Venice flood barrier – the truth about Mose

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Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Laura Teso

Update of October, 2020: Mose finally worked! After 15 years of works, 6 billion euros spent (should have been 1,6 according to the first quotes) and corruption cases, the Mose is ready. On Saturday October 5th, Venice flood barriers have passed their first emergency during the 130 cm peak, a level that would normally inundate about half of the city. The lowest point in the city, St Mark’s Square, remained dry as tourists were in line to enter the Basilica and the Doge Palace, and some shopkeepers celebrated the event with a toast. But… not all that glitters is gold.

In fact, the truth is that, since the work is not complete, the barriers will be lifted only in case of exceptional tides (over 130 cm) until the end of 2021. Therefore, Piazza San Marco is destined to be flooded again (as said, it is the lowest point of the city, it floods with tides 90 cm high).

You can still read the post if you want to learn more about the Flood Barriers. 

The exceptional high tide of november 2019 was a disaster. The uproar concerned above all the flooding inside St. Mark’s Basilica. The church is in fact located in the lower part of the city and it is consequently the first to be hit by acqua alta. The water level inside San Marco reached 90 cm. As soon as the water receded, mosaics and marbles were immediately cleaned. Tourists could then visit the church soon after. But experts are worried about the possible stability damages of similar events.

October, 28 flooding. Photo by @gianialessia on Instagram
October, 28 flooding. Photo by @gianialessia on Instagram

What is Mose?

Mose is the project that should save Venice from floodings. It is a system of mobile gates, that could be raised in case of tides higher than 110 cm. Its name is an acronym and stands for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico. In English, Experimental Electromechanical Module. The name is aimed to remind that of Moses, Mosè in Italian. But apparently it is not as miraculous or effective as he was.

If you read my post about acqua alta, you should know that Venice is connected to the sea through 3 entrances. These entrances are called in Italian bocche di porto (meaning port mouths): Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia. The mobile gates of the Mose system are installed precisely in these three areas of the Lagoon. The gates can temporarily isolate Venice from the sea during high tides.

Scandals and delays

Works begun in 2003. In 2014, a huge scandal involved the Mose. 35 people were arrested and about 100 under investigation. The charges? Corruption, tax fraud, bribery and so on. Among the arrested, the former major of Venice, the former president of the Veneto region and many entrepreneurs and politicians. But in the end the sentence was very mild. Many people were discharged and others got off easily anyway. After that, the Italian State intervened to ensure the prosecution of the works.

The initial date of completion of the Venice flood barrier was 2011. Then it became 2014. And then 2018. I recently heard rumors about Spring 2019 (update: already passed by now). But the truth is that it won’t be ready before 2021. Because, even if the works should really end in 2019, three more years are required for testing and setting up. Note that ordinary maintenance costs 100 millions of euros per year.

Venice flood barrier  malfunctions

In the meantime, it seems that during one of the first tests something went wrong. Some gates could not return to their original position. The left spot was in fact immediately filled with debris. In addition, many shipyards are in a state of complete abandonment.

Furthermore, the control office has just blocked a maintenance project. Why? It forecast an expense of 3 millions euros for 2 gates, while the construction of a single gate costed 1 million. Finally, rumor has it that the gates are already partially eroded by sea water.

Below, a photo of the Venice Marathon. This year the participants run with acqua alta.

Venice marathon photo by Venezia Today
Venice marathon photo by Venezia Today

This is all I could gather from online articles about the Venice flood barrier. And while the Mose system stands still, Venice is exposed to floodings danger.

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