Floods in Florence 1966

November 4th, 1966 is a date that few Florentines can forget; maybe none. The intense rain of the previous days had already turned the landscape leaden and what was supposed to be a day of celebration became a nightmare day.
We lived in the hills and were woken up by Argia, my nanny, who was running around the house shouting "Ponte Vecchio has collapsed!" and "There is water from the Arno all over the city!". There and then, we believed in a joke. My parents and my grandmother, a guest with us for those days of celebration, rushed to the radio which, unfortunately, confirmed that the Arno was wandering around Florence. Fortunately, Ponte Vecchio was still in its usual place.

In those first few minutes, like so many others, perhaps, we thought of an exaggeration. My parents decided to go to the shop, in Piazza Santa Croce, to see that the 'at risk' goods were moved to the highest shelves. Our only reference was the 'high waters' of Venice.
With our small FIAT 500 we ventured along the ring road boulevards, but when we reached piazzale Donatello, the police sent everyone back. So we thought of trying going down via Cavour, but before Piazza San Marco the same scene was repeated. We were strongly advised to go home because Santa Croce was unreachable. And so we did, with growing anguish.
On Saturday morning, we tried again passing through the avenues and we managed to get to via San Giuseppe, a road that leads to Santa Croce square. We parked the car and we continued on foot and, having reached the corner with Piazza Santa Croce, on the steps of the church, a spectacle that we would never have expected: the square was a sea of dirty mud, black spots of oil and branches here and there. They mingled with the cars, whose windows and roofs were barely visible. The work to remove the mud from the roadway was already well underway and, with a good share of determination, we approached the shop.

From a distance, the shutters seemed intact, unlike those of other shops that had broken down and we, for a moment, the absurd hope that they had kept the Arno in charge. Obviously, as soon as we managed to pull up the entrance door, we realized that we had a pious illusion: the entrance door was blocked by one of the display furniture. Pushing and pulling and leveraging with what we had, we finally managed to get inside. Evidently, that mixture of water, sewage, naphtha and who knows what else, had filtered in and, forming a powerful vortex, had made a smoothie of everything. A layer of mud about ten centimeters thick covered everything. A spooky sight. Suitcases, gloves, wallets, bags ... scattered everywhere like silhouettes all of the same gray-brown color. We were taken by such despair that we could only step back and retrace via San Giuseppe to return home, without even trying to reach the rooms further within.

Interno del negozio (1)

Inside the shop (1)
several days later

Interno del negozio (2)

Inside the shop (2)
several days later

From the following day, and for a whole long month, we returned every day from morning to evening to clean and empty the premises. Useless objects, irremediably ruined, were piled up outside the door, from where they were removed by the Itlian Army. As a 'base', to rest for a few minutes and to eat a sandwich, we used my grandmother's apartment on the 1st floor. The Arno had also gone up the stairs, but stopping one step away from entering the house. How polite!
The gas network had obviously been blocked, while the water network in the center was reactivated in record time. Up the hill and for many more days, Army tankers provided people with sufficient water.
In the laboratory, there was the gilding department, with dozens and dozens of precious tools (wheels, punches, molds, etc.) and an infinity of tiny letters for the gilding of initials or titles on leather-bound books. I took it upon myself to retrieve those 'letters': with my bare hands. I rummaged through the floor still covered with watery mud. I recovered a great deal of them - certainly not all.
A few generous friends came to help. In particular I remember Leonardo Martelli, who with his legs wrapped in plastic bags, worked with us for days, despite the fact that he suffered from a severe headache.

The economic damage was enormous: the warehouse had just been filled in view of the upcoming Christmas holidays. And it was also a double damage, because my parents had decided to retire from work a few months earlier and had sold the business, with the agreement to bring it to December 31st, and only then hand over the keys on January 1st. The buying company confirmed the transaction, but obviously the entire inventory value was deducted. In essence, the so-called 'goodwill' was sold. The State intervened with a 'help' of 500,000 Lire, which in our case was barely enough to pay for the necessary work to restore a semblance of normality to those devastated premises.

The Misuri shop is still there today, all renewed and very well kept. Quite a beauty in that marvelous square. You certainly could not tell what it's gone through half a century ago!

This is just a single story about our shop, but it gives an idea of what other tens of thousands shops owners had to face in those awful days. Florentines are sturdy: by Christmas, many shops were able to re-open: not to normality, but close to it.