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Volunteers Mobilize to Save Venice’s Cultural Heritage After Historic Floods

After the Italian government declared a state of emergency and issued an international appeal for donations, locals are rushing to save the city’s libraries, museums, and churches.

Volunteers cleaning up the streets of Venice after last week’s flooding (all photos courtesy Venice Calls)

Venice, a city devastated by high tidal water early last week, was struck by more surging tides this weekend which again flooded most of the city’s center and forced the closure of St. Mark’s Square. The weekend flooding followed historically high water levels on Tuesday, November 12, which caused the death of two locals.

On Friday, November 15, water levels reached 1.54 meters (~5 feet) above sea level. Another high tide struck the city on Saturday, propelled by strong winds from the south. The Italian government declared a state of emergency and released in €20 million (~$22 million) in aid to Venice. But since damages are estimated by the millions of Euros, as Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro warned last week, the government has also issued an international appeal for donations to help repair damages to the city’s rich cultural heritage. Meanwhile, local foundations are recruiting volunteers to save the city’s libraries, museums, and churches, and help residents who have been affected by the flooding.

“People are coming together to rebuild and help,” said Marzio Burigana, an organizer with the local nonprofit Venice Calls.

“Some people lost everything,” Marzio Burigana, an organizer with the local nonprofit Venice Calls told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation. “They have no clothes, no food, and their houses were destroyed,” he added.

Venice Calls, a volunteer-based environmental group founded in 2018, is also active in cleaning up libraries, churches, and cultural institutions that have been damaged by the floodwaters. In the past few days, members of the group have participated in efforts to save the treasures of Fondazione Querini Stampalia museum and damaged books at the library of Conservatory of Music Benedetto Marcello.

“The conservatory especially affected,” said Burigana, adding that volunteers used hair dryers, paper towels, and toilet paper to dry up books from its flooded library.

Note sheets and books from Conservatory of Music Benedetto Marcello dried out by a volunteer
An ancient Bible damaged from floodwaters at Santa Maria dei Carmini church in Venice

More than 50 churches have suffered from damages caused by flooding, according to the Italian authorities. The city’s iconic St. Mark’s Basilica was damaged most since it is located closest to the lagoon, in one of the lowest points of Venice. The Italian Society of Authors and Editors warned that Venice’s book stores and libraries were “gravely damaged” by the high waters, and launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of the repairs.

Earlier today, Venice Calls called on electricians, plumbers, and technicians to volunteer in repairing homes and institutions. “It’s amazing to see the Venitian population standing up for this cause,” Burigana said. “People are coming together to rebuild and help.”

Since Monday morning, tides have receded and the city bustled again with tourists as per usual. “The situation was strange today because it didn’t feel like we had a disaster just a few days ago,” said Burigana. “We just hope that politicians take action so we won’t have to go through this many more times.”

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