Scars of Florence, 1945

Discussion in 'Italy' started by dbf, Jan 7, 2010.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The Times, April 6, 1945:


    From Our Special Correspondent in Florence

    A strange procession made its way to Florence a few weeks ago from Poggio a Caiano. At its centre, standing high on a truck, was the great bronze horse which, surmounted by the figure of Cosimo I dei Medici, had adorned the Piazza della Signoria for more than 350 years before the war. In this procession the great horse, a creature weighing six tons, was mounted by an American soldier, and the figure of Cosimo had a truck to itself. The soldier was there to raise telegraph wires and other obstacles out of the way. In the villages and along the roads of the countryside peasants waved the procession on with "Bravos" and at the final stage of the journey, in the Piazza della Signoria itself, drivers of the carrozas stood up and, raising their hats, cried, "Cosimo, ben tornato!" It was a great day, showing something of the spirit with which Florentines are ready to welcome back the many treasures that have been removed from their city, though by the end of the day Cosimo was already out of sight again - in the basement of the Uffizi Palace - and the horse has since been bricked up in the Loggia dei Lanzi. Florence is not yet considered entirely safe.

    The return of this famous statue was expedited because a railway bridge being constructed at Rifredi would later block the road for anything so high. It involved negotiations and meetings between all sorts of authorities, allied and Italian, civil and military, on questions of transport, responsibility, and permits, and the successful co-operation ultimately achieved was largely due to the monuments and fine arts section of the Allied Military Government. Similarly this section of A.M.G. has done outstanding work in retrieving all that could be retrieved from the wreckage and destruction left behind when the Germans destroyed the city's bridges last July, as well as in preventing further avoidable destruction.

    The story of Ponte Santa Trinita provides a typical example of watchfulness and care in these matters. After the allies entered Florence there was enough left of the prow-shaped piers of this bridge - perhaps the most beautiful that had ever spanned the Arno - to carry temporarily a Bailey bridge which was then an urgent military necessity. During the November floods, however, the south pier became so weakened that the military engineers decided to demolish it and build a brick support. They were eventually persuaded by A.M.G. to allow the pier to be taken down by skilled workmen, each stone being numbered and carefully removed. The statues of the seasons that adorned the piers had been removed from the river during the summer; many of their fragments were rescued by a young Florentine architect who, while the city was still under fire and the water of the river in an appalling condition, spent several days at work in a bathing suit. The old cartelli that were the keystones of the arches have also been recovered. An architect has been employed to assemble, from photographs, drawings, and other sources, all available information about the bridge, and it is considered that it could be fairly completely rebuilt. Whether a reconstructed Ponte Santa Trinita can have the subtle and baffling curve that Ammanati and time gave to the old bridge only the future can show.

    Ponte Vecchio was spared by the Germans, but to block its approaches on each side of the Arno they inflicted cruel and callous damage on Florence. The picturesque old bridge has still to-day as somewhat dejected air, and even such of its tiny jewelry shops as are now reopened have a strained atmosphere of "business as usual." The northern end of the bridge leads to a roadway through ruin and rubble that once was the busy Via Por Santa Maria, and west of the bridge there is the same sort of scene along the Lugnaro Acciaioli for some two-thirds of the way to Ponte Santa Trinita. On the other side of the Arno the Via Guicciardini is almost completely destroyed to within a few yards of the Pitti Palace, half of the Borgo San Jacopo is totally destroyed and an entire section of Via dei Bardi up to the Palazzo Bargali Petrucci is destroyed; the houses that used to overhang the river on this bank immediately to the east of Ponte Vecchio have vanished and no doubt the Lungarno Torrigiani of the future will extend right up to the bridge.

    The force of the explosions by which the Germans wrought all this destruction damaged buildings in other parts of Florence. In almost every important church roofs have had to be restored and windows covered; tiles have been scarce and glass scarcer still, so that waxed paper has often been used as a substitute. The Uffizi Gallery, by reason of its height, suffered much from blast. The roof was heavily damaged and the enormous glass skylights fell. In many of the rooms and in the three long corridors of the gallery ceiling frescoes were badly damaged, and many fell. These frescoes are being pieced together with meticulous care, and it is hoped that most of them can be restored; at present, however, there are still great holes in the decorations of many of the rooms. The roof has now been replaced over the corridors that run the entire length of the galleries, and rooms for which no glass is available have been protected with tiles.

    The Uffizi galleries and those of the Pitti Palace are still bare of their principal works of art, as also are most of the churches of Florence. Many of these priceless treasures, as has already been reported in The Times, are in some 20 different depositories at various castles, monasteries, and villas in the country. It took the Italian authorities two years to remove all these treasures from the city, and it may well take twice that length of time to get them back again. Meanwhile, five rooms in the Uffizi are being prepared for a small exhibition of masterpieces of Tuscan art which it is planned to hold in the spring.

