Saving Venice from the sea

A modern flood barrier is this ancient city’s best hope against high water. A Venetian explains the benefits of this unique technology.

In the morning, the ‘calli are filled with locals – young and old, men and women pack the streets and lane ways with trolleys weighed down by fruit, vegetables, fish and other wares, all converging on the city’s only market, the Rialto, which is the core of Venetian trade. It’s easy to forget sometimes that there is real life going on in the open-air museum that is Venice. The Rialto opens a window onto this other world and those who depend on Venice for a living.

However, Venice’s way of life is threatened by high levels of the very thing that was once one of its main defenses: water. The combination of rising water levels, steady erosion and land subsidence have brought daily challenges to its inhabitants, turning even a routine act like buying groceries into an adventure! In winter, it is not unusual to be roused by wailing sirens announcing flood danger. The sound of the sirens intensifies as the danger increases, and fortified with rubber boots, people move slowly and cautiously down the overflowing streets and lanes, picking their way with care.

The chaos and damage caused by high water is hard to fathom. Imagine the Byzantine mosaics of the San Marco cathedral underwater. Seawater destroys foundations and brick walls, weakening and ruining public and private property, and some houses have to abandon their lowest floors to the rising water.

Various solutions are under way to manage this situation. The city of Venice is entrusting its future to the technology of the new MOSE flood barrier, consisting of 78 steel gates installed at the three inlets connecting the Venetian Lagoon to the Adriatic Sea. Hinged to concrete bases embedded in the sea floor, the gates lie flat when not in use, but can be raised in about 30 minutes to protect Venice from water up to three meters high surging into the lagoon from the sea.

MOSE is a huge project and should be operational within the next three years. As a new property owner in the center of Venice, I am very proud (and relieved, let me add) to know that ABB is playing a major role in the MOSE project by supplying the complete electrical and  automation system to manage the entire process, as well as cyber security and surveillance protection systems.

I believe this project is a great experience for ABB, and it also helps me understand just how directly we impact daily lives through our products, technology and systems. For sure, the 56,000 inhabitants of Venice, including me, are thankful. But if we consider the immense artistic heritage of Venice, I think actually the appreciation stretches far beyond its calli, canals and lagoon.

Further links:

Symphony Plus 

Water solutions from ABB

The MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) project 



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About the author

Matteo Marini

I am the President of ABB Italy, and Region Division Head Europe of the Power Grids Division. I'm convinced that developing technologies which preserve our environment and enhance our cultural heritage is the role our company plays in making a smarter, stronger and greener world.
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