National Geographic : 1967 Jul
It was not yet 7:00 when the Arno raged through the doors of the church and lapped against the altars before the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo. The two clois ters beside the church filled with 15 feet of muddy water. In the adjacent museum, Cimabue's "Crucifix" was battered-and finally engulfed-by the black tide. The oily surface rose over Taddeo Gaddi's "Last Supper" (page 4). Smashing through into other rooms of the museum, the flood ravaged panel paintings by Bronzino, Salviati, and Vasari. Then it bored like a wild mountain torrent through medieval streets toward the Uffizi. TO THE MILLION PILGRIMS who flock to Florence each year, the Uffizi is the reigning queen of Renaissance art galleries. The massive building was built by Giorgio Vasari between 1560 and 1574 for the Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany to house govern ment offices (hence, ufizi). Today one of the world's finest and largest collections of art fills a splendid setting of marble hallways and rooms. For 400 years the State Archives has lived, not a little uncomfortably in recent decades, in lower floors of the gallery. Its collections include invaluable papers of the Medici family and the Florentine governments, republican and ducal, during some of mankind's most exciting and formative centuries. The Uffizi is the terminus of one of the distinctive landmarks of Florence. In a typical gesture of grandeur, Grand Duke Cosimo I commissioned artist and archi tect Vasari-his Lives of the Artists proved him also no mean biographer-to build an enclosed gallery running from the sprawling Pitti Palace, on a height south of the Arno, past the Church of Santa Felicita, over the jewel ers' shops on the Ponte Vecchio, along the Arno, and into the Uffizi by means of a regal stone staircase. On the other side of the great office building, a stone arch way high over Via della Ninna connected with the Palazzo Vecchio. Thus the Duke could stroll from home to work without getting wet (foldout, pages 11-12). On November 4, that part of Vasari's gallery nearest the Uffizi was lined with a collection of self-portraits by some of the world's most noted artists-Raphael, Titian, Rubens, and Corot among them. "Naturally, I thought of them first," Dr. Luisa Beche rucci, Director of the Uffizi, told me. "If the Ponte "Worse than the war!" cried sorrowing Florentines as they surveyed devastation like that of the seemingly bombed Via Cimabue, a street of artisans near Piazza Beccaria. In an exceptional display of violence, the flood stirred an explosive brew of stored chemicals that blasted apart warehouses. Water damaged tools and materials of 7,800 workshops that carry on Renaissance craftsmanship in leather, wood, textiles, straw, and precious metals. An antique dealer of the Piazza Mentana spreads what he can salvage to dry in the sun (right). Of 6,000 small merchants who suffered losses, all but a handful are now back in business.