Protecting a World Treasure from Floods: Florence, Italy

4/14/2020 11:48:33 AM

On November 4, 1966, a catastrophic flood struck Florence, Italy, after nearly eight inches of rain fell in a 48-hour period. Combined with already saturated soil and exacerbated by urban development, the deluge caused the Arno River to overflow and inundate the city. Thirty-eight people died, and an incalculable treasure of art, literature and archaeological artifacts was lost.

It wasn’t the first of such floods, but it was among the worst. As early as 1503, Leonardo Da Vinci advocated for one of Florence’s first flood mitigation plans when he designed a bypass channel. The plan was never implemented, and more than 500 years after Da Vinci’s birth, Florence is still at high risk of flooding.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1966 flood, local authorities appointed an International Technical and Scientific Committee (ITSC) composed of six engineers and scientists, whose charge was to assess the current flooding risk along the Arno River and propose a mitigation strategy.
Marcelo Garcia in Florence
Marcelo Garcia in Florence
Among those committee members was Illinois CEE professor Marcelo H. García. After two years of work, the committee published the report “Saving a world treasure: Protecting Florence from Flooding.” More recently, the team published a forum paper in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Journal of Hydraulic Engineering.

In “Reducing the Flood Risk of Art Cities: the Case of Florence,” the authors argue that a coordinated plan is urgently needed for reducing flood risk in Florence, Italy, as well as in other culturally important European cities. The article summarizes the history of flooding and flood mitigation efforts in Florence, details the work of the committee in studying the city’s flood risk, makes recommendations for a coordinated flood mitigation plan and outlines future work that is necessary to make sure the cultural heritage of the city is adequately considered in any future flood plan.

 “Historical cities in Europe embody an inestimable treasure of cultural heritage for their art collections, buildings, urban organization and traditions, and preserving them for the generations to come is a most urgent need,” the authors write.