A friend recently lent me Dan Brown’s Inferno, saying, “Lots of it is set in Venice!” So I had to read it. It took a few hundred pages for the protagonist Robert Langdon to get himself to Venice, but he finally arrived. Besides his knowledge of Florence and Rome, Langdon showed he knows Venice as well… until I came to these lines:
“Is there water under St. Mark’s? The question, he realized, was foolish. There was water under the entire city. Every building in Venice was slowly sinking and leaking.” (page 365-66)
While we often hear that “Venice is sinking,” that’s a misnomer, or at least an oversimplification of the problem. But a city built on water? Just a moment of rational thought would make anyone realize that stone buildings weighing a few tons couldn’t possibly be floating. Venice is primarily built on wooden pilings that have petrified over the years. I won’t attempt to give a detailed description here, but if you want a good one, check out this site:
(Notice that this article is titled “The Construction of Venice, the Floating City!”)
It even has a drawing that shows workmen tamping in a wooden piling. You can still see the machinery doing this kind of work today when they are replacing old wood.
I know it’s difficult to get all of your facts straight when writing a book. I’m writing a history book right now myself, and I’m sure there will be some things that I’ll flub up. I also don’t want to go bashing authors. But I just couldn’t pass up Robert Langdon’s (Dan Brown’s) comment without reacting, especially since the books are generally so factually dense and accurate (as far as I know).