A long-delayed flood barrier successfully protected Venice from a high tide for the first time today, bringing relief and smiles to the lagoon city following years of repeated flooding.
'Today, everything is dry. We stopped the sea,' city mayor Luigi Brugnaro told reporters after raising a glass in celebration with some of the engineers and officials responsible for the multi-billion euro project known as Mose.
'Lots of bad things have happened here, but now something wonderful has happened,' he said.
The barriers of the Mose system, which protects the city of Venice and the Venetian Lagoon from flooding, are emerged out of water, for the first time, in Venice, Italy today
People walk across elevated walkways to enter St. mark's Basilica (right) on St. Mark's square in Venice today as a high tide 'Alta Acqua' phenomenon was expected, following a peak of bad weather and potential intense sirocco winds along the entire Adriatic basin
Stacked chairs are seen at St. Mark's Square during high tide as the flood barrier scheme MOSE is used for the first time in Venice, Italy today
A general view shows a boy playing with his father to splash water in a relatively dry St. Mark's square in Venice today
A child plays in water from the high tide near the Rialto today in Venice, Italy
Visitors stand on a trestle bridges as they admire St. Mark's Basilica during an expected high water, in Venice, northern Italy today
Pictured: The operation system of the Mose flood barrier
The network of 78 bright yellow barriers that guard the entrance to the delicate Venetian lagoon lifted from the sea bed as the tide, driven by strong winds and rain, started to climb.
City officials had forecast a tide of 4.27ft, well below the devastating 6.13ft tide that battered Venice last November, but enough to leave low-lying areas deep under water.
Expecting the worst, workmen had laid out raised walkways in especially vulnerable places, including the often packed St. Mark's Square. In the event, the tide only amounted to 2.29ft, leaving the city's piazzas and pathways unscathed.
'Today is an important day, an historic day because we should have been full of water by now and instead we are dry,' said Massimo Milanese, manager of the Lavena Cafe in St. Mark's Square.
The worst floods in more than 50 years left St Mark's Square submerged under a metre of water last November, underlining the growing environmental threat to one of the world's most famous cultural sites.
Engineers had promised that Mose would save the day, but sceptics questioned whether the system, plagued by corruption, cost overruns and prolonged delays, would be up to the task.
Venice's floods, 'acqua alta' (high water) in Italian, are caused by a combination of factors exacerbated by climate change - from rising sea levels and unusually high tides to land subsidence that has caused the ground level of the city to sink.
Mose is designed to protect Venice from tides of up to 9.84ft, well beyond current records, and Saturday's success raised hopes of a bright future for the city, which has suffered from a calamitous fall in tourism due to COVID-19.
'This is a beautiful day for Venice, which has finally been saved,' the ruling Democratic Party said in a statement.
A restaurant now remains open in a location where during high tides it would normally have had to be closed today in Venice, Italy
People view the Rialto bridge in Venice today as a high tide 'Alta Acqua' phenomenon is expected, following a peak of bad weather and potential intense sirocco winds along the entire Adriatic basin
A child plays in water from the high tide in Piazza San Marco today in Venice, Italy. For the first time, the Mose flood defence system has come into operation by blocking the entrance of water into the city
A general view shows a couple standing on an elevated walkway, taking a selfie photo with their smartphone at St. Mark's square in Venice today
A man jumps in a puddle in Piazza San Marco which unusually has not been affected by the high tide today in Venice, Italy. For the first time, the Mose flood defence system has come into operation by blocking the entrance of water into the city
Gondolas are moored in the Venice lagoon today as a high tide 'Alta Acqua' phenomenon is expected,
Children stand on a trestle bridges during an expected high tide , in Venice, northern Italy today. Controversial and long-delayed underwater barriers passed their first emergency with flying colours today
People walk across elevated walkways past the Doge's Palace by St. Mark's square in Venice today as a high tide 'Alta Acqua' phenomenon is expected, following a peak bad weather and potential intense sirocco