Bomb Damages the Uffizi Gallery Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

When a car bomb destroyed part of the Uffizi Gallery, the Mafia was suspected of perpetrating the attack in response to the Italian government’s crackdown on organized crime.

Summary of Event

Just after 1:00 a.m. on May 27, 1993, a five-hundred-pound bomb concealed in a stolen Fiat exploded, gravely damaging the west wing of the Galleria degli Uffizi (the Gallery of Offices) in Florence, Italy. The bomb killed five people, destroyed a part of the five-hundred-year-old structure, damaged the Corridoio Vasariano (Vasari Corridor), and weakened the Buontalenti staircase, the gallery’s old exit. The fireball destroyed the newly completed catalog of the Uffizi Gallery collection as well as the world’s oldest assembly of agricultural research documents, which had been housed in the Academia dei Georgiofili. Four of the dead were from a single family, the caretakers and inhabitants of the Torre Della Pulci, a medieval tower behind the Uffizi. Terrorist acts Uffizi Gallery Museums Organized crime [kw]Bomb Damages the Uffizi Gallery (May 27, 1993) [kw]Uffizi Gallery, Bomb Damages the (May 27, 1993) [kw]Gallery, Bomb Damages the Uffizi (May 27, 1993) Terrorist acts Uffizi Gallery Museums Organized crime [g]Europe;May 27, 1993: Bomb Damages the Uffizi Gallery[08630] [g]Italy;May 27, 1993: Bomb Damages the Uffizi Gallery[08630] [c]Arts;May 27, 1993: Bomb Damages the Uffizi Gallery[08630] [c]Crime and scandal;May 27, 1993: Bomb Damages the Uffizi Gallery[08630] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;May 27, 1993: Bomb Damages the Uffizi Gallery[08630] John Paul II Falcone, Giovanni Riina, Salvatore

The Uffizi Gallery is Florence’s principal museum. It houses the world’s finest collection of Italian paintings created from the thirteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Aside from the loss of life, perhaps the greatest tragedy of the bombing was the permanent loss of three paintings by seventeenth century followers of Caravaggio: Giocatori di Carte (Men Playing Cards) and Concerto (Concert) by Bartolomeo Manfredi and L’Adorazione dei Pastori (Adoration of the Shepherds) by Gherardo delle Notti.

The damage to other artwork was extensive and varied. Sculptures were broken. Some thirty paintings had pigment blasted from their surfaces, others were slightly damaged, and still others were shredded by flying glass. The original estimate at the time of the attack was that thirty paintings were in need of repair. Nearly one year later, closer examination had revealed that the total number of damaged works was nearly one hundred. In nearby rooms, bulletproof glass that had been installed to protect against vandalism protected the paintings of Titian, Raphael, Paolo Veronese, Caravaggio, and Michelangelo from flying debris. More than two hundred works had to be removed from their galleries because the blast had blown out skylights, exposing the works to the weather.

Also, as the Uffizi Gallery is a sixteenth century building, the structure itself is considered a work of art. Although it would have been faster, simpler, and most likely less expensive to demolish and rebuild the damaged areas, restoration of the building proceeded with the same care and attention as the restoration of the damaged works of art.

No party was immediately prosecuted for the blast, but authorities strongly suspected Mafia Mafia;Italy involvement. The plastic explosives used in the attack were identical to those used in an attack in Rome against an anti-Mafia journalist just two weeks earlier. The bombings were viewed as responses to a police investigation in Milan that had resulted in the roundup of hundreds of alleged Mafia gangsters and bosses. These terrorist acts were intended as blows against government attempts to diminish the power and control of the Mafia; they were perpetrated to draw attention away from political corruption trials and to break the growing popular will for reform. The Mafia targeted a world-famous museum to underscore the vulnerability of Italy’s thirty-five hundred museums and hundreds of thousands of public monuments and, by extension, the foreign tourists visiting the treasures of Italian history. The day after the explosion, more than twenty thousand people marched through the streets of Florence in mourning and in anger, as a demonstration against armed intimidation.

The Uffizi Gallery is one of the world’s greatest repositories of Italian art. The building was designed by Giorgio Vasari Vasari, Giorgio to house the government offices of the Tuscan state. Vasari also built the so-called Corridoio Vasariano, which stretches from the Uffizi across the Arno River, via the Ponte Vecchio, to the Pitti Palace. The corridor, which is nearly half a mile long, now serves as a gallery for the world’s largest collection of self-portraits. After Vasari’s death, Bernardo Buontalenti Buontalenti, Bernardo carried on the work. The resultant structure consists of an elongated-U-shaped three-story building that borders the Arno River on one side and is within sight of the Piazza della Signoria on the other. The Uffizi became a public museum in 1859 after Tuscany joined the Italian state.