    The destruction of Via Por Santa Maria is complete from Ponte Vecchio to the Mercato Nuovo. The explosive charges of the Germans reduced everything in this street to ruin except the medieval towers that have always been so characteristic a part of the Florentine scene, and most of these suffered some damage. The Torre degli Amidei had to be shored up with heavy timbers, and a wall is now being built to keep it up permanently; other towers have been roofed over to prevent their being sapped by rain. The Torre di Parte Guelfa, however, was so riddled with cracks from top to bottom that the military engineers considered it unsafe and pulled it down last September. The monuments section of A.M.G. strenuously, but unsuccessfully, opposed this demolition at the time, but to-day admit that their judgment was probably at fault as they themselves since then have had to demolish the Torre degli Ramagliant that stood precariously in the Borgo San Jacopo on the other side of the Arno.

    In the area of destruction on each side of the Ponte Vecchio the violence of the explosions was such that it sucked mortar right out from between the stones of buildings. For that reason Vasari's fine loggia to the Palazzo di Parte Guelfa has had to be dismantled, while the fabric of the main building was so shaken that it could not be sufficiently repaired to support a new roof before winter, and as a result the ceiling has suffered from exposure. Similarly the old church of Santo Stefano, which now has the appearance of being right in the middle of Por Sant Maria, was so severely shaken that half its facade had to be reconstructed, a process in which each stone was numbered so as to ensure is accurate replacement.

    On the opposite side of the river in the Via Guicciardini, continuing the line of Ponte Vecchio towards the Pitti Palace, many splendid old houses of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were utterly destroyed. Some, like the Palazzo Barbadori and the Palazzo Rossi, facing each other across the street, have little but the facades standing and, being in danger of collapse, will have to be demolished. In the Palazzo Guicciardini the stairway came down completely and many of the interior rooms were damaged, but in general the building can be restored. The church of Santa Felicita, in a small piazza at the end of the street nearer Ponte Vecchio, was badly shaken but has for the most part been repaired; the fourteenth century column that stood in front of the church was thrown down but has been recovered.

    Of the other bridges across the Arno, Ponte alle Grazie has been completely obliterated from the Florentine scene; what was left after the Germans had blown it up had later to be demolished by allied engineers to divert pressure of the flooded Arno against the embankments last November, and to-day the remnants of this once graceful bridge stand in the water like the rubble of a broken sluice. Ponte alla Carraia, downstream from Ponte Vecchio, would look the same except that its site is now marked by four piers encased in brick standing ready for the future rebuilding of the bridge. One of the energetic preparedness for reconstruction that is abundantly evident in the ruined area of Florence.

    Footnote for attachments:
    GERMAN DESTRUCTION: SALVING THE TREASURES OF FLORENCE. - Among the famous buildings destroyed by the Germans before they left Florence was the Columbaria Library which housed priceless books and manuscripts. The picture on the left shows Italian workmen searching for anything left among the ruins. In the background is part of the Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge across the Arno left standing by the Germans. The picture on the right shows manuscripts and books rescued from the ruins of the library being sorted by experts. The centre picture shows the remains of the piers of the beautiful Ponte Santa Trinita which were used to carry a Bailey bridge. ... plans are being made to reconstruct it.

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  2. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    Thanks for that, I hadn't seen it before.

    I am reminded that on the last occasion that my wife and I were in Florence I was able to point out to the guuide showing us round the Great Synagogue that the Germans had left huge explosive charges within the building prior to their leaving the city.

    Fortunately sappers of the, I believe, New Zealand forces had managed to defuse them before they could explode.



    Since writing this I have done what I should have done first, namely check up on my photo-diaries :(
    The explosives were left in the Synagogue at Trieste, not Florence, which we actually visited in 2007, whereas we were last in Florence in 2003.
    To compensate for my stupid mistake I now post this pic of Nita and I in Florence.

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  3. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Another one of that Bailey Bridge.
    THE BRITISH ARMY IN ITALY 1944. © IWM (NA 17848)IWM Non Commercial Licence

    nice series of colour photos on this bridge.
    SCENES IN FLORENCE, ITALY, 14 AUGUST 1944. © IWM (TR 2291)IWM Non Commercial Licence

    SCENES IN FLORENCE, ITALY, 14 AUGUST 1944. © IWM (TR 2290)IWM Non Commercial Licence

    SCENES IN FLORENCE, ITALY, 14 AUGUST 1944. © IWM (TR 2288)IWM Non Commercial Licence

    only ever been there once back in September 1990.
  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  5. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    Have added a postscript to my posting above.

    Just one of my "senior moments" :(

  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    it happens to us all.

    looking at it again, that IWM Bailey bridge must surely be the same photo, just that it's cropped for the newspaper, and the thumbnail is much better quality. Would make a great now and then...
  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Would make a great now and then...

    Not exactly right but GoogleStreetview Then & Nowed these.

    Attached Files:

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  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Good work Owen, thanks.

    That first one is spot on.

    [For some reason I can't access the thumbnails - only got to see the first one properly.]

