Showing posts with label 1626. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1626. Show all posts

28 December 2016

Italy's worst earthquake

Catastrophic tremor of 1908 may have killed up to 200,000

A devastated street in Messina with the remains of the Chiesa delle Anime del Purgatorio in the distance
A devastated street in Messina with the remains of the Chiesa
delle Anime del Purgatorio in the distance
The most destructive earthquake ever to strike Europe brought devastation to the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria on this day in 1908.

With its epicentre beneath the Strait of Messina, which separates Sicily from the Italian mainland, the quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and caused the ground to shake for between 30 and 40 seconds.

It was enough to cause such catastrophic damage that Messina, on the Sicilian side, and Reggio Calabria, on the mainland side, were almost completely destroyed.

The loss of life was huge because the earthquake happened at 5.21am, when most residents were still in bed.

An unknown number were swept away by the tsunami that struck both cities 10 minutes after the major tremor had stopped, when the sea on both sides of the Strait receded up to 70 metres and then rushed back towards the land, generating three massive waves, each taller than the one that preceded it, up to a height of 12 metres (39 feet).

At least 75,000 people were killed in Messina alone, where 91 per cent of buildings were either destroyed or damaged beyond repair.  The Norman cathedral, which had withstood a series of five quakes in 1783, was reduced this time to a partial shell.

Ruined buildings on the waterfront at Reggio Calabria
Ruined buildings on the waterfront at Reggio Calabria
The death toll amounted to half the population of the city.  Among the dead were the American consul Arthur S Cheney and his wife, Laura.  The French consul and his children were killed, as was Ethel Ogston, the wife of the British Consul, Alfred, who survived.

Notable Italian casualties included both the chief of police and the attorney general of Messina and the operatic tenor Angelo Gamba, who had been in the city to perform in the Giuseppe Verdi opera, Aida, and perished with his family when his hotel collapsed.

In Reggio Calabria almost the whole of the historic centre was destroyed, wiping out much of the city's Greek heritage.  Initial estimates were that around 25,000 people lost their lives, around a quarter of the population, but many more probably died.

The tsunami destroyed the waterfront in both cities, drowning thousands of residents who had sought refuge close to the beach, away from buildings.

Once calm had returned, there were virtually no doctors or hospital facilities to tend the injured, while the bodies of victims buried beneath the rubble were often not recovered until months later, or in some cases not at all.  The final death toll is unknown, with the estimate of 200,000 based on comparing the numbers of residents recorded in census documents before and after the disaster.

Even based on the more conservative estimates, the loss of life was the largest in a single earthquake in Italian history, eclipsing even the Naples earthquake in 1626, which was said to have killed 70,000 people.

In the aftermath of the 1908 event, Europe witnessed one of the first major international rescue operations as Russia and the United States joined European nations in providing assistance.

All lines of communication from the area were cut off and news of the disaster did not reach the rest of Italy until the end of the day, when an Italian naval vessel docked at Nicotera, 80km up the coast from Reggio Calabria, and the captain sent a message via telegraph lines to Giovanni Giolitti, the Italian prime minister.

Rescuers dig through the rubble in Messina
Rescuers dig through the rubble in Messina 
The Italian navy and army responded and began searching, treating the injured, providing food and water, and evacuating refugees.  The rescue effort was then joined by a fleet of Russian warships on the morning of December 29 and the following day British ships started arriving from Malta.

French and German ships followed suit. When news of the disaster reached the United States, where many emigrants from southern Italy had already settled, President Roosevelt offered to help and four ships were dispatched immediately to provide humanitarian aid and provisions.

In the meantime, Giolitti imposed martial law, ordering that all looters be shot. King Victor Emmanuel III and Queen Elena arrived two days after the earthquake to assist the victims and survivors, many of whom had to be relocated to other parts of Sicily or Italy, or took the option of starting a new life in America.

Both cities were rebuilt along the lines of modern urban areas, architect Luigi Borzi designing the new Messina, with the reconstruction of Reggio Calabria placed in the hands of the engineer Pietro De Nava, although as late as the 1950s, some families were still living in the wooden barracks that were erected as temporary housing.

Travel tip:

Messina's cathedral, which still contains the remains of King Conrad, ruler of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century, had to be almost entirely rebuilt following the earthquake, and again in 1943, after a fire triggered by Allied bombings. The original Norman structure can be recognised in the apsidal area and the façade has three late Gothic portals, dating back to the early 15th century. The tympanum dates back to 1468.

Hotels in Messina by Expedia

The Palazzo Spinelli is an example of the Liberty style buildings characteristic of the rebuilt Reggio Calabria
The Palazzo Spinelli is an example of the Liberty style
buildings characteristic of the rebuilt Reggio Calabria
Travel tip:

Reggio Calabria is the oldest city in Calabria, the most important in what became known as Magna Graecia - Great Greece - after settlers began to arrive in the eighth century BC.  Much of its heritage was destroyed in the earthquake and the rebuilt city is notable now for its fine Liberty buildings and its linear plan.  The best of what could be salvaged of the Greek remains can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum of Magna Graecia, housed in Palazzo Piacentini.

