For Florentines, 4 November is a date of unmitigated horror. Following weeks of heavy rain, authorities at Levane and La Penna opened the valves to avoid bursting the dams on the afternoon prior without informing residents downstream. The result was 2000 cubic meters of water per second rushing down the course of the Arno towards Florence with 90% of the city’s population unaware of the coming catastrophe.
As anyone who’s ever been in a flood knows, water is a terrifying thing when given volume and direction. In this case, the floods killed 101 people and displaced 5000 families as water levels rose to over 22 meters above street level in Santa Croce. 600,000 tons mud and sewage flowed through the city. More than 3 million books and manuscripts were damaged or destroyed, as well as at least 14,000 works of art. The damage to buildings—both those of a historic nature and those that simply housed the population of one of Italy’s largest cities—was immeasurable.
So many people killed. So many forced out of their homes, lucky to drag their lives through the water with them and unable to bring anything else. So many people and so many things lost or damaged forever. This is the kind of destruction that is unthinkable at such a scale unless you yourself have seen it, and if you have, you desperately want to avoid seeing it again.
In the aftermath, the world united behind Florence. UNESCO, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Burton, and committees from the USA, Scotland, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and dozens of other countries worked day and night. The angeli del fango (mud angels) descended on the stricken metropolis from all over the world and spent weeks cleaning and repairing and rescuing buildings and art, asking nothing in return for their arduous and dangerous work. The Flood Ladies—a collective of women artists from around the globe—contributed artworks to the city’s museums in solidarity.
The techniques in restoration and preservation developed to combat the damage done by the flood are still in use today, but the losses are immense. Works by Donatello and Ghiberti and Cimabue, illuminated manuscripts from middle ages, the holdings of the Uffizi and the National Library and the State Archives and countless other public and private collections: all were affected or destroyed in whole or in part.
I guess that since this is a Fiorentina blog, we’ll rope them in too. Two days after the initial flooding, the Viola thumped Vicenza 3-0 at the Artemio Franchi (it’s far enough away from the river that it avoided major damage) behind a hat trick from Mario Brugnera, who eventually led Cagliari to its only scudetto. The victory was the start of a 9-match unbeaten run, although it all amounted to naught with an eventual 5th-place finish. That doesn’t mean a damn thing compared to what the city was going through at the time, though.
I don’t have any clever conclusion to all this. So much destruction just feels senseless and cruel, although I’m not here to argue philosophy. Rather, I just want to remind everyone that the city has been through so much over its centuries of existence that people don’t remember even scant decades later. It’s absorbed the sort of punishment that has razed other towns and is lucky to have avoided a similar fate. But next time you’re in the city, especially in the Santa Croce, look for the little white rectangles on the sides of buildings that indicate the water levels in 1966 and remember one of the saddest episodes in modern Florentine history. And maybe buy a drink for anyone in the bar who was old enough to have seen the Arno become the agent of the city’s misery.
It’s actually happening. Fiorentina has bought a big passel of land in Bagno di Ripoli to begin developing into a stadium.
After Viola supporters chanted racist things at Sassuolo’s Alfred Duncan, Fiorentina and Rocco Commisso have a chance to take a stand on this absolutely unacceptable behavior.
Our own Mike McCormack has published the full transcript of the interview he did with Rocco. This is required reading.
Comment of the week
I love you all so goddamn much. Never change.
That’s it for this week, folks.