Organised by the Michelangelo Foundation and arranged by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini on San Giorgio Maggiore island, Homo Faber was meant to support master artisans handcrafting objects of true excellence. The Michelangelo Foundation has announced a new edition of Homo Faber for 2020 (www.homofaberevent.com). This time it will be international and not just European. Why not thinking of letting that become a permanent laboratory? International, excellence-based and unique. This is how I dream Venice should be.

It’s not impossible if we learn from the past when art and crafts often joined to fuel the economy of the city.

Tintoretto at the Scuola Grande San Rocco

Look at this amazing work by Tintoretto at the Scuola Grande San Rocco. In the middle of the bubonic plague killing a third of the population in Venice, Tintoretto was entrusted with the decoration of the Main Hall of the Scuola, the Sala del Capitolo. He started with the Serpent in Bronze. Look at those corpses lying on top of each other. Tintoretto turned a major human tragedy in a masterpiece. For his contemporaries, to tell them there could be a rebirth. For us, to give us strength.

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Serpent in Bronze, Scuola Grande San Rocco, Venice ca. 1577, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Serpent in Bronze, Scuola Grande San Rocco, Venice ca. 1576, detail

The Salute Church and its altar piece

Or look at the terrified expression of this lady, representing again the plague in Juste Le Court’s altarpiece for the church of Madonna della Salute. This statue embodies the fear death can prevail, but it is represented when being defeated by a fat, little putto with a burning torch.

The representation of Plague by the Altar of Santa Maria della Salute church in Venice by Juste Le Court, 1670-74

The representation of Plague by the Altar of Santa Maria della Salute church in Venice by Juste Le Court, 1670-74

The hall of Music at the Ospedale Derelitti

Not just. Finally observe the eyes of the young woman in the centre of the fresco at the Hall of Music in the Ospedale Derelitti. Jacopo Guarana was entrusted by the women’s choir of this orphanage in 1776 to decorate their former kitchen and turn it into a room for private concerts. The orphanage was running into financial problems — as the whole Venice — and believed the excellent music these orphan women performed could attract funds and donations. This girl holds a music score mentioning a part of the opera “Antigone” by Pasquale Anfossi, her choir master. It says “against the adverse fortune, we will fight.”

Fresco by Jacopo Guarana for the Hall of Music, Church of Derelitti, Venice, 1776

Fresco by Jacopo Guarana for the Hall of Music, Church of Derelitti, Venice, 1776

Much beauty would not exist if there had not been a major problem as a terrible disease, an economic crash or conflict, the sense of loss. Art is surely cathartic. However, it’s much more. It heals in many senses. Art was meant to attract investments to Venice and did support the city’s growth. And the beautiful part of this story is that this is a true story. Let’s do our best to help it repeat.

by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy
www.seevenice.it

If you are happy to help:
www.querinistampalia.org/eng/support_us/venice_flooding_12_november_2019.php (for the Querini Stampalia Foundation)

 

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