For the first time, a system of 78 movable valves has been tested in Venice, after years of delays and corruption.
The 1.5 km (one mile) yellow dam system at Mose was a “powerful project that took years,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Venice was hit by the worst floods in half a century in November 2019.
Environmental protesters went to the lagoon on Friday, saying the barriers would damage the area.
Critics argue that the lock system is 10 years too late. Work on the Mose project began in 2003, even though it was designed in the 1980s. It exceeded its original budget three times and resulted in the arrest of dozens of officials, reports Quentin Sommerville of the BBC from Rome.
The coronavirus pandemic has stopped tourism and prevented cruise ships from entering the lagoon, but the rise of the Adriatic seas continues to threaten Venice. Last fall, more than 80% of the city was flooded.
- Flooded Venice fights against a new tidal wave
The Prime Minister and three government colleagues visited the control room of the Lido in Venice to see the 90-minute operation taking place. “We are here for a test, not for a parade,” he told reporters.
The four defensive barriers were raised and lowered at three entrances – two at the Lido, and at Malamocco and Chioggia.
Under the Mose system (experimental electromechanical module), if there is a very high tide, the compressed air enters the 78 valves and the water voids, so that they rise and block the tide entering the lagoon .
Friday’s test lasted 90 minutes and officials said at full capacity that the barriers could increase in half an hour. Elisabetta Spitz, the commissioner overseeing the project, said it was not yet ready and would need 18 months of additional testing.
Demonstrators from the No Mose group attempted to disrupt the test, but police arrested them.
“They had everything in the water, from police jet skis to inflatable boats, speedboats and coast guard ships,” protest leader Tommaso Cacciari told Ansa News Agency. “We tried to break the blockade, but we couldn’t do anything. “