Venice’s Enduring Romance & Possible Unfortunate Fate

Venice speaks to the permanence of humanity: everything is subject to change at any moment.

Venice
PHOTO Becky Chao

Venice is a magnificent feat of mankind: we have managed to somehow build this gorgeous city on water. Buildings seem to float on the surface as there ceases to exist shores, ports or some other transition from swaying water to solid land. Canals run through the city, breaking the city into tiny islands and creating a labyrinth – it truly is easy to get lost here, but that’s the best way to get to know a city. The streets are labeled; you may find signs on building corners: calles of various names – many of them have the ability to conjure images in your mind, like calle de le carozze, or “street of carriages.” It takes us back to an earlier Venice, as there are no horse-drawn carriages to be found in the city today. Venice is strictly pedestrian: no cars are allowed, as there are no roads and some streets barely allow enough space for couples to walk side-by-side, holding hands.

The city is, by any standard, romantic. It is a hot honeymoon destination, and you may find many couples participating in some rather public displays of affection – emphasis on equal parts public and affection. I can’t really blame them, though – the very idea of Venice is romantic: it was built in the early fifth century AD and it still survives (one could even say that it still thrives) to this day. The buildings are magnificent: they stand at colossal heights – palazzos were usually five stories tall – especially impressive, considering that the foundation of Venice is not actual island but swamp. Nonetheless, these buildings remain standing today and they appear unaffected for the most part: they have endured some considerable wear in terms of paint jobs and etc., but the original wooden balconies where the women once sat to observe the ongoing business on streets below and other such structures remain entirely intact (though the government does advise against going onto these structures, as their stability is questionable after so many centuries.)

Venice
PHOTO Becky Chao

But we’ve all heard the rumors and I’m afraid that they’re true: Venice is unfortunately sinking. It’s not at all noticeable, except to the perceptive eye that catches the handful (we’re talking four, maybe five) details that give Venice’s secret away. There are the towers, for example, that loom over the rest of Venice: they are easily the tallest buildings of the city. When you’re standing right before them, nothing appears off, but from far away, you can see that the tower leans – just like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This is due to the nature of Venice as a city built on water, or more precisely, a city built on swampland. How they’ve managed to build such a city is ingenious: drill wooden pillars deep into the ground, so deep that they go past muddy layer of swamp and into firmer layer of sediment underneath it. The wood then becomes petrified, allowing Venetians to build on top of these pillars strong enough to support five stories. But the sad reality is that the swampland is still sinking, slowly, steadily, at uneven rates all underneath Venice, leading to the slanted angles of buildings such as these towers. To make matters worst, the water level is rising. The situation has gotten so bad that Venice even has a condemned building: Ca’ da Mosto, a lop-sided building in a constant state of flooding. Unless something is done to save these buildings, the entire city of Venice may be condemned one day.

Such a situation is unfortunate. I cannot imagine this spectacular city so rich with history, art, and culture as defunct. Perhaps it was never meant to be, as it was built on such an unlikely foundation – a temporary triumph against nature. But this provides all the more reason to visit, to see all this incredible city has to offer before it may be gone. Venice speaks to the permanence of humanity: everything is subject to change at any moment. A kind of carpe diem mentality is promoted, as all life is much too delicate.

Venice
PHOTO Becky Chao

Becky Chao

A graduate from Duke University, Becky lived in Venice for several months. She traveled throughout Italy, Barcelona and other countries in Europe.

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