October 27, 1954 was a perfectly normal autumn day in Florence-until about 2.20 in the afternoon, that is. Looking skywards in the area around the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, people where astonished to see a squadron of 20 or more luminous objects of different shapes passing at high speed over the church's dome. Eyewitnesses variously described the unidentified flying objects (UFOs) as long and cigar-shaped, white and shaped like seagull wings, round and ‘like a Chinese mandarin's hat.' Some, eyewitnesses said, flew in pairs, others alone. Cruising in at high speed from the direction of the Cascine, they hovered in the area for about 15 minutes until zigzagging off to the southeast.
During the sightings, the switchboard at the La Nazione newspaper was deluged with calls from people eagerly recounting what they had seen. To see for themselves, Giorgio Batini, then an editor, and some of his journalist colleagues climbed to the top floor of the paper's building and confirmed the sightings. In fact, the strange light emanating from these ‘spacecraft' could be seen as far away as in the city's suburbs.
Half an hour later, appearing to be heading to Fiesole, the UFOs reached the soccer stadium where Fiorentina was playing against Pistoiese. They hovered there. Romolo Tuci, captain of Pistoese at the time, stated in an interview many years later, ‘It was a beautiful day. At a certain point we realised that the fans were gazing up into the sky. It was spontaneous for us players to stop, too. I saw something like small rings in the distance; what they actually were I really don't know.' According to the referee's official report, at the beginning of the game's second half, he was so distracted by the noise of 10,000 incredulous spectators looking skywards and by the stationary players on the pitch that he suspended play for about 10 minutes.
Soon after the UFOs moved away from the stadium, very fine white threads, like cobwebs or fibrous snowflakes, started falling like a lightweight blanket over the city and outlying areas. Although the phenomenon continued for several days, the substance, known as ‘angel's hair' evaporated rapidly. It did so even more quickly when held in the hand, where it felt sticky and had a nasty smell. The chemistry faculty at the University of Florence did a spectrographic analysis of a sample that an engineering student had managed to trap in a test tube; it was largely composed of boron, silicon and magnesium.
The episode, which was widely reported in the press (for example, Domenica del Corriere dedicated an illustrated cover to it), divided the city: those who believed that these were UFOs and non-believers. Fifty years later, even Tuci said ‘Whatever they were, I really don't know. The fact is, among us [players] there were those who saw them and those who didn't; there were also those who took no notice, believing who knows what.'
A report prepared by Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranormale (CICAP, ‘Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims on the Paranormal') stated that military exercises using chaff to confound radar systems were underway at the time of the sighting; these could have created luminous reflections in the sky. It also suggested that the long, thread-like matter was spiderweb: certain species of spiders produce web which, by exploiting wind currents, they use to migrate long distances.
Others theorised that the material came from recent above-ground atomic bomb testing (however, it was not radioactive); that it was molten glass fibres from a passing meteorite; or chemical residue from textile manufacturing. What is hard to explain, however, is why so many people in two different locations were convinced they had seen the ‘spaceships' and why there was so much of the fibrous matter found as far afield as the Consuma.
Nearly 60 years after the event, Florence is home to UFO research centers and organizations, among them the Centro Indipendente Raccolta Notizie Osservazioni Spaziali, (CIRNOS, ‘Independent Centre for Collecting Space Observations') and Sezione Ufologia Fiorentina (SUF, ‘Florentine Ufology Section').
Although the famous song Firenze sogna informs us that the firmament is mirrored in the Arno's silver waters, it unfortunately fails to give us any advice about exactly what to do when and if the extraterrestrial visitors from a far-off galaxy decide to visit again.
Just a suggestion: perhaps we could invite them to sit in the stands to watch an even more exciting soccer game, this time between Fiorentina and archrivals, Juventus. If Fiorentina wins, they might even decide to stay...
To hear Homo Sapiens sing Firenze sogna, go to :
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