Acqua Bassa – low tide in Venice

Venice is a city that never ceases to surprise. Whether it’s finding a quiet, courtyard off the beaten track, witnessing a little-known festival or learning more about her long, complex history, Venice has plenty to offer. But this week she had another surprise hidden up her sleeve.

Gondole beached on the muddy Grand Canal

Gondole beached on the muddy Grand Canal

Or should I say hidden underwater as we’ve had some very low tides in Venice. It’s as if someone has pulled the plug on the lagoon. And coming after the acqua alta high tides of November and December, the sight was quite strange.

Jetty to nowhere

Jetty to nowhere

Canal-side wooden jetties jutted out into thin air. Landing stage steps descended halfway to nowhere, never quite reaching the water. And the barnacled, weed-coated foundations of the palazzi along the Grand Canal were shockingly exposed like the dirty petticoats of a Victorian lady.

One step beyond

One step beyond

Low tide exposes the weed covered canal entrance steps to a palazzo

Low tide exposes the weed & barnacle covered steps to a palazzo

But as with acqua alta, low tide isn’t just inconvenient, it causes travel problems too. Instead of being flooded, citizens were left high and dry as a drop in water levels of around 1m dumped the little motor-boats, the equivalent of our family cars, in the thick mud of the small side canals. And even if your boat wasn’t stuck in the mud, some canals were impassable due to the lack of clearance.

Motor boats stuck high and dry in a side canal

Motor boats stuck high and dry in a side canal

Gondole moored up on the muddy banks of the Grand Canal

Gondole moored up on the muddy banks of the Grand Canal

Even the Grand Canal, 4-5m at its deepest, didn’t escape as its shallow edges were exposed leaving gondole sitting on their muddy moorings near the Rialto. Low tide also revealed some of the detritus thrown or dropped into the canal including wine and beer bottles, the odd mobile phone and even a forlorn skeleton of a long-lost umbrella.

A long-lost umbrella exposed on the Grand Canal

A long-lost umbrella exposed on the Grand Canal

Deliveries were inconvenienced too as the canal-sides towered above the laden barges making off-loading tricky. And even our airport shuttle captain checked with a colleague that there was still enough clearance for his yellow water ferry before entering Canareggio last weekend – I guess its much the same as we might check our satnav for traffic jams, just different, as is everything we do in Venice!

Water doors to a grand palazzo

Water doors to a grand palazzo

In fact though, chatting to a couple of gondoliers it seems that these low tides are a common, albeit little-known, part of the tidal patterns in Venice and occur mostly in January and February. And although low tides are clearly much less dramatic or damaging than the high tides that flood the city, they bring their own issues too that Venetians have had to learn to live with.

Once-used steps lie exposed to the air again at low tide

Once-used steps lie exposed to the air again at low tide

Overall, the last week has proved that Venice always has a surprise up her sleeve and is more than just high water, flooding and wellies! So if you’re over here in the next few weeks don’t be alarmed if you see more of the canals that criss-cross the city, or more specifically their bottoms, than you anticipated!

Gondole mired in mud

Gondole mired in mud

Motor taxis on the Grand Canal

Water taxis sit on the mudflats on the Grand Canal

Stairway to nothing

Traghetto landing stage stairway exposed to the elements

The barnacled foundations of a Grand Canal palazzo are exposed to the air

The barnacled foundations of a Grand Canal palazzo are exposed to the air (along with the sewer, bottom right)

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15 Responses to Acqua Bassa – low tide in Venice

  1. Another great blog post my friend…..the photos are surreal!!!!

    • lizbert1 says:

      Thank you Cecelia! It was weird seeing the gondole sitting on the mud on the Grand Canal as I hadn’t realised it was soooo shallow at the edges! I shall be keeping my eyes open to see what else I can spot….! ;o)

  2. Wow I did not know about the acqua bassa! Your photos show it so clearly.. And the umbrella is haunting!
    What a mystical city Venezia is!

  3. Yvonne says:

    And how about the sewage outlet revealed in all its glory. I’ve seen acqua bassa before, but never this low. Maybe the next thing will be a big freeze …

    • lizbert1 says:

      Ooooh I do hope its not the precursor to a big freeze Yvonne! I don’t mind a spot of snow now and then but I don’t fancy slip-sliding along the canal side if its all icy!!!

  4. Fishink says:

    ” the Grand Canal were shockingly exposed like the dirty petticoats of a Victorian lady ” Your writing just gets better and better : )

  5. Wonderful post, and the photos are phenomenal!

    • lizbert1 says:

      Wow, thank you Margie! Admittedly I did take loads of photos as I’d never seen low tide like this before, so I had plenty to chose from!!! Hope alls well in the blogging world with you! :o)

  6. A wonderful post about La Serenissima! Grazie mille. Fantastico foto

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