November is the cruelest month: the flood of 1966
The strong winds and rainstorms that have been hitting Italy these last few weeks are pretty scary to us, since we are not used to such extreme weather conditions, and as a result we are not prepared to face them. There have been grave damages to the cities all over Italy and unfortunately, victims too.
Florentines, have always known that November has always been one of the rainiest month of the year, one of the deadliest too, as history reminds us. Particularly, November the 4th is a very unfortunate date, that still scares us. Every year, if it’s been raining heavily in the days before this date, we start thinking to ourselves: “what if…? What if it happens again? It has happened before, after all…”
Twice, in fact.
November 4, 1333: after 4 days and 4 nights of incessant rain, a devastating flood hit Florence, swiping away bridges, including Ponte Vecchio, and destroying entire areas of the city. At the time, without protections to block the water, the consequences for Florence were catastrophic.
But after all, it turns out, even with the due protections, the force of the water cannot be contained.
November 4, 1966: fifty-two years ago, the river Arno overflowed once again.
At two in the morning, the Mugnone torrent floods the area around the Parco delle Cascine, including the hippodrome and the zoo. The beloved camel, called Canapone, drowns along with many horses that day.
The river Arno enters the city, slowly at first; then the embankments at the Lungarno Acciaioli and the Lungarno delle Grazie break and the river overflows in the area of Santa Croce as well. Its waters cover the precious volumes of the National Library with mud, damage irreparably the Crucifix by Cimabue in the Santa Croce Church, infiltrate in the deposits of Uffizi, throw open the Porta del Paradiso of the Baptistery severing almost all the panels made by Ghiberti and continue to devastate the historical center. At least 1,500 artworks were damaged, over one million volumes submerged, a total of 35 people died in the city and in the province.
At first no one realized what was happening, then the flood hit the city with force and people started to seek refuge on the higher floors of the houses, watching from the windows, as the river invaded the streets and carried away everything in its passage.
As long as everything goes fine, living in an ancient city like Florence, is amazing; but when things start going downhill, literally, carried away by the muddy water, then you realize you have so much more than houses, cars and personal belongings to loose. There are centuries old monuments and artworks, that cannot be remade once destroyed. You start feeling loss for those things you had always given for granted, and you feel helpless.
The videos and images of that disaster shown on the news, shocked people, who came from all over Italy and the world to help Florence in the recovery of its inestimable artistic heritage.
An unprecedented mobilization. They were called "angeli del fango" (angels of the mud), those who set to work to help save from the mud, the works of art, paintings, statues, ancient books, artifacts, that constituted a priceless heritage for humanity.
Many tourists today may not even know about this event, but Florence doesn’t forget. It was the worst flood to hit us in centuries; a flood that left scars in the city and in a vast part of Tuscany.
It still warms our heart to know that so many people came to help us recover these treasures, that otherwise would have been lost. And Florence, certainly, does not forget them either.