    Edit, works now.
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Very self-indulgent I know but here is a photo attached I took way back in Sept 1990 whilst Inter-railing.
    I'm stood on the Ponte alle Grazie , which I just Then & Nowed, looking at the Ponte Vecchio.
    We were on our way to the campsite on the southside of the river.
    Nice to know I've walked through the photo in post #7.

    Attached Files:

  10. Phaethon

    Phaethon Historian

    Not exactly right but GoogleStreetview Then & Nowed these.

    A Point of interest is on the south side of the Santa Trinita Bridge (on the left on your photograph) is the bridge where the english church of florence is (St Marks with the Welsh and 2nd Bn guards memorial)... and where I recently bumped into the Bishop of York. St Marks, along with one other church, held services during the war and is the one with the interesting history I'm helping out with.

    One of the statues on the south side of the river was only recently recovered from the depth s of the arno when a fisherman snagged it on his line. It had been blown clean off the bridge but had survived intact underwater.

    On a side note; the name at the top of the 2nd Bn coldstream guards memorial is Sgt Edward Robson, one of my family-namesakes (only from the dark side, e.g. newcastle) and I recently came across his nephew on the net asking for help tracing what happened to him. Sadly he posted the request a few years ago, which is a shame as I can't reply. So to cheer myself up, here's a previously unseen photograph of the coldstream guards in florence...

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  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The Times, Mon, Aug 21, 1944

    (image lost)
    Caption -
    IN FLORENCE. - British troops see the famous statures outside the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. The Palazzo Vecchio, the old Capitol of the Republic, was begun in 1298.

    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019
  12. Phaethon

    Phaethon Historian

    Check out the Pathe news article: Some great shots in here. (although I do cringe at the sentence "liquidating snipers", it implies a blender is involved: although To be fair, judging by some of the fighting and graffiti, some sidestreets in florence haven't changed much on a friday night.)

    Is that the Ponte vecchio out the window? Its some sort of important looking building.

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  13. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    Great stuff! I was also in Florence back in 1990 and walked across this bridge a couple of times. I remember seeing battle damage on the buildings and now this all explains why!
  14. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    My Father mentioned advancing on Florence and here are the relevant pages of the 4th Reconnaissance Regiment war Dairy.

    My late father was in "B" Squadron which is mentioned advancing along bad roads against determined opposition.


    Attached Files:

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  15. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Porta Romana, Florence

    PRODUCTION DATE: 4 August 1944
    MAKER: Lupson (Sgt), No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit
    DESCRIPTION: A Sherman artillery OP tank of 22nd Field Regiment, South African 6th Armoured Division, entering Florence through the Porta Romano, 4 August 1944.

    NA_017613.jpg Screen shot 2011-10-07 at 23.53.51.png
    'Now' cropped from a photo here
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019
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  16. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    I have always, without exception, derived much pleasure from returning to cities in Italy that I knew from my ww2 days including, with Mrs.G, two super holidays in Florence, or Firenze as it is known locally.

    On one of these trips, we visited the Brancacci Chapel in the Santa Maria del Carmine, to see one of the world's most famous paintings and I was reminded of the painting by a Times article the other day.

    I dashed off the following letter which, to date anyway, remains un-published.


    The original painting can be see top left of the chapel snap.

    Attached Files:

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  17. ropey

    ropey Member

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  18. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  19. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Gerhard Wolf, German consul in Florence at the time was briefly mentioned in a documentary programme I happened upon.

    Gerhard Wolf - Wikipedia
    In 1955, Wolf was made an honorary citizen of Florence. Ten years after his retirement, he died in Munich. In 2007, a marble plaque in his honour was unveiled on the Ponte Vecchio by the acting mayor of Dresden.

    "Gerhard Wolf (1886–1962). German consul, born at Dresden—subsequently twinned with the city of Florence—played a decisive role in the salvation of the Ponte Vecchio (1944) from the barbarism of the Second World War and was instrumental in rescuing political prisoners and Jews from persecution at the height of the Nazi occupation. The commune places this plaque on 11 April 2007 in memory of the granting of honorary citizenship."


    Creator Tanner, A. R. (Captain), War Office official photographer
    Catalogue number: TR 2293
    Object description: View of the damage to the Ponte Vecchio from the east. The German forces destroyed all of the bridges over the River Arno with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio before evacuating Florence on 11 August 1944. The Ponte Vecchio was blocked by demolishing the houses at each end and mining the bridge.


    Creator: Tanner, A. R. (Captain), War Office official photographer
    Production date: 1944-08-14
    Catalogue number: TR 2286
    Object description: View of damage to the Ponte Vecchio from the east. The Germans destroyed all of the bridges over the River Arno with exception of the Ponte Vecchio before evacuating Florence on 11 August 1944. The Ponte Vecchio was blocked by demolishing the houses on both ends and mining the bridge.

    Official photograph
    Creator: No. 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit
    Object description: The Bailey Bridge in position, with the Ponte Vecchio in the background undamaged but impassable owing to mines.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019
  20. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Little did I know when I took this photo in the 1970's the significance of this view looking North from Florence towards the Apennines.

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