Sunday, 6 November 2016

Remembering the Venice Flood of 1966 - Aqua Granda 50 Years On

Venice 1966 high water - Photo: Comune
(Venice, Italy) Friday, November 4, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the devastating 1966 flood in Venice, and nearly every organization in town has done their part to remember the day, coordinated by the Venice Comune in a program called "Aqua Granda."

On November 4, 1966, Venice and Florence were hit by dramatic weather conditions: rain, wind, high tides, melting snow. The Arno River burst through its embankments in Florence, and the waters of the Venice lagoon rose up over more than 6 feet, inundating over 75% of the city. When the waters finally receded, both cities were without food, gas or electricity. Florence was covered with a thick oily mud, and 101 people had lost their lives.

For 22 hours, Venice was completely isolated from the rest of the planet. The ground floors of 90% of the city were flooded, trapping people in their homes. When it was over, thousands were left homeless and fled to the mainland, never to return, starting an insidious exodus out of the historic center.

Crucially, both Renaissance cities were treasure chests filled with precious works of art and rare manuscripts. Museums, galleries, churches, archives, and libraries containing many of mankind's highest achievements were damaged or destroyed. 

Marciana Library
The flood waters in Venice also washed away the blinders that had hidden how dramatically the ancient city had been neglected and allowed to fall into decay, shocking the planet into action. The General Conference of UNESCO, which was meeting at the time, decided to launch an international campaign to safeguard the precious city. 

Throughout the world the call for help went out, and the World of Art and Culture flew into action, forming committees and raising money. Many organizations formed in 1966 still exist today, like the American Save Venice, Inc., the French Committee to Safeguard Venice, and the British Venice in Peril Fund. 

Ted Kennedy in Venice
On November 4, 1966, Ted Kennedy, then a first-term Senator from Massachusetts, was in Geneva when he received a phone call from his sister-in-law, Jackie Kennedy, urging him to go to Florence, which he did. He then came here to Venice on November 16, together with Ambassador Fred Reinhardt, and surveyed the damage, some of the most serious to manuscripts housed at the Marciana Library.

Marciana Library
Through November 27 there is an exhibition Venezia 1966 - 2016 in the Sale Monumentali of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana where you can view newspaper clippings, Marconigrams (I'd never heard of a Marconigram before, a message sent via radio), photos, and other records of that fateful day.

Ritorno in Piazza by Anna Zemella at Olivetti Store
At the Olivetti store in Piazza San Marco there is a photography exhibition, Return to the Piazza, by Anna Zemella and curated by Jane da Mosto that runs through January 8, 2017. Jane has also written an excellent book, together with Giannandrea Mencini, entitled Acqua in Piazza, which explains in clear language everything you would like to know about acqua alta, and how it affects Venice. Both books have been published by lineadacqua, a publishing house in Venice.

The projects, part of L'acqua e la Piazza, are promoted by FAI, the National Trust of Italy, in collaboration with Associazione Piazza San Marco and Venice IUAV Architecture University, and curated by We Are Here Venice. Instead of revisiting the flood, L'acqua e la Piazza tells a story about the relationship between Venetians, the water and Piazza San Marco.

Another nifty part of the project is a blue line on many Venetian businesses that marks how high in centimeters the 1966 water level reached, from +84 on the Caffè Quadri, to +101 on the Gritti Palace Hotel, to a whopping +143 on the Galleria Ravagnan.

Aquagranda at La Fenice
La Fenice commissioned a new opera, Aquagranda by Filippo Perocco, which opened the season with the world premiere on Friday night. Set on the island of Pellistrina, which was hit hardest by the flooding when the sea broke through the Murazzi, a dam built of Istrian stone by the Venetian Republic, the opera runs through November 13.

Photo: Wolfgang Moroder
Alberto Nardi, of the renowned jewelers, Nardi, which has been located in Piazza San Marco for nearly a hundred years, wrote a poignant forward in Acqua in Piazza. Nardi is also the Chairman for the Associazione Piazza San Marco. Here is an excerpt:

"...When the acqua alta recedes, the shopkeepers of the Piazza are left with the repetitive, relentless task of cleaning up after the dirty water, already dreading the next tide. They anxiously follow the various forecasts, hoping that the wind will die down and that the bad weather will be less violent than predicted. Often -- in recent times I should say too often -- their hopes go unfulfilled as the water, slowly but inexorably, rises again, spreading to every corner of the Piazza.

All this creates psychological damage, which I consider even more harmful and insidious than the obvious economic damage. The frequent occurrence of these events renders the mind sluggish, as if the indomitably adaptive Venetian spirit has given way to an inert acceptance of what, instead, should never be accepted.

It must never be accepted that Piazza San Marco will continue to be flooded... 

To see all the Aqua Granda events, go to Venezia Unica.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. It must never be accepted that Piazza San Marco will continue to be flooded...