March lunch with Anna Somers Cocks OBE FSA

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May 12, 2020

Anna gave us a fascinating, beautifully illustrated talk about the effects of climate change on Venice. Her message is that it isn’t the presence of a huge number of tourists or the arrival of massive cruise ships that will kill the city we love but the inexorable rise in the water level caused by global warming. We were dismayed to learn that water damage has afffected the mosaics in the Basilica di San Marco, not just at ground level but reaching as high as the intricate ceilings, in addition to undermining the foundations along the canals, the drainage beneath the buildings and covering the steps up to the Rialto bridge to a depth of several feet in the last century alone.

The rise seems inexorable – compounded by modern approaches to managing the lagoon, overturning centuries-old practices which allowed for the successful control of water levels. Flood barriers being built at great expense and well behind schedule, are already looking inadequate and have been dogged by political in-fighting, corruption and indifference. Anna, a former chair of Venice in Peril Fund and founder of the Art Newspaper (English-language version), is a journalist and art historian, married to an Italian. She knows Venice at first hand and is deeply concerned about its survival: in the face of so many challenges she is pinning her hopes on EU support and finance to come to its rescue before it’s too late.

Her concluding verse written by Lord Byron two centuries ago, says it all:

O Venice! Venice! When thy marble walls

Are level with the waters

A cry of nations o’er thy sunken halls,

A loud lament along the sweeping sea!