The UNESCO World Heritage property comprises the city of Venice and its lagoon situated in the Veneto Region of Northeast Italy. Founded in the 5th century AD and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.
In this lagoon covering 550 km², nature and history have been closely linked since the 5th century when Venetian populations, to escape barbarian raids, found refuge on the sandy islands of Torcello, Jesolo and Malamocco. These temporary settlements gradually became permanent and the initial refuge of the land-dwelling peasants and fishermen became a maritime power. Over the centuries, during the entire period of the expansion of Venice, when it was obliged to defend its trading markets against the commercial undertakings of the Arabs, the Genoese and the Ottoman Turks, Venice never ceased to consolidate its position in the lagoon.
In this inland sea that has continuously been under threat, rises amid a tiny archipelago at the very edge of the waves one of the most extraordinary built-up areas of the Middle Ages. From Torcello to the north to Chioggia to the south, almost every small island had its own settlement, town, fishing village and artisan village (Murano). However, at the heart of the lagoon, Venice itself stood as one of the greatest capitals in the medieval world. When a group of tiny islands were consolidated and organized in a unique urban system, nothing remained of the primitive topography but what became canals, such as the Giudecca Canal, St Mark’s Canal and the Great Canal that are the veritable arteries of a city on water.
The spectacular centerpiece of Venice, St Mark’s Square, now floods more than 60 times a year, up from four times a year in 1900. Storms sometimes help cover over 70% of the city in water, which has risen by up to 156cm above its normal level. Within 50 years this kind of flooding could occur with nearly every high tide. The increase in flooding in Venice is due to the combined effects of land subsidence causing the city to sink, and climate change causing the global sea level to rise. Records held in the city show the Venice sea level has consistently risen by a total of 26cm since 1870. Further measurements show that sea level is still rising 2.4mm a year. The expected 2oC rise in global temperatures means an additional 40cm rise in sea level around Venice by 2050. In fact, some experts have argued that Venice will be gone by the year 2100.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a special report on the social and economic consequences of global warming. Every tenth of a degree means more people evacuating to find another place to live. A 10cm rise in sea level exposes 10 million more people to flooded homes. The higher the temperature climbs, the costlier and more dangerous the impacts. If we don’t take action to reduce emissions now, global warming could reach 2.7 to 3.7 degrees Celsius by 2100. If emissions aren’t reduced, sea levels may rise up to 1.5 meters, which could submerge land currently home to more than 150 million people.
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