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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!