Hotels in Reggio Calabria by

More reading:

The devastating Naples earthquake of 1626

How the wrath of Vesuvius wiped Pompei from the map

The Vajont dam - a man-made disaster

Also on this day:


30 July 2016

Naples earthquake of 1626

Devastating tremor and tsunami killed 70,000

A 17th century painting  shows the 1631 eruption of Vesuvius  that followed just five years after the 1626 Naples earthquake
A 17th century painting shows the 1631 eruption of
Vesuvius just five years after the 1626 earthquake

The region around Naples, one of the most physically unstable areas of high population in the world with a long history of volcanic activity and earthquakes, suffered one of its more devastating events on this day in 1626.

An earthquake that it has been estimated would register around seven on the modern Richter scale struck the city and the surrounding area.

Its epicentre was about 50km out to sea, beyond the Bay of Naples and the island of Capri to the south, but the shock waves were strong enough to cause the collapse of many buildings in the city and the destruction of more than 30 small towns and villages.

A tsunami followed, in which according to some reports the sea receded by more than three kilometres (two miles) before rushing back with enormous force, towering waves engulfing the coastline.

In total, it is thought that approximately 70,000 people were killed by the quake itself and the tsunami.

Naples at the time was a thriving city, still under Spanish rule.  It had a population of around 300,000, which made it the largest port city in Europe and the second largest of all European cities apart from Paris, which had about half a million inhabitants.

It was enjoying a golden age in expansion, particularly at the more expensive end of the property market, with many luxury estates springing up in the Chiaia district to the north of the city.

Construction of the Royal Palace, the masterpiece of the late Renaissance architect Domenico Fontana, was almost complete.  Overlooking the Bay, the palace would for many years be the main residence of the Bourbon kings.

A typical fumarole at Solfatara in the Campi Flegrei just outside Naples
A typical fumarole at Solfatara in the
Campi Flegrei just outside Naples
However, bordered to the south by Vesuvius and to the north by the steaming, bubbling Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields), the city was under constant threat from seismic activity.  In Naples alone, between 10,000 and 20,000 people were thought to have been killed on July 30, 1626.

Indeed, the 1626 quake came during one of several periods punctuated by deadly events.  There had been three earthquakes in one year in 1622, sparking a wave of activity that was perhaps behind the substantial eruption of Vesuvius that took place in 1631. It was the first of any consequence for four centuries, resulting in the deaths of between 3,000 and 6,000 people.

Another earthquake in 1693 claimed the lives of 90,000 in the wider region.  Earthquakes and eruptions were so frequent in the next century that 110,000 people were killed in one 75-year stretch between 1783 and 1857, equating to 1,500 every year.

There has not been an eruption of Vesuvius since 1944 and the last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1980, when a tremor measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale took place in the province of Avellino, its epicentre 85km east of Naples, with a death toll of 2,914.

Nowadays some three million people live in and around Naples and although the last few decades have been calm, seismologists say there is little reason to be complacent.

The façade of the Royal Palace in the centre of Naples
Travel tip:

Work began on the construction of the Royal Palace in Naples in the early 17th century.  The main part of the building, including the façade that opens on to the Piazza del Plebiscito, was completed by 1620 and additions were made over time, including the connecting Teatro San Carlo, the famous Naples opera house, which was opened in 1737.

Travel tip:

For a less strenuous volcanic experience than climbing Vesuvius, the volcanic crater Solfatara, just outside Pozzuoli, is a worthwhile alternative. Part of the vast Campi Flegrei, a volcanic area with a four-mile diameter, Solfatara is fascinating for its active emissions of volcanic ash that form piles of yellow tuff rocks and for the fumaroles releasing sulphorous steam.


18 November 2015

St Peter’s Basilica Rome

Artists helped design magnificent church

The stunning Renaissance Basilica of St Peter in Rome was completed and consecrated on this day in 1626.

The Basilica of St Peter was consecrated on 18 November 1626
The Basilica of St Peter in Rome
Photo by Jean-Paul Grandmont/CC-BY SA
Believed to be the largest church in the world, Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of St Peter.

Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini were among the many artistic geniuses who contributed to the design of the church, which is considered to be a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

Located within Vatican City, the Basilica is approached along Via della Conciliazione and through the vast space of St Peter’s Square.

The magnificent central dome of the Basilica dominates the skyline of Rome and the balcony above the entrance, where the Pope makes appearances, is instantly recognisable because of the many times it has been shown on television.

It is believed that St Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus, was executed in Rome on 13 October, 64 AD during the reign of the Emperor Nero. He was buried close to the place of his martyrdom.

The old St Peter’s Basilica was constructed over the burial site 300 years later.
Archaeological research under the present day Basilica was carried out during the last century and Pope Pius XII announced the discovery of St Peter’s tomb in 1950.

Travel tip:

St Peter’s Square, Piazza San Pietro, was designed by Bernini to provide a large space where the faithful, from all over the world, could gather together. It is filled to capacity by pilgrims and visitors on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and other important religious occasions when the Pope appears to address the crowd. These events are televised and watched by viewers all over the world.
La Pietà