Photographer Walks Around the Flooded Streets of Venice to Capture the City’s Tragic Beauty

Venice Floods November 2019

While most of the world watched from afar as record floods washed across Venice, photographer Natalia Elena Massi raced to the scene, camera in hand. What she found was a surreal and magical scene. As Venice filled with water, its citizens sprung into action and came together as a community to ensure safety for everyone. And as the waters kept tourists at bay, the normally crowded streets and squares fell silent. It was a unique artistic opportunity that, luckily for us, Massi couldn't let pass by.

Interestingly, the most difficult part of the day—walking—was completely unexpected for Massi. “I hadn't thought about how difficult it could be,” she tells My Modern Met. “Imagine walking for hours with water high above your knees. And the ‘high galoshes' that I purchased when I arrived in the lagoon—my rain boots only reached the knee; they were not enough to cover me—should have protected me until midthigh. In reality, after only half an hour they got holes and the water infiltrated everywhere,  making it even more difficult to walk. So sometimes I stopped to empty the galoshes until I finally decided to take them off completely.”

Undeterred by this challenge, Massi wandered the city and captured everything from the iconic Saint Mark's Square to small alleyways, all of which were filled with water. Juxtaposed with these images, which are nearly devoid of humans, are her shots of the community in action. Each photograph speaks to the spirit of Venetians, who lend a helping hand or simply hike up their boots and get on with life. It was this feeling of community that was especially touching for Massi.

I met incredible people, proud and courageous men who are not defeated by the flood,” Massi shares. “Most shops were closed. Those that were open were receiving people to protect them from the weather. Some of them were preparing to re-open, others were trying to protect the locals by pumping out water and keeping the growing tide under control. Many men remained at the edges of the entrance door to visually check the tide level. They were expecting 160 centimeters [63 inches] and everyone was alerted.”

For as striking as the photographs are, they serve as a sad reminder that these flood levels are likely to become commonplace. The beauty of the imagery can't help but be counterbalanced by the fear of what's to come. It is this mix of fear, disbelief, awe, excitement, and sadness that Massi hopes to convey through these series of photos, which immortalize this important moment in time.

Natalia Elena Massi recorded the record-breaking floods that occurred in Venice in November 2019.

HIgh Water in Venice November 2019 Acqua Alta in Venice November 2019 Venice Floods November 2019 Venice Floods November 2019 HIgh Water in Venice November 2019 Acqua Alta in Venice November 2019 Acqua Alta in Venice November 2019

Waters rose up to six feet and washed over 85% of the city.

Acqua Alta in Venice November 2019


Venice Flood by Natalia Elena Massi HIgh Water in Venice November 2019 Venice Floods November 2019 Venice Flood by Natalia Elena Massi

Natalia Elena Massi: Website | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Natalia Elena Massi.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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