THERE'S REALLY NO PLACE like Venice, the floating city on Italy's northeast coast, off the Adriatic Sea. In Venice, the streets are canals and the buses and taxis are boats. More than 12 million tourists from around the world come to Venice each year to ride along its canals, view its great squares and art-filled palaces, eat in its world-class restaurants, and stay in its elegant hotels. The city is one of the world's great treasures.
Yet Venice has a monstrous problem: The city is sinking slowly, but surely, into the sea. If something isn't done--and soon--there won't be any Venice to visit.
At the heart of Venice is St. Mark's Square, which surrounds the massive, five-domed Church of St. Mark. The Campanile, a tall bell tower, stands nearby, as does the Doge's palace. When Venice was an independent country, it was ruled by magistrates called Doges (DOHJ-es), who used the city's location to dominate the nearby seas. The pink stone palace was once the central building of Venice's sea empire, which included territories in the eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic seas for 1,000 years. (See "Empire of the Sea" on page 4.)
Motorboats and Pigeons
St. Mark's, the Doge's Palace, and Venice's other great stone buildings may look sturdy, but they rest on wooden posts driven into the muddy waters of the Adriatic--and are under attack as never before.
Motorboats violently churn the surrounding water, damaging the wooden foundations of buildings. Air pollution from factories on the Italian mainland has been damaging many older buildings. Even pigeons are on the attack. The city is overrun with more than 120,000 of the birds, which leave tons of acidic droppings that eat away at the ancient stone buildings.
The greatest threat to Venice, however, is flooding, caused by the city's sinking and the sea's rising. Built on soft soil, Venice sinks slowly under its own weight. Venice's sea level rose about five inches a century until 1990. From he early 1930s until...