Venice Is Really Sinking: How Corruption & Overtourism Have Worsened the Acqua Alta Problem

Photo Courtesy: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Located on the Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay in northeastern Italy, Venice is a city made up of 118 small islands, all of which are linked by more than 400 bridges. Given monikers like "The Floating City," Venice touts its unique waterfront features, causing many to tease that "it’s sinking." However, as of November 2019, Venice really is sinking — or being overtaken by water. And that once tongue-in-cheek expression has become a very pressing problem.

According to reports, about 3 feet of standing water still fills the cafes and businesses that flank St. Mark’s Square. Meanwhile, the city’s famous gondolas, which can’t make it under the now-low-hanging bridges, are beached. The damage to the canals and historic sites — including the renowned St. Mark’s Basilica — has put Venice’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in jeopardy.

The recent acqua alta (high water) isn’t the city’s first time contending with drastically rising tides — there were devastating floods in 1966 too — but the recent influx of water has caused a staggering $1.1 billion in damages. Art historian and UNESCO’s former Venice advisor Wolfgang Wolters spoke to Germany’s DW News, saying that unlike the floods of 53 years ago, it's "clear that the problem [today] is man-made."