• Sheryl Gwyther

#25 Florence today ... many stories

Today was a good day to be in Florence ... the 50th Anniversary of the terrible floods of 1966. Like Venice's destructive huge tide on the same day fifty years ago, Florence's Arno River burst its banks, rising 11 to 12 metres above its level.

Across the region, floods destroyed homes, people lost their lives, livestock perished, and in the centre of Florence's historic city, the putrid, polluted water level rushed through Florence's streets, and into the famous Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia and the Duomo (the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore).

Priceless art works were destroyed. Marble pillars in the Duomo soaked up the oil from the polluted flood, and sewage-filled water filled cellars, destroying thousands of priceless books, and a prisoner in a cell. Fifty years ago, the tragedy highlighted the fact there was no effective civil authority to deal with natural disasters.

But then a multitude of young volunteers of various nationalities answered the call, flocking to Florence to save what they could of the priceless books and the works of art. They earned the name, The Angels of the Mud.

Joe Blaustein's colour photos of the 1966 Flood of Florence. If you've been in the aftermath of a major flood, you will know the smell.

The anniversary was marked today with marching bands, a visit from the Italian President (who we didn't see ... only various shiny, black cars with black-suited men), increased security from army and police, and a live interview (on a big TV screen) in the Piazza della Signoria with an elderly woman, one of the surviving members of 'The Angels of the Mud.'

The anniversary made it all the more poignant to spend a few hours today inside the Uffizi and other glorious depositories of many of the world's most significant and beautiful works of art, to appreciate the privilege of being close enough to see individual brushstrokes and carving tool marks of their creators. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Raphael, Canaletto, Artemisia Gentileschi (yes, a female artists amongst the greats), Raphael, Titian and so many more.

Florence, another day of so many stories ... David and Venus, Postal Workers protesting privitisation of Italy's post offices, museum staff strike in sympathy, flood memories, artists working, architecture, carousel horses, and a child lost in the magic of bubbles.