Shops, homes and historic palaces in the Floating City were filled with water Monday as heavy rains and winds from the south triggered dangerous swells. Water reached 149 centimeters (5 feet) above normal, forcing residents and tourists alike to don plastic cover-alls and swimming gear just to get around. Makeshift wooden walkways were added to areas of St. Mark’s Square to ease transportation, though many businesses and shops were closed.

This is the fourth time the city has been struck by dangerously high water levels since 2000, and Environment Minister Corrado Clini has insisted global climate change is to blame.

Moveable sea barriers meant to protect the city from its winter floods have been in the works for decades and may finally be complete by 2015 -- not a moment too soon.

Scientists now estimate that the city's Gothic and Byzantine palazzos are sinking at a rate of two millimeters (0.08 inches) each year. Many have questioned how much longer Venice can stay afloat as rising saltwater from increasingly frequent floods cracks centuries-old buildings, crumbling the very foundations of one of the most romantic cities in the world.