Acqua alta strikes again

Acqua alta, or high water, occurs in Venice when a high tide coincides with a drop in barometric pressure, often in combination with a scirocco wind that pushes water toward the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. The sea's water level rises, and the excess water is forced into the Venetian Lagoon at high tide, flooding low-lying areas of Venice for several hours until the high tide recedes.

The main acqua alta season is from October to April, and the flood tides are especially common in late fall. Today, the high water was fairly moderate--about 100 cm above the official zero mark--but it was high enough to inundate the Piazza San Marco, which is prone to tidal flooding. Cheryl took these photos, which show how life goes on for Venetians and tourists even when the streets are filled with water:


ABOVE: By noon, the Piazza San Marco was flooded, and its café tables had been abandoned.


ABOVE: Unprepared tourists quickly bought disposable plastic boots from souvenir shops or street vendors, unless they chose to follow this man's example and treat the Piazza as a wading pool.


ABOVE: This man learned the limitations of wheeled suitcases in a city where streets and squares can turn into ponds.


ABOVE: The Piazza's arches provided shelter from the rain, but wheelchairs became amphibious vehicles.


ABOVE: A seagull enjoyed a peaceful bath in the uncrowded square.


ABOVE: In the meantime, tourists and locals were climbing onto the passerelle, or temporary walkways, that municipal workers had set up in front of the Basilica di San Marco.


ABOVE: Today, the maximum water level was well below the temporary walkways, but in more extreme cases of acqua alta, the passerelle can be submerged by the tide for an hour or two.


ABOVE: This mother and her toddler were protected from the tide and rain by disposable boots, a polyethylene poncho, and a plastic rain cape for the stroller.


ABOVE: The passerelle ended in a series of stepped platforms on higher ground.


ABOVE: While less fortunate folk braved the elements, well-heeled residents and tourists took refuge in the Piazza San Marco's expensive cafés. In this photo, an employee of Lavena (on the north side of the square) talked to a customer across a temporary steel floodgate.


ABOVE: Cheryl switched into paparazzi mode and followed the café employee to a nearby shop, where he purchased several pairs of disposable plastic boots.


ABOVE: Moments later, the man delivered four pairs of plastic boots to the café guest.


ABOVE: As tourists frolicked in and around the flooded Piazza, everday life went on for these deliverymen.


ABOVE: For shopkeepers, acqua alta was both a nuisance and a sales opportunity.


ABOVE: Acqua alta also hit other areas of the city in varying degrees. At this restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge, the waxing and waning of the waters weren't enough to spoil an alfresco lunch.

Related article:

For more information on tidal flooding in Venice (including forecasts on your computer or mobile phone), see our Acqua Alta article at Veniceforvisitors.com.

Goldon boots keep feet dry during 'acqua alta'

Goldon boots in Piazza San Marco

ABOVE: A man and a woman model Goldon plastic boots in Venice's Piazza San Marco during acqua alta.

From roughly October through April (and, increasingly, at other times of the year), low-lying neighborhoods in Venice's historic center may be flooded for several hours at a time by storm tides called "acqua alta" or "high water."

Although municipal workers set out passerelle or raised wooden walkways in critical locations during acqua alta, there are times when the only way to get around is to go wading. Venetians wear rubber boots (which are available in local hardware stores and other shops), but tourists who don't want to lug a pair of heavy rubber wellies home often settle for inexpensive plastic overshoes. The leading manufacturer of such overshoes is Goldon, and you can buy Goldon's boots from street vendors, souvenir shops, and other local merchants when acqua alta threatens.

Goldon's boots come in three sizes, weigh only 350 grams, and are packed in a small plastic pouch that easily fits into a travel tote or suitcase. The manufacturer's Web site offers the boots for 9,60 euros (yellow) or 10 euros (white or black) for delivery to postal addresses in Italy. If you live abroad, you'll need to buy the boots after you arrive in Venice, but the Goldon Web site is worth visiting so you'll know what to look for.

  • Tip: Some shoes are bulkier than their size might suggest, so if you're wearing clunky shoes at the upper end of a size range, you might want to go a size larger. And if your shoes are bigger than 46 (European) or 12 (U.S.), you may need to try a popular Venetian workaround: wrapping your feet and legs in plastic garbage bags.

For more information in English, visit the Goldon Web site.

To learn more about acqua alta (including the city's warning sirens and acqua alta forecasts), read our illustrated Acqua Alta article at Veniceforvisitors.com. 

BELOW: When walking in Venice's floodwaters, stay away from the edges of canals. AT BOTTOM: A poster for Goldon plastic overshoes.

Acqua Alta and Goldon Boots

Goldon poster

Photos: Goldon

Keep your feet dry with the "Venice tides" iPhone app

Venice Tides app on iPhone

ABOVE: Don't look down--instead, check the local floodwater level with the Venice tides app for iPhone.

Acqua alta, or tidal flooding, is an increasingly frequent annoyance in Venice from late October through early spring. (We cover the phenomenon--and how to prepare for it--in an illustrated article at Veniceforvisitors.com.)

Venice tides iOS appFortunately, the local government authorities offer plenty of advance warning via a Web site and alarm sirens most of the time, making it relatively easy to avoid low-lying areas that are likely to get covered with water when an unusually high tide pours into the Venetian Lagoon. But if you've got an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, there's an even better way to keep your Ferragamo pumps from turning into sponges: Buy the "Venice tides" mobile app, which is available from Apple's iTunes.

Venice tides isn't the only acqua alta app on the market, but it has a big advantage over its competitors: Its interface is simple, uncluttered, and easy to understand even if you've never waded through tidal charts.

Venice tides app - main screenThe main screen (photo on right) shows a building, a fondamenta (canalside sidewalk), and the water of a canal. As the acqua alta rises, so does the water on your iPhone's screen. The app also shows the current height of the tide in centimeters, compared to the street level. You can also see how high the anticipated peak tide will be and when it will occur, so you'll know if you have time to reach a local destination or get back to your hotel.

If you're curious to know what the next couple of days will bring, just turn your phone sideways. A new screen will appear, showing expected high and low tides (including times and levels in centimeters) over the next two days.

Venice tides has other features, too. You can customize the app street level to match your location within the city, and you can ask the app to send you a notification (a.k.a. a warning) before the next acqua alta occurs.

We've tried the Venice tides app, and we like it. If you plan to be in Venice for a couple of days or longer during the acqua alta season, or if you want to know whether the streets will be wet when you arrive, Venice tides is likely to be a useful tool. For more information, go to:


(Note: The full Venice tides app is inexpensive, but there's also a free "Venice tides lite" version that includes all features except for push notifications.)

BELOW: Turn your iPhone, iPad, or iPod sideways to see a two-day tidal chart:

Venice tides app - tidal chart

Photo and screen shots: Mattia Fort and Valentina Venza, Pugosoft.