Record low tides in Venice have left the city’s famous gondolas and vaporetti water taxis stranded on mud banks.
The canals of Venice are the lifeblood of the city, but boatmen, businesses and tourists are suffering as below normal tides are making getting around the islands in the famous lagoon difficult.
The low tides are combining with a lack of rain in the north east of Italy to drain the level of the canals to 70 centimetres lower than normal.
They are also exposing decades of neglect and poor workmanship as the low waters reveal eroded brickwork and footings undermining ancient buildings.
Shoddy maintenance exposed
Even the city mayor’s speedboat was marooned on the mud among gondolas, water buses and other boats that normally move freely along the canals.
Some smaller canals dry up completely at low tide and are inaccessible to even boats with the shallowest draught.
“Low tides are not unusual in the winter,” said a spokesman for the mayor.
“However what we are seeing now are much, much lower than usual and are setting records.”
Even the Grand Canal, the city’s main thoroughfare has been disrupted by the low tides, and this is where many years of shoddy maintenance are exposed.
Crumbling foundations can be seen under many historic buildings, while large deposits of mud and silt that have not been dredged for years are visible along the sides of the canal.
Junk in waters fouls boats
The low water has also revealed another threat to boats – huge amounts of rubbish and litter strewn into the water.
Because the canal levels are so low, many boats are finding their propellers are now fouling on years of accumulated waste that no one has cleared. Until now, higher water levels have let boats move more freely above the junk piles.
Critics say the city council has failed to dredge and clear the canals of rubbish.
Ironically, priority has been given to a £4 billion flood barrier project designed to save the city from sinking below raising sea levels, but the current danger is from falling tides.
The city suffers around five high tidal surges a year that raise water levels by a metre or more.