November 4, 1966: after two days of intense rainfall, the Arno River overflows its banks and at 5.30 it floods Florence. 250 million cubic meters of water inundate one of the most beloved cities in the world, and take away 34 human lives and the roof of thirteen thousand families, dragging cars, goods, animals from their stalls, and mannequins from the shop windows. Thousands of books and rare manuscripts in the National Library, and many masterpieces in the Uffizi deposits are drown in the mud. The flood affects not only the historical center of the city, but the whole Arno basin. The farmlands remain flooded for days after the disaster, and many minor and isolated towns are severely damaged.Those are the days of the chantilly rubber boots, strictly needed for wading the dark slime that covers everything – not to speak of the stench, which along with water, fuel and slurry, overruns the streets. Days of waiting into the upper floors apartments, where the flooded families find a dry shelter waiting for the river to retire. Those are the days of rescue boats sailing through the downtown streets, and of tanks distributing loaves. Days of tears for what went lost, and sweat also – for the start of the rebuilding actions.

Ancient negligences and more recent abuses – rural exodus, urbanization and industrialization that from the 50s have gradually increased the hydrogeological risk and the hydraulic imbalance – make up a long and debated list of causes. But when the flood of 1966 comes, it sweeps Florence and the whole Tuscany with the violent meaninglessness of a war. And just like all traumas, it marks a before and an after, inevitably changing the relationship between the city and the river.
The river used to be pitch, initiation border and swimming spot for kids, it used to be workplace for sand diggers, millers and tanners, way of transit and development agent; and suddenly the Arno turns into an enemy to hold off with embankments and penstocks. A source of water, energy, food and raw materials in that November of 1966 is transformed in the bitter Italian symbol of a clash, an extreme conflict, between man’s development and consumption pursuit and rhythms and rights of the territory.

But Florence is not alone: an army of young people comes to town from all over Italy and then also from France, England, Norway, United States. They shall be called the Mud Angels. But before being angels they are young adults, and with the urgency of their age they have decided to go: to save art and the memory of history, to give voice to the rising ideals that fill the breast of every young generation.


Those guys in Florence learn the universal language of solidarity, and by drying books or cleaning the filthy faces of the saints of the frescoes, do live an adventure that makes them a little more adult. Boys and girls who, only two years later, shall leave their homes once again to light the spark of the protest movements of 1968.Today, fifty years from a tragedy that has marked the history and the Italian imagination, Tuscany is getting ready to celebrate the anniversary of an event the younger generations have lost memory of. Meanwhile, the river with the temper of a brook, inexhaustible inspiration for poets and writers – Dante to Machiavelli, Foscolo, D’Annunzio, Campana, Montale and Malaparte – keeps flowing marking territory, culture, daily life, customs, rhythms and character of a region.

Hence comes the will to tell about faces, places, geographies and stories running along the course of a river that is a symbol of Italian identity. Such is the aspiration of the project A as Arno. A multimedia platform and a book collecting the documentation built along the riverbanks by the photographers Paolo Cagnacci and Matteo Cesari, merged – in this project designed and edited by Doll’s Eye Reflex Laboratory – with vintage iconographic material and other visual contributions of several emergent photographers of the Fondazione Studio Marangoni of Florence and by the students of the workshops Arno2016, a collective journey joined by over 2,000 members of the Unicoop Florence and an exhibition that, fifty years after the flood of 1966, is meant to be a chance for reflection and awareness about past and present, dedicated to all Tuscan citizens, and hopefully find in the river a part of their memory.

progetto fotografico Paolo Cagnacci e Matteo Cesari
direzione creativa Irene Alison
art direction Alessandra Pasquarelli
comunicazione Agnese Capalti
produzione Antonella Sava
ricerca giornalistica Cecilia Ferrara
sviluppo Jacopo Bundu
organizzazione eventi Roberta Fuorvia
traduzioni Camilla Balsamo
stagista Francesca Femia