Joiners are replacing the windows blown out on 27 May by 200kg of explosive in a terrorist car-bomb that killed five people and badly damaged the west wing of the museum. Workmen haul materials, replaster walls and mend stairs while plastic sheeting billows over the wrecked roof.
Reopening day has been fixed for Sunday 20 June, 'and we shall make it', Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani, the museum's director, said confidently. Visitors will once again be able to enter the east wing and see most of its greatest treasures: paintings by Giotto, Gentile da Fabriano, Piero della Francesca, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Leonardo and Mantegna.
Some of the most important works from the west wing will be on display in the former church of San Piero Scheraggio, an llth-century building incorporated into the ground floor of the Uffizi. They will include Michelangelo's Doni Tondo, a round painting of the Holy Family, Raphael's Madonna with a Goldfinch, Titian's Flora, Caravaggio's Young Bacchus and self-portraits by Rembrandt.
'About 80 per cent of the works that people come to the Uffizi to see will be on display,' said Dr Petrioli. The west wing will take 'months' to repair. The speed with which the Uffizi is being re-opened is due to the concerted action by its 150-odd staff who, without exception, agreed to work all hours without overtime pay to get the building back in shape. Otherwise, Dr Petrioli said she would have had to bring in outside help which would have been much slower and much more expensive.
But the speed also depends on contributions from Uffizi fans - and this is where Independent readers come in. The Independent, with its Italian and Spanish partners, La Repubblica and El Pais, is appealing to readers for funds to help repair and restore the Uffizi. US museums and others are making similar appeals.
'These donations will serve as ready funds to enable us to by-pass the bureaucracy so we can get the work finished fast, without any interruptions,' Dr Petrioli said. 'The situation of the Italian deficit is dramatic . . . obviously the state won't abandon us, but money will be very slow in coming. After all, they cannot take funds away from hospitals, for instance, to give to the Uffizi.'
Moreover, few know as well as the custodians of Italy's art treasures how slowly the state machinery grinds, and how long it takes before cash, when there is any, emerges from the bureaucratic pipeline. Italy is dotted with churches, beautiful buildings and monuments that have been covered in scaffolding for years because the money has run out.
After the bomb, the Italian government earmarked 30bn lire ( pounds 13.6m) for repairs, which must be shared with the Accademia dei Georgofili, a venerable agricultural institute which is housed in the same building. But already Dr Petrioli estimates that the bill is more likely to be around 50bn lire. She has no idea yet how much the voluntary donations will amount to 'but I don't imagine it will cover the extra 20bn'.
Sooner or later the government will have to find the rest, but the chances are it will be later, rather than sooner.
The saddest sights in the Uffizi are the three ruined paintings lying on the floor: Gherardo delle Notti's Adoration of the Shepherds, and two by Bartolomeo Manfredi. Two were reduced to tattered canvas by the blast, with only patches of paint still sticking in places. The third consists of only a few pathetic shreds. The 40- odd pictures that were cut by flying glass or had pieces of paint blown away, have been pasted over with fine paper to preserve loose paint and stored to await restoration. Three damaged Roman and Greek statues will also be restored.
The good news is that the structure of the Uffizi - built in the 16th century by Giorgio Vasari, one of the greatest architects and painters of his day, for Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici as administrative offices for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany - is undamaged. But it will need very specialised restoration work with the materials used when it was built.
To Independent readers she said: 'I would like people to realise that what is happening here in Florence is the contrary of what the terrorists intended.' There had been tremendous solidarity, with everyone forgetting their quarrels and joining in to help. 'First there was shock, then anger, then the urge to reconstruct . . . If the terrorists wanted to bring a nation to its knees they have achieved exactly the opposite. It is important to give a sign of this.'
HELP THE RESTORATION
THE Independent has joined an appeal launched by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica to raise funds to help restore the Uffizi museum. Readers who wish to contribute should send cheques (payable to The Uffizi Appeal) to The Uffizi Appeal c/o The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. Credit card and charity aid voucher contributions cannot be accepted.
On 26 June, the Rossini Chamber Orchestra will be giving a concert in aid of the Uffizi. The orchestra, conducted by Alexander Bryett, will play a programme of Mozart, Boccherini and Giovanni Cambini. The concert, starting at 7.30pm will be held at St Mary Abbots Church, High Street, Kensington, London W8. For further details, contact Opera Italiana on 071-736 3821.