Casa Bortoli. On the health of Venice: a new vision is needed

On 21 November, the Feast of Madonna della Salute, FAI inaugurated the cultural activities of Casa Bortoli with the first in a series of meetings focusing on Venice and its lagoon: a constructive, informed and participatory debate is increasingly necessary and urgent today.


21 November is the Feast of Our Lady of Health in Venice. It is the Venetians’ most heartfelt and popular festival, and is accompanied by rites and customs that have been practised for 390 years. It has been celebrated since 1630, when Doge Niccolò Contarini made a vow to the Madonna to build a grand Basilica in exchange for saving the city from the plague.

Precisely on this occasion we wanted to inaugurate on 21 November 2021 the cultural activity that FAI has planned for Casa Bortoli, a house overlooking the Grand Canal right in front of the Basilica della Madonna della Salute.

“This house, entrusted to FAI in 2017 by the Bortoli couple,” Daniela Bruno, the Foundation’s Deputy Director for Cultural Affairs, said at the opening, “now fulfils a public function as a permanent venue for a constructive, informed and participatory debate devoted to Venice and its lagoon, which is increasingly necessary and urgent today.”

In her institutional greeting, Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, FAI Vice-President, reiterated that FAI not only contributes to the knowledge of Venice, but also joins in the cry of pain raised by many citizens about its fate. Politics is resorting to emergencies instead of building a long-term vision.

Three experts – Luigi D’Alpaos, Emeritus Professor of Hydraulics at the University of Padua; Andrea Rinaldo, President of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti; and Jane Da Mosto, Co-founder of We are here Venice – talked to each other to denounce the critical state of health of the city and its lagoon. The exceptional model of the Serenissima, which for centuries has maintained a delicate balance between Man and Nature, has been severely compromised over the last hundred years by the intensive exploitation of its commercial and tourist vocation, now further threatened by the effects of climate change.

“The most reliable forecasts predict a rise in sea levels of between 30 and 50 centimetres by the end of the century,” explained Professor D’Alpaos, “and in the first case the Mose barriers would have to rise at least 80 times a year for a total of 500 hours. If, on the other hand, the sea rise were half a metre, the Mose would have to close for 2,000 hours and at least 300 days a year, practically all the time. In this case, the ports of Venice and Chioggia would be doomed to die because their activities would be impossible because they would be incompatible with the closures, and safeguarding the lagoon ecosystem would become impossible. Safeguarding the historic city and its lagoon is not compatible with the development of port activities”.

Precisely by virtue of this delicate balance, Venice is also suffering the effects of climate change.

“How will Venice succumb? It will not sink like Atlantis, but it will be a very painful falling to pieces: if we do not intervene, we will lose it. So now is the time to compensate and act to safeguard the lagoon city,” said Andrea Rinaldo, who recently appealed to President Draghi on the emergency of rising sea levels in the Venice lagoon. Europe’s largest lagoon, whose “natural capital value has been calculated at half a billion euros”, reiterated Jane da Mosto. The FAI Venice Delegation, always sensitive and active, also lent its support to the initiative: Francesca Barbini, Head of FAI Venice Delegation, recalled that the city is a symbol for the world because it “represents the problems of the planet”.

This meeting, and those that will follow in 2022, are therefore intended to deepen the current problems of Venice and its environment, in order to contribute to the elaboration of solutions useful to safeguard Venice, but not only. Because Venice is a symbol for the world, but also a modela case study of the effects of the global environmental crisis, and also of the crisis of the 20th century city model. And it can be a field of experimentation, as it has always been: given the complexity of the system of city and lagoon, which breathe, live in unison, and are one, and given the absolute anomaly of this environment, in the history of Venice experiments have always been carried out. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in the last hundred years, which have compromised the Lagoon and therefore the city with interventions that are anything but reversible and sustainable. The experimental principle, which is based on knowledge and science, is the only one able to correspond to the complexity of this delicate system, and this too is a lesson that Venice can give far beyond its borders and history.

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