Florence commemorates the devastating flood of 1966

Florence commemorates the devastating flood of 1966

In the night of November 4th, 1966 a devastating flood that submerged the city under several meters of water hit Florence, claiming 101 lives and damaging countless works of art, books, and buildings.

November 4th seems to be a doomed day in the history of Florence. The city was not hit once by a major flood on that fateful date, but three times: in 1333, 1844 and again in 1966. Another flood took place in September 1557, but none of them were as destructive as the 1966 flood.

Throughout the historical center, there are markers on the walls that show the water levels of the various floods. On the corner of Piazza Santa Croce, the lowest area of the city and therefore the most affected, you can find markers for both 1557 and 1966, when the square was submerged under 6 meters (20 feet) of muddy water. A very rare commemorating marker can be found in Via San Remigio for the floods of 1333 and 1966.

The Florence flood of 1966 was caused by a series of extraordinary circumstances, including heavy rains and melting snow in the surrounding hilly areas that caused the usually calm Arno River to burst out of its banks with a force that left Florence and its population completely helpless.

Thousands of priceless works of art, irreplaceable books, and manuscripts were badly damaged or forever lost. Including the wooden Crucifix by Cimabue (circa 1265) and “Last Supper” by Giorgio Vasari (16th century) both from the Basilica di Santa Croce. Since the flood the Crucifix has been at the Santa Croce Museum, despite conservation efforts, it remains in poor condition. The five wood panels of the “Last Supper” measuring 6.60 by 2.62 meters (21.6 by 8.6 foot) were under water for over 12 hours and suffered extreme damage. After years of extensive restoration, the panels have been reunited and will be visible again for the first time in 50 years when the painting is relocated to the Santa Croce Museum during the November 4th commemoration.

When after two days the water level dropped to normal again, the enormous damage that the flood had caused became apparent. Florence was covered in a thick layer of mud. Thousands of young volunteers from all over Italy, and other nations came to help to clean the city and retrieved numerous artifacts, books and other materials from the flooded buildings. The quickly received the name “Angeli del Fango” or Mud Angels.

Florence Flood 1966

Mud Angels save paintings from the Uffizi Museum.

Half a century later Florence commemorates one of the darkest nights in the city’s history with a series of events that will take place on November 4th mainly in the City Hall Palazzo Vecchio and the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Program of commemoration events November 4, 2016

9:00 | Ceremony in Palazzo Vecchio in the presence of 100 Mud Angels.
11:30 am | Holy Mess in the Basilica of Santa Croce celebrated by Cardinal Giuseppe Betori.

1:00 pm | A small procession reaches Ponte alle Grazie to lay wreaths in memory of the flood victims.

3:00 pm | Relocation ceremony of the restoration of the ” Last Supper” of Vasari in the Basilica of Santa Croce in the presence of the President of the Republic.

5:00 pm | Official ceremony in the Hall of 500 inside Palazzo Vecchio in the presence of the President of the Republic.

6:00 pm – midnight | November 4 – 18 | Video mapping projection on the Ponte Vecchio. Flood Images from the Archivio Fotografico Locchi will be projected onto the old bridge, recreating the fury or the Arno river as it was that night 50 years ago.

6:30 | World premiere of the documentary “After the flood” in the Hall of 500 in Palazzo Vecchio.

8:00 pm to midnight | November 4 and 5 | Free entrance to visit the “Last Supper” by Giorgio Vasara. Santa Croce complex, entrance from the gate in front of the Pazzi Chapel cloister.

8:30 | Candle procession that starts at the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte and ends on Piazza Santa Croce to commemorate the flood. Everybody is invited to participate.

The Museum of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s City Hall, will remain closed on November 3 and 4 because commemoration events for the flood of 1966 will take place inside the main halls of the building.

Florence Flood 1966

Florence seen from Piazzale Michelangelo on November 4th, 1966.

About Magda Legnaioli

Lover of travel, history, architecture, art and photography, Magda Legnaioli, is the founder and director of Tuscany Sweet Life, the tourism website in Tuscany