Florence and its restless riverHistorical Curiosities
Florence and its restless river
Florence and its river, the Arno: such a pleasant view to see it gently flow under the Ponte Vecchio or under the leopoldian Ponte alla Vittoria, but the river is also a sign of sad times, when its restlessness turned into destruction.
The history of Florence and floods are intrinsically linked, the mighty overflows of the river have for centuries influenced the reigning powers of the city and of Tuscany, enlightened scholars, changed the face of entire neighbourhoods; if you walk round Florence and pass along the river banks, do not look at the Arno like it were a romantic chansonnier but rather as an unpredictable leader, a shrewd politician, a fickle ally.
Of this anxious 'ally' and its floods, Florence has received many marks. Over the centuries the Florentines have affixed memory plaques of the levels the river has reached during the various floods, in other cases there has been a simple, but still visible, mark on the wall.
There have been as many as 57 floods that the Florentines have counted since the beginning of the twelfth century... after all, the Arno had become an internal infrastructure, no longer just an external border, between 1172 and 1175, with the construction of the fifth circle of walls: this is the era of municipalities, Florence became 'great'.
The memory of men who live between the recent twentieth century and the modern millennium has preserved the memory of the flood of November 4, 1966, a flood of more than 4,000 m3/second against 2,500 m3/second of capacity of the river. The Arno poured its waters into the city on that date, about 600,000 m3 of debris and mud. A disaster.
This flood and the terrible one of November 3, 1844 are the best 'reported' on the walls of Florence.
Yet the chronicles narrate an event by far worse on the distant 4th November 1333, when the Arno swept away all the bridges of Florence except one (the Rubaconte): a fourteenth-century plate located on Via San Remigio signals the level reached by the river in those days.
In the sixteenth century the Arno overflowed once every ten years (1520, 1532, 1543, 1547) but it is that of 13th September 1557 that literally changes the face of the city which, following the destruction, is partially redesigned and rebuilt. Of this flood in via San Niccolò, on the facade of the Church, there is a plaque from that period documenting the water level as well as one in Piazza Santa Croce.
In via Ghibellina, on the corner adjoining Via delle Casine, a plaque, dating back to the sixteenth century, marks the flood of ten years before, exactly on 13th August 1547.
The Arno aggressively bursts out even on October 30th 1589 and many more times throughout the second half of the seventeenth century, epochal the flood of 3rd December 1740 and of the same month in 1758.
Florence and the Arno, a story told on the glossy brochure is a romantic binomial, a tender love story but now… you too know that the real story is quite different!
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