In 1991, Milanese authorities had uncovered a vast network of corruption involving business executives and politicians who exchanged huge bribes for public works contracts. Nearly twenty-five hundred politicians and corporate leaders were implicated. Later, two leading businessmen associated with the scandal committed suicide. The Mafia retaliated by bombing cultural sites and assassinating government and church officials. In May, 1992, Italy’s chief prosecutor of Mafia figures, Giovanni Falcone, was murdered. Two months later, another judge was killed. Salvatore Riina, the boss of all Mafia bosses, was believed to be involved and was arrested. It was also in May of 1992 that Pope John Paul II, during a visit to Sicily, made the Catholic Church a Mafia target when he urged people to resist the crime lords. In September, Giuseppe Puglisi, Puglisi, Giuseppe a Palermo priest who was an outspoken critic of the Mafia, was murdered.

Firefighters clear debris after a car bomb damaged the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The Uffizi attack was one of five car bombings that took place from May through August of 1993 in Rome, Florence, and Milan. The attacks left ten people dead and dozens wounded. Cultural sites, journalists who opposed the Mafia’s efforts to destabilize the government, church figures, and church properties all were among the targets. Two venerable Roman churches were bombed. The first was San Giovanni in Laterano, a seventeenth century baroque masterpiece by Francesco Borromini and the church where the pope serves as bishop. The second was San Giorgio in Velabro, one of Rome’s oldest churches and the site where Romulus and Remus are said to have founded Rome. It was surmised that the churches were targeted because of the pope’s call for resistance to organized crime. In the minds of Mafia members, that statement abrogated the Church’s unwritten hands-off policy toward their activities.

Nearly a year after the Uffizi bombing, Italian investigators confirmed original suspicions when they officially declared that the Mafia was behind the 1993 bomb attack. Four suspects with ties to organized crime were named, but in the years following the attack, no individuals were indicted.

Significance

The Uffizi bombing and others like it were designed to terrorize by destroying irreplaceable items of cultural heritage. The attacks had little effect on tourism and served to galvanize Florentine resistance, however. The bombings led to the resignations of some intelligence officials and a shake-up of the national police organization. A voters’ referendum called for a change in the way the country was run.

Thanks to the efforts of 150 restorers, custodians, administrators, and volunteers, the Uffizi Gallery reopened only twenty-four days after the bombing. Salvaging of the Academia dei Georgofili began the very same day of the attack. Within five days of the bombing, more than forty thousand priceless books had been retrieved from the destruction and moved to the Sala Magliabechiana, the historic headquarters of the Teatro Mediceo. Many of Florence’s store owners contributed 2 percent of their net receipts to help defray the cleanup costs. The positive response of the Italian citizenry convinced the gallery’s administration to complete work on thirty new display rooms, which had been stalled since 1990 because of budgetary and bureaucratic problems. The startlingly rapid turnabout so impressed members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that they suggested the Uffizi experience should be used as a model for arts administrations worldwide. Terrorist acts Uffizi Gallery Museums Organized crime

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bohlen, Celestine. “Clues in ’93 Uffizi Blast Point to Mafia.” The New York Times, August 7, 1995, p. A2. Discusses the Sicilian Mafia’s role in the Uffizi bombing and the difficulty of investigating and prosecuting the Mafia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giraldi, Juliet Love. “The Uffizi, a Year Later.” Contemporary Review, September, 1994, 148. Reassesses the damage done to nearly one hundred priceless artworks and reports on the progress being made toward restoration of the building and its contents. Also includes a detailed discussion of the particular restoration techniques applied to two pieces by Peter Paul Rubens.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Horn, Miriam. “The Impact of Blasts to the Past.” U.S. News & World Report, September 13, 1993, 20. Briefly discusses the bombing as an attack on Italian heritage. Notes the attempt to break the people’s will by destroying the items held most dear and describes a general disbelief that the Mafia, fellow Italians, could be involved.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Returned and Restored.” ArtNews, February, 1996, 69. Brief news item describes the ceremony by Uffizi Gallery officials announcing the return of the final artwork restorations to the museum two and a half years after the terrorist attack.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schneider, Jane C., and Peter T. Schneider. Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Traces the history of the Sicilian Mafia and discusses efforts by the judiciary and citizens’ groups to reduce the organization’s power.

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