Jan
11

Motondoso: Waves Gone Wild, Part 1: The What

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Just one of the countless waves (here, the Giudecca Canal gives an uppercut to the Zattere) which are reducing Venice to rubble.

Just one of the countless waves (here, the Giudecca Canal lands a left hook on the Zattere) which are reducing Venice to rubble.

Slapping. Punching. Thudding. This is the sound of what things have come to. For 1,795 years, Venice celebrated Ascension Day with a ceremony in which the doge threw a golden ring into the sea and intoned the words: “Desponsamus te, O Mare, in signum veri perpetique dominii.”   (“I wed thee, O Sea, in sign of true and perpetual dominion.”)  In this case he was referring to the Adriatic, and possibly even the Mediterranean, and the Venetians did an excellent job of this for a long time.   But the Venetian lagoon is a body of water which resists domination.   It is not a happy marriage.

The gondoliers at the Molo, on the Bacino of San Marco in front of the Doge's Palace, finally installed a breakwater at their own expense. It's not the perfect solution, but it's better than nothing.

Over the past 50 years, the complex rapport between land and liquid, hitherto marred by only occasional bickering — an engineering misunderstanding, say, or some meteorological outburst — has now reached the stage of open battle.

But contrary to the general impression the world has of  Venice’s rapport with its waters, the most serious problem  does not involve acqua alta, or high tide. It is motondoso (sometimes moto ondoso), or the waves caused by motorboats, which is literally killing the lagoon’s erstwhile spouse.   And unlike other forms of pollution or pressure,  waves are a little hard to keep secret.   The sight and sound of crashing water has become nearly constant.

Venetians routinely refer to motondoso as “the cancer of Venice.”

If you’re not impressed by the roiling high seas surrounding the city (try stepping between the leaping and plunging dock and vaporetto after the motonave — or better yet, the Alilaguna, the yellow airport “bus” — has just passed), give a glance at any canal at low tide.

You’ll see walls with chunks of stone and brick gone, stone steps fallen askew, cracks and fissures snaking up building walls from the foundation to the second floor, and even higher. It doesn’t take many canals before you begin to wonder how the city manages to stay on its feet. There are palaces on virtually every canal which have holes in their foundations bigger than hula hoops —  dank caverns stretching back into the darkness. I have seen them with these very eyes. And if I’ve seen them, so has everybody else. But it just keeps getting worse.

Several years ago the fondamenta on the Giudecca facing the eponymous canal was finally completely repaired.  Years of pounding waves were causing it to literally fall into the canal.  But the waves continue as before — on the contrary, they’re increasing.  The force, the height, the frequency, pick what you will.  It’s all bad.  (One study has stated that the highest waves in the entire lagoon are in the Giudecca Canal.)

Therefore the fondamenta is beginning to weaken again in the same way, which you can check by looking at the point at which a building is attached to the fondamenta.  Cracks are opening up.  Again.  

So fixing — or saying you’ve fixed — a problem doesn’t count for much if you haven’t, you know, actually fixed it.

On the Giudecca: The green is dangerous to people above, the waves are dangerous to the fondamenta below. Waves can damage just about anything they can reach.

The constant spray from the waves creates the ideal environment for a type of algae which is spectacularly slippery. And in the winter, spray turns to ice. You're on your own.

It's not hard to find scenes like this, or worse, below the waterline. Here, a house near Campo Santa Maria Formosa. And just imagine how happy the owners of this house must be. Who pays for repairs is a saga unto itself. (Credit: Italia Nostra Venice Chapter)

Low tide here is an appalling revelation. One of the primary causes of this damage are enormous iron workboats. If one bumps into a wall even slightly, it opens a crack (or hole) which the waves keep eroding. Hey, it's not their wall. (Photo: Italia Nostra)

This is one version of the intermediate stage, here on the Riva dei Sette Martiri facing the Bacino of San Marco. The waves are working away underneath and eventually gravity will take over. This picture is a small illustration of how this phenomenon fits into real life: It's just normal by now. No warning sign or barrier to keep people away, no indication whatever that anything is going wrong here. This silent catastrophe is just sitting here peacefully in broad daylight as people wander by.

This is one version of the intermediate stage, here on the Riva dei Sette Martiri facing the Bacino of San Marco. The waves have been pushing and pulling underneath and gravity has begun to take over. Just imagine if this were happening under your house. And yet, this is normal by now. There are no warning signs or barriers, no indication whatever that anything is happening here. This silent catastrophe is just sitting here peacefully in broad daylight as people wander by.

Waves working night and day will eventually produce a result like this ruined fondamenta facing the Scomenzera canal just behind Piazzale Roma. The pavement looks like a dead parking lot but that is because it's undergoing renovation. This is almost certainly necessary because the pavement was giving way due to the waves in the canal weakening the soil upon which it rests. The stone border makes it eminently clear what that eventually means. The fondamenta will eventually be new, but the waves will continue – narrow as it is, this is a major canal for vaporetto and barge traffic.

Waves working night and day will eventually produce a result like this ruined fondamenta facing the Canale di Santa Chiara just behind Piazzale Roma. The former walkway looks like a dead parking lot because it's undergoing renovation, work almost certainly necessary because the pavement was giving way due to the pounding waves in the canal. The fondamenta will eventually be new, but the waves will continue – not only is the canal narrow, it is a major route for vaporetto and barge traffic.

Next: Part 2: The Why

Part 3:   The How

Suck It Up

Part 4: The lagoon’s eye view

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Comments

  1. […] There was the revolutionary vaporetto dubbed the “Mangia-onde” (or Waves-Eater, a nice, Norse-saga sort of nickname) which was going to banish waves and make their destructive effects a fading memory. It was built by the M Ship Co, of San Diego, California. One craft was bought and came to Venice in 1999 to great fanfare and trailing clouds of glory and the promise of the salvation of the city from motondoso. […]

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