Ugo Gherardi on the 1966 Florence flood

“I remember the mud”

Vincenzo D'Angelo
October 29, 2016 - 18:26

The city was still sleeping, the fancy shops of via de’ Tornabuoni were still closed and the lungarno still remained free from curious tourists. Walking along lungarno Acciaiuoli on my way to interview Ugo Gherardi, it is hard to imagine that the total destruction that occurred 50 years ago on November 4, 1966, the quiet of a typical early morning of November rudely interrupted by a ruthless force determined to destroy everything in its path.

 

 

Ugo Gherardi was only 14 years old at the time, yet he still remembers the flood “like it was yesterday”. Born in Florence, Gherardi’s father was the original owner of the Gherardi jeweller’s store on the Ponte Vecchio, which was almost completely destroyed by the 1966 flood.

 

Ugo Gherardi today in his Ponte Vecchio jewellery boutique / ph. Michelle Davis for The Florentine

Ugo Gherardi today in his Ponte Vecchio jewellery boutique / ph. Michelle Davis for The Florentine

 

“I remember the mud. There was mud and a very strong smell of fuel oil everywhere. We often thought that we would never get rid of that smell—it took weeks,” Gherardi told me during our chat.

 

 

“I wasn’t actually in Florence when the flood arrived. I was in Naples with my parents because, at the time, November 4 was a national holiday. We received a phone call from my grandfather saying that everything was destroyed but we didn’t really realize when had happened until we got back. The trip back home was quite funny though,” he smiled. “The highways were closed, so we decided to use the dirt roads and—guess what?—one of the cars got stuck in the mud. I told you it was everywhere!”

 

Exterior of Gherardi jeweller's store after the 1966 Florence flood / photo courtesy of Ugo Gherardi for publication in The Florentine

Exterior of Gherardi jeweller's store after the 1966 Florence flood / photo courtesy of Ugo Gherardi for publication in The Florentine

 

 

“Once we arrived in town, all the city gates were closed, so we managed to get in by hiding between the cars of the Ministry of Public Works that were arriving in Florence—it was kind of fun.”

 

 

Gherardi remembers those hours through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy who found fun in tragedy, but he also recalls the difficult moments.

 

Photo of the Ponte Vecchio destruction after the 1966 Florence flood / photo courtesy of Ugo Gherardi for publication in The Florentine

Ponte Vecchio destruction after the 1966 Florence flood / photo courtesy of Ugo Gherardi for publication in The Florentine

 

 

“We stuck together and we worked hard, because it was our family business. We cleaned up every single piece of jewellery with our hands before sending them back to the producers. But what I remember the most is the solidarity. Lots of young people came to help us, asking for nothing in return. It was special; it was overwhelming. I remember these groups of young people working hard with big, happy smiles on their faces. For the first time, we were working together to save the beauty and art, the history of this city, and they came from all over the world.”

 

 

Although it was a very difficult time for Florence, Gherardi remembers those days fondly, because he witnessed the beauty in humanity when we work together for a good cause.

 

“We need to remember. We have to remember the solidarity and the effort we made to save our city. It’s important, it’s fundamental.”

 

 

Now the Gioielleria Gherardi is a beautiful boutique on the Ponte Vecchio. Finely furnished with colorful jewellery on display, the days of dirty water, oil and mud on the walls of this shop are now long gone. Before leaving, I asked Gherardi if he still had a piece saved from the flood. His answer was very clear, “Everything was taken by the water and the mud—it was everywhere!”

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