Go to contents

[Op-Ed] Venice Is Sinking

Posted December. 03, 2009 07:25,   


Countless expressions have described the Italian city of Venice, including “aquatic city,” “queen of the Adriatic Sea,” “the most beautiful city made by humans,” and “the most romantic European city.” Shiono Nanami, the author of “Stories of the Romans,” called Venice the “city of the sea” and different from other aquatic cities. Visitors to Venice retain fond memories of riding gondolas on waterways through ancient buildings and drinking beer at the Piazza San Marco.

The town was created after linking 118 small islands with about 400 bridges. In the fifth century, Veneto residents moved into tidal flats filled with reeds to escape the invading Huns and started a settlement there. Venice built up its wealth through East-West intermediary trade and diplomacy and continued to thrive as a European cultural center until it was conquered by France in 1797. It is no coincidence that Venice is the hometown of Antonio Vivaldi, the composer of the “Four Seasons,” and was the background of the Shakespearean plays “The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello.” The entire cityscape of Venice is on the World Cultural Heritage list. The city continues to enjoy its glorious fame through festivals for movies, architecture, art and design.

In the past, Venice suffered from chronic floods that submerged it more than 60 times a year. This is because the city’s base, which was created by hammering wooden piles onto tidal flats, has been gradually descending amid rising sea levels. Measures have been considered to solve the problem since the last major flood hit in 1966, but no tangible results have come. Forbes magazine warns that Venice’s survival is threatened because its population plunged last year due to the risk of flooding. Experts say the city will become uninhabitable around 2030 due to rising sea levels.

Venice is not alone in facing a crisis due to rising sea levels. Maldives, Bangladesh and Tuvalu in the southwest Pacific are expected to be completely submerged under water by 2050. The crisis of Venice is sending a warning signal that the most beautiful city made by humans could disappear due to environmental pollution resulting from human intemperance and greed.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)