"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.
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.
The worst floods in more than 50 years left St Mark’s Square submerged under a meter of water last November, underlining the growing environmental threat to one of the world’s most famous cultural sites.
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 3 meters, well beyond current records.