Starting from the island of Torcello, Venice rose from a malaria-ridden lagoon to establish itself as one of Italy’s urban gems. But as storms swept Italy this week, the city is now at risk of being swallowed up by water in the impending future.

Hurricane-force winds, tornadoes, and thigh-high flooding caused 11 deaths and numerous injuries across the country this week. Tide levels rivaled record highs last Monday, reaching more than 61 inches (almost 155 cm) above average sea level and leaving more than 70 percent of Venice underwater. The record tide level reached 76 inches above average sea level in November 1966.

The floods left tourists and Venetians wading through water, carrying their belongings in trash bags while shopkeepers tossed water out of their buildings, bucket by bucket. Some tourists took the opportunity to take a swim, and runners of the Venice Marathon didn’t let the water hold them back as they continued to race through flooded streets.

marathon runners venice
Runners persisted despite -- to put it mildly -- inclement weather at the Venice Marathon

St. Mark’s Basilica was also compromised as marble floors and bronze doors were flooded with nearly three feet of water for the second time in the past 100 years.

“It may not be visible to the eye, but structures age because of the salt water drenching the bricks, which were not meant to remain underwater for long; that goes for bronze, too,” board member Pierpaolo Campostrini said in a statement. “The bricks are like sponges, and if the water levels don’t drop, the water rises several meters to the mosaic level. In one day, the basilica aged 20 years.”

Is Venice Ready for Future Flooding?

Flooding isn’t a new experience for Venice — this time of year does typically bring “acqua alta,” or seasonal flooding. But climate change has threatened to deliver floods with higher frequency and intensity. Sea levels in the Mediterranean are expected to rise as much as five feet before 2100, setting up Venice for flooding twice a day come high tide, according to research from Quaternary International.

MOSE project
The MOSE, or Experimental Electromechanical Module project, which began in 2003, is named as a nod to the biblical figure Moses.

Despite winding efforts to build retractable floodgates for the city in a now $6.2 billion feat of civil engineering, the project, called MOSE, has failed to emerge since its birth in 2003 amidst corruption and financial struggles. Whether it will properly protect the city upon its completion, which is projected for 2020, is another issue entirely.

“Venice is an amphibious civilization,” art director of Florian Cafe, Stefano Stipitivich, told the New York Times in a video. “We have to get used to this.”

An orange warning, the second highest weather warning that indicates active danger, remains in effect for both thunderstorms and rain until Thursday.

Photos via Tanja, Wikimedia Commons (1, 2)