On November 4, 1966, after receiving 25% of the region’s annual rainfall in just 24 hours, the Arno flooded the city of Florence. By 9am the Santa Croce and Gavinana neighborhoods were submerged; just an hour later, flood waters reached the Piazza del Duomo. The water, carrying with it sludge, fuel oil, and debris, flowed through the city at a rate of 45 miles per hour. Estimates suggest that more than 66,000 gallons of water reached the city before the inundation began to recede at 6pm that evening.
70,000 homes and 6,000 commercial properties were destroyed but it was the damage to the city’s art that drew people from around the world. 850 works of art including 221 panel painting, 413 works on canvas, 11 fresco cycles and 39 individuals frescoes, as well as 22 wooden sculptures, and 23 illuminated manuscripts were damaged. In addition, the Science museum and the collection of musical instruments in the Museo Bardini were completely destroyed. 1,300,000 items in the BIblioteca Nazionale and 14,000 volumes in the Synagogue were affected. (Sandro Pintus in Spande, 14)
In the immediate aftermath of the Flood, Franco Zeffirelli made a film, featuring Richard Burton, that publicized the disaster and raised much needed funds to support rebuilding and conservation efforts.
In 2006, a number of the individuals who traveled to Florence or were living in the city at the time of the Flood and during its aftermath were interviewed by students at the Winterthur/University of Delaware. One interviewee noted that the disaster brought conservators from around the world to Florence and this resulted in an exchange of approaches and practices that benefited the discipline. Sandro Pintus said: “working side by side with the army and emergency services, who laboured for months digging out the mud in terrible conditions, they managed to save thousands of works. This was a real global village in operation, the first real case of globalisation.” (13)
Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Flood in 2016, Kim Jacobs filmed a documentary for PBS, “When the World Answered,” that looked both at the response to the inundation and at the 21st-century project to recognize the often-overlooked contributions made by women artists (known as the “Flood Ladies”) in the conservation efforts.
References: Spande, Helen, Ed. Conservation Legacies of the Florence Flood of 1966: Proceedings of the Symposium Commemorating the 40th Anniversary (2009); Pianigiani, Gaia. “50 Years After a Devastating Flood.” NY Times (Nov 7, 2016).
Ricci. Mood in Carmine square after the flood in Florence 1966. Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons.
Sailko. Alluvione di firenze, flooding plates in Piazza Santa Croce (1557 and 1966), Florence, Italy. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.
Elisa Marianini. Foresto Marianini bottega alluvionata nel 1966 in via dei Canacci a Firenze. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.
Further reading: Linda Falcone & Jane Fortune. When the World Answered. Florence, Women Artists and the 1966 Flood. Florence: The Florentine Press, 2014; Marth O’Hara Conway & Paul Conway. Flood in Florence, 1966: A Fifty Year Retrospective. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing Services, 2018.