The rains did not stop. For days. In the hills east of Florence, the inundation caused mud slides, accidents and, ultimately, imminent dam failures. On November 2, 1966 over seventeen inches of rain fell in the hills above the city of Arezzo; those hills are the birthplace of the Arno River.
To avert the failures of dams up river, tremendous amounts of water were released by the water control managers. The Arno rose over twenty feet above its normal level in less than three hours. Seventy-one thousand cubic feet of water per second was headed to the city and valley below.
The rest became history. By the time the waters reached Florence, the damage was readily apparent, to anyone.
I shall refer, now, to excerpts from the Tuscan Traveler’s Blog posting about the flood:
At 7:26am electric power failed in Florence. The Arno flowed over the parapets of San Niccolo bridge, as well as Ponte alle Grazie and the Ponte Vecchio. By 9:00am, hospital emergency generators (the only remaining source of electrical power) failed.
Landslides obstructed roads leading to Florence, while narrow streets within city limits funneled floodwaters, ever increasing in height and velocity.
After breaching its retaining walls on both sides, the Arno flooded the city. On the north side, it swept through the National Library, the Piazza Santa Croce and the church itself. Water filled the Piazza della Signoria, the basement of the Uffizi and the Palazzo Vecchio.
By 9:35 a.m. it reached the Duomo and the Campanile. Ten minutes later, the Piazza del Duomo was flooded. A tweny-foot-vortex tore three panels from Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gate of Paradise on the east side of the Baptistry and two from Andrea Pisano’s panels on the south.
At the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale the refrigeration units located below street level were destroyed and the main floor and all of the food stands were awash.
At the Accademia, water inched across the floor toward Michelangelo’s David although the statue was never in real danger.
On the south side, in the Oltrarno, where the land sloped uphill from the river, the damage was less.
Please view the video below for more photographs of the flood.
It was a man created disaster.
Oil, mixed with the floodwaters from basement storage tanks, made the damage to the historic sites in the city all the worse. Invaluable manuscripts in the basement of the National Library were inundated. Cimabue’s Crucifix, a treasure of the Renaissance and of the city, was nearly destroyed. The list of damaged or lost treasures of art increased nearly second by second.
One of the treasures nearly lost was the Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari. Mounted on the wall in the refectory of Santa Croce, the work soaked in oil infused water for nearly twenty-four hours. Damaged nearly beyond repair, the resurrection of the work is an article for another post.
Today, efforts to restore the damaged art, books and buildings continues in the city.
As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the flood, please take a moment to remember the 101 people who died during the flood, At the same time, be grateful for the all of the difficult and untiring work the art restoration workshops across Italy have been to repair and restore the artistic heritage of la bella Firenze.
Below are some photos taken at the time of the flood. It was surreal.