Venice and the Water: A Model for Our Planet

Venice and the Water: A Model for Our Planet

by Piero Bevilacqua


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781882190591
Publisher: Polar Bear & Company
Publication date: 08/31/2009
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Piero Bevilacqua is professor of modern history at the University of Bari. His publications include The Southern Countryside Under Fascism and Post-War, and Brief History of Southern Italy. Other works include Nature and History, Using History: The Past and the Other Possible Worlds, The Earth is Finite: A Brief History of the Environment, and The Poverty of Development. He resides in southern Italy.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I: The City Under Threat

1. Venice Tells of the Future

Why revisit the history of Venice today, focusing attention once again on her experience, her efforts over the centuries to control the waters that surround her? What's the point of going over familiar facts and phenomena again, since they've been examined and recounted so many times in the vast technical, historical, and pictorial literature? What is there left to add? Hasn't the city's grandiose career as a Mediterranean power been so thoroughly examined and documented that it can be consigned to posterity once and for all? We could answer by referring to a cultural process familiar in the West: every generation rewrites the past, choosing from a huge accumulation of facts the developments and interpretations that meet its needs. So it has been for countless events and periods of the past. Such is the fate of history, changing its perspectives in every age, discovering new sources and rereading the old ones.

But this still doesn't justify revisiting the Republic's past for the nth time. Another reason is that Venice's experience is bound up with a cultural reality that is out of the ordinary: she always saw the processes and events in her lagoon habitat in their historical perspective, questioning the past day by day and comparing it to the present, always watching for any sign of change, and deriving hope and advice for the future. That peculiar tradition lasted for centuries and still goes on today, with a program of documentation and reporting that is nothing short of prodigious. Few other cities in the world have been so intimately bound up with the changes wrought by the passage of time, or like Venice have inherited a past wrested from a hostile habitat; few like Venice have faced an uncertain future that must be earned day after day. Venice has always seen herself as special and threatened, forced to detect the slightest change taking place in her amphibious environment. For this reason she has always measured her passing in time, her history, ceaselessly accumulating reports and records. In this way she accumulated a boundless heritage of memory that celebrates her glory today, even as it delights scholars. The Venice State Archives are where the outstanding proof is kept, centuries of daily observations bequeathed by the city to posterity.

Today there is a special, deeper reason for recalling this history to the attention of our contemporaries. It comes from the forces of the present, the new historical context posed by industrial societies. Our present situation, our precarious relationship to dwindling resources, our environment that is steadily deteriorating and threatening us, all make us turn to Venice's singular past as to a history that in a certain sense faced our own problems, centuries in advance. Never more than today has Venice spoken to historians and the general public in more up-to-date and universal terms, with her experience in following a course beset with dilemmas arising from her risky and always precarious relationship with nature. Her amphibious position between land and sea, within a lagoon constantly threatened with silting up and other kinds of deterioration, soon drove her to apply safeguards that few other Western cities have ever had occasion to attempt. For this reason, never more than today has Venice given us an example to follow, a model, a strategic context for action that enabled her to win out over the challenges that threatened her very survival. It was a government undertaking, one that has few parallels in European history, one that combined technical knowledge with exceptional financial commitments, and it succeeded in overcoming the threats jeopardizing Venice's future.

This is a history of success in managing the environment, a success rooted in rigorous and farsighted government action, in centuries of daily efforts to subordinate private interests to the general good of the lagoon and the city, rooted in readiness to draw a line balancing the economic freedom of the citizens with the constraints imposed by public resources. This history is certainly not easy or idyllic, but agitated by the often unruly behavior of social groups and scarred by internal conflicts and disruptions that were laboriously healed. But no experience is ever linear and triumphant, not even a success. Such descriptions, with no shadows or stumbles, don't match human affairs. Real history is always compounded of contradictions, failures, and recoveries that are sometimes late in coming. As reconstructed by historians, following a fine selective thread through the gray purgatory of facts, there is always, inevitably, some idealizing of the past. This book is no exception. But the philosophy of government followed by the Republic for at least seven centuries of her existence contains valuable elements which it would be hard to overstate, despite their remoteness, the lure of anachronism, or other such facile and unscientific influences.

This is, beyond question, the most original lesson taught us today, at the end of a millennium, by that singular experience. In that sense we may say that Venice speaks to us of our immediate future, more than of the recent past. When the growth of world population, and the depletion of many resources today considered infinite, impose new rules and new constraints on the workings of society, the strategies of the Venetian governing classes can still teach us, or at least inspire us, concerning a problem that will be central for the survival of our democracy: how to preserve individual freedom, the free pursuit of individual interests, faced with the necessity of collectively regulating the essential and limited goods vital for everyone's survival.

Table of Contents

Translator's Note
Preface to the Third Edition
Preface to the 1998 Edition

I. The City Under Threat
1. Venice Tells of the Future
2. The Lagoon: A Natural Bastion
3. The Silent Enemy: Silting
4. Navigating the Lagoon
5. Present Dilemmas and Future Mystery

II. Scarce Resources, Renewable Commodities
1. Fresh Water and Brackish Water
2. Hunting and Fishing
3. "Planting" Fish
4. Hatcheries in the Lagoon: The "Fish Pens"
5. An Appetite for Wood
6. Forest Management and Regrowth
7. Forests and the Lagoon

III. Technology, Institutions, and Regulations
1. A Peculiar Political Arena
2. An Authority for Water
3. The Rule of Law
4. Legality, Equality, and Liberty

IV. Banishing the Rivers
1. Daily Maintenance
2. Gigantic Undertakings
3. Sunset for the Republic

V. Decline
1. The Revenge of the Land
2. Rural Wealth and Urban Poverty
3. Political Decay and Industrial Giants

VI. Saving Venice
1. As in the Beginning, Threats From the Sea
2. Strategic Responses and Global Threats
3. A Story Just Begun: Rescue

Afterword, 1995
Note to the 1998 Edition
List of Localities

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