Can you swim in Venice’ canals?
The short answer is No. And there are three reasons why:
The water is contaminated from the city itself.
The water is polluted, full of heavy metals and all kinds of chemicals, from industrial activity and shipping.
But you might think it could be a good idea. You just throw yourself from the marble pier when the tropical Venice’ summer heat covers you like a thick, sweaty blanket. Or why not take a dive and swim over the canal when you missed the last Vaporetto? It still is not a good idea. Let’s dive into why it’s not.
Any one of he three reasons above is a valid mosiv to not venture any part of your body into the canals-water. But all of them together should keep you fairly convinced that I’m right. Let’s look at the reasons one by one.
The first reason
The canals in Venice are not only the transport system and a beautiful mirror in which the yellow moon reflects himself. It’s also the sewer. Venice has from an ancient time a system where the various pipes of wastewater have the canal as the final destination.
Modern times normal demands for a cleaner environment and the technical inventions put to satisfy them don’t work here. The pipes and tubes underneath the houses necessary to collect wastewater have never been built in Venice. The reason is that it can’t be done. You would have to raise the whole city half a meter. So even if houses nowadays have biological pits, the final destination is the canal. From there the tide transports the waste to the sea and fills up with clean water twice a day.
Bigger structures, hotels, the city’s own buildings, restaurants, and others have more sophisticated solutions. They filter the wastewater before they send it into the canal. This helps a lot and what comes out, in the end, is supposed to be as clean as water. But even if this is true it’s still filtered liquid from the toilets and the sinks. And I, for one, would think twice before diving into it.
The second reason
After the first world war, a new harbor for Venice was constructed. Looking at it from a distance of a hundred years, you could easily regard it as a very stupid idea, putting the harbor inside the lagoon. The Venice lagoon that once was the sole reason for Venice’ existence. The marshland that nobody could penetrate, nor from land, neither from the sea. Now you built one of the biggest ports in the whole Adriatic sea right there. And in fact, it has caused a lot of problems. The lagoon is on the UNESCO world heritage list, and it’s obvious that running oil tankers right through it isn’t a good idea.
From a swimming-in-Venice’-canals point of view, it means pollution. Then there is the heavy chemical industry in the industrial area in Porto Marghera, there’s waste from the two rivers running out into the lagoon on the western side. There are the cargo ships coming in south of Venice through the Strait of Malamocco, and last but not least there are some 600 cruise ships a year anchoring in Venice. All this sums up to lagoon water that is not as healthy as we would like it to be. The levels of heavy metals and other toxic substances are high, even though it varies a lot depending on the tide and the traffic on the waterways.
The third reason why swimming in Venice’ canals isn’t a good idea
Well, it’s prohibited. The fine is 450 euro.
But… It wasn’t always like that. In the past people actually swam in the canals. As far ahead as in the sixties children jumped in the water from the bridges in summer, when the air is as hot as in the desert. The famous fistfights that were held until the 18th century consisted of throwing people in the canal.
Lord Byron used to swim naked in the Grand Canal to keep fit. He was an enthusiastic swimmer and once swam from Lido to Canal Grande together with Mengaldo and Alexander Scott. I would very much like to say that in those days the water was cleaner, but it probably wasn’t. On the other hand, typhus and smallpox were still around then.
Even today on hot summer days you can still see children and teenagers fooling around in the water on the Giudecca side of Canale della Giudecca. This canal is considered sea as it continues in a straight line to the coast. Here the water is cleaner.
But nowadays, when we see tourists sitting along the Grand Canal with their feet in the water, or when someone puts his or her hand in the small canal and take a handful of water to chill the forehead, we go:
– Blaaeeh! They definitely do not know what that is. Because if they did they wouldn’t be doing that.
But, now you know. And there’s no excuse anymore.