Flood markers in Florence

Type: Plaques
Date: 1333, 1345
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Italy
Medium: Stone
Description: The Arno River has repeatedly flooded Florence and its hinterland, twice with devastating effects: once in 1333 and again in 1966, both times on November 4. Three fourteenth-century stone plaques record the first flood, which destroyed the city walls and infrastructure. The first bears a four-line inscription in vernacular (Italian) topped by a cross. It reads: "MCCCXXXIII [1333]. From Thursday the fourth of November through the night to Friday, the water of the Arno reached to here." A disembodied hand emerges from the waves to point to the last two words, emphasizing the water's height. This plaque is now displayed 4.2 meters above the current street level, but its original height and location are unknown. The cross may be the symbol of the urban quarter in which the flood marker was placed.

Two six-line inscriptions record the collapse and rebuilding of the Ponte Vecchio, the city's oldest bridge. The Latin one reads: "On the fourth of November 1333 this bridge collapsed because of a whirlpool of water; in 1345 the bridge was rebuilt and adorned more beautifully. This boy shows in brief what happened." At the left, in high relief, is a winged male figure on a tall plinth, an allusion to a classical statue displayed nearby that had been swept away in the flood (medieval Florentines thought it was an image of the god Mars). The inscription in Italian—now in poor condition—omits both the statue and the last line about it, featuring instead a pointing hand. In fourteenth-century Europe, texts in vernacular began to replace those in Latin.

Unhappily for Florence, the catastrophic flood of 1333 was followed just five years later by another disaster: the Black Death (bubonic plague) that decimated populations across Asia, Europe, and North Africa.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 9, 10
Image Credits: Sailko, Wikimedia Commons

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Florence, Ponte Vecchio inscription with statue, Latin, 1345 Florence, Ponte Vecchio inscription, Italian, 1345