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SANTA CROCE - Florence

In the neighborhood of Santa Croce, located just down the level of Arno River, during the flood of Florence, the water level reached an height of 5 meters, the highest in the whole city. Several masterpieces and artworks were damaged especially those ones in the Church of Santa Croce and in its Opera Museum. The most important was the crucifix painted by Cimabue in the XIII century which lost the 70% of painting and only after a difficult restoration work was placed back in the refectory room. The flood reached also the jail “Le Murate” in Via Ghibellina; the prisoners were saved thanks to the assistance of the locals who helped them to get out of the prison and hosted them in their homes.

 CATHEDRAL - Florence

In the morning of November 4th 1966 the water flooded the magnificent Piazza del Duomo and started to recede and drain only 12 hours later. The water reached a level of 150 cm damaging the crypt of San Zanobi and the excavations of the early Santa Reparata Church, whose structures, falling down, ruined the marble floor of the cathedral. The violence of the flood flung and swept the Gates of Paradise of the near Baptistery and teared off from them almost all the chiseled tiles. Precious and decisive was the intervention of the technicians and the artisans of the Museum “Opera del Duomo” who worked incessantly to the recovery of the masterpieces of the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Giotto’s Bell Tower.


Built just before the year 1000 right by the narrowest point of Arno River, “Ponte Vecchio” was destroyed, like all other bridges in the city, by the other flood that inundated Florence in 1333. Rebuilt in 1345 it hosted since 1442 the butchers’ shops, replaced a century later by the noblest goldsmith’s shops and jewelers . On the 4th of November 1966 the bridge miraculously stood up to the wave of the river which reached 11 meters of depth dragging naphtha, mud and litter of any kind. It seems that the only ones warned about the imminent flood were the gold-smiths of Ponte Vecchio who, thanks to an alert from a security guard, were able to rescue their jewels.


The Uffizi Gallery, located on the banks of the Arno River, just a few meters from Ponte Vecchio, was one of the buildings most damaged. The flood of Novem-ber 4th 1966 inundated the first floor and the underground storehouses ruining most of the artworks, including paintings by Botticelli, Vasari and Paolo Uccello. Thousands of volunteers named “Mud angels”, rushed from all over Europe and America to rescue the masterpieces damaged by water and mud and worked tire-lessly for months to recover town’s treasures. Ted and Jacqueline Kennedy founded the «Committee for the Recovery of the Italian Art» which, thanks to the help of wealthy benefactors from all around the world, guaranteed financial support to the complex process of restoration.


That Friday, November 4th 1966 the Arno River broke its banks right in front of the National Library flooding it and its underground storehouses up to an height of 6 meters. Thousands of books, including ancient manuscripts and rare printed works, remained submerged and covered with water and mud. The partial resto-ration of this priceless heritage was carried out by the steady work of 500 volun-teers named “Angels of Mud” who worked hard for months in the cold, sleeping, in some cases, into the carriages of Santa Maria Novella railway station. Even the tobacco workers from Città di Castello supported the recovery of the books and the newspapers, making available their storages usually equipped for drying tobacco leaves. The library, however, lost irremediably a large part of his precious collection.


On November 4th 1966 florentines were celebrating the Anniversary of the World War I victory; du-ring the feast day only a few people went to work and this fact helped to save human lives. The rain did not stop from October 25th and even though during the night the situation was critical, especial-ly in the neighboring districts, no alarm was given to avoid panic. At dawn when flood invaded the city, pouring into the streets 250 million cubic meters of water, most of the florentines was confused and unarmed and many took shelter on the hills and at Piazzale Michelangelo: the roads were impassable, the bridges submerged, there was no light, no gas and the phones did not work. Florence was completely isolated. The first assistance arrived from the firemen and the lifeguards who came from Versilia to help with their rafts and puddle boats, but the aid teams and the emergency vehicles were totally inadequate. Only 12 hours later people, still safe on the rooftops, saw the water recede.


The material damages of the flood of November 4th 1966 were extremely serious: water, mud, naphtha and fire destroyed and damaged, not only the houses and the cellars, but also almost 10.000 stores and 8.500 artisans’ shops. Florentines im-mediately rolled up their sleeves but did not lose their joking and irreverent tem-per: many jokes, however painful, fill the stories of those who lived those terrible days and on the shop windows appeared burlesque and ironic signs. Some shops, for example, exhibited signs saying “incredible reductions, prices underwater!” or “We sell unshrinkable fabrics, already wet!” Florentine spirit succeed even in the following Christmas, when the city center was decorated with the remains and debris of the flood.

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