Venice: The barrage of Moses could have saved the city

Thursday, 14.11.2019
22:00 O'clock

Little time? At the end of the text there is a summary.

Moses: The name fits perfectly with the huge bulwark that is supposed to shield Venice from floods and rising sea levels. Like the prophet in biblical history, the barrage will someday divide the sea.


The experimental electromechanical module, or Moses for short, functions like a dike opening up: a total of 78 flood gates are designed to close the three entrances to the Venice lagoon – each weighing a good 250 tons and being up to five meters thick, 20 meters wide and 30 meters high.

At normal levels, the steel boxes are filled with water and lie horizontally on the seabed. However, if the tide reaches the critical value of 1.10 meters above normal, air is pumped into the top of the boxes, the water is displaced and the boxes are set up, the theory goes.

  But technical mishaps, corruption and unnerved responsible people who have lost their jobs have delayed the project again and again.

"It would not have happened to Moses"


The consequences got the lagoon city in the night to Wednesday felt. The levels swelled up to 1.87 meters above normal level, boats broke free, at least one man was killed. Works of art and famous collections have apparently been spared, but the salty water is added to the historic buildings. Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini spoke of an "emergency".

  With Moses, Venice's mayor Luigi Brugnaro is sure, that would not have happened. He demands that the mega project be completed as soon as possible.

  Since time immemorial, the Venetians have been fighting against the downfall of their city, which they had wrested from the water. They planted shrubs, built palisades, walls of waterproof concrete. In the 14th century, anything that threatened flood control was severely punished, including public flogging.


Over the centuries, the Venetians have become accustomed to wading over the St. Mark's Square with rubber boots several times a year. But last, the floods have increased significantly. (Why this is so, read here).

"The Great Unfinished"

  Already in the eighties, the city decided to build the barrier system Moses. It is considered the largest infrastructure project in Italy since the end of the Second World War. In 2003, Silvio Berlusconi, then Prime Minister, laid the first foundation stone. Eight years later, the project should be completed. But the completion was constantly delayed, first to 2014, then to 2017, at the moment is from 2021 the speech.

  First, rusted parts of the construction before the gates could be used at all. Then it turned out that contractors and politicians co-deserved a great deal in the project – a total of over 500 million euros. In 2014, there were dozens of arrests up to the highest levels of government. The allegation: money laundering, embezzlement and extortion. The then Minister of Transport Altero Matteoli was sentenced to four years in prison. Spicy: The construction of Moses also involves a financial holding of the Berlusconi family.

Video: Flooding in Venice – an attraction for tourists


Manuel Silvestri / REUTERS

  Because of the delay Italian media call the huge barrage also "the great unfinished". Originally, the steel dam cost 1.6 billion euros, meanwhile, it has more than tripled. In the end, the bill will amount to at least six billion euros.

  If the fold-out steel wall is finished at some point, it should protect Venice from storm surges up to three meters high. The individual gates are anchored in special caissons. If there is a flood, the gates should not rise at the same time, but one after the other. It will take half an hour to reach the flood wall. To allow vessels to sail into the harbor when the gates are up, a 370 meter long lock is planned.

  But by no means everyone believes in the success of the project. Thus, some parts of Venice can be flooded even at lower water levels, where the gates would not start up.

"92 to 93 percent finished"

  "Anyone who knows the lagoon knows that they can not make me reinforced concrete," said a Venetian news agency dpa. The criticism of many residents: Instead of taking care of the flood protection, the policy has sold the city to the tourism and cruise companies. Property prices have exploded in recent years, many Venetians can not afford the rents.

  Researchers also fear that the barrage creates other problems. If the water level persists, the lagoon might have to be closed off from the Adriatic Sea for days. This could limit the oxygen in the lagoon's water and cause the ecosystem to collapse. The lagoon of Venice would become a sewer.


Some researchers therefore propose to raise the whole city, for example by means of liquid cement. The idea dates back to the seventies. At that time, a small island in the lagoon of Venice was successfully raised by ten centimeters.

  Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte praises meanwhile improvement. His promise: Moses is to "92 to 93" percent ready and 2021 go into operation. However, others have promised something similar to him. In 2013, it was said that the bulwark was 75 percent complete.

In summary: Actually, the mobile barrage Moses, which is to shield Venice from floods and rising sea levels, should have been finished long ago. But technical breakdowns and allegations of corruption have delayed the work again and again. Now, the building is scheduled to start operation in 2021, Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte promises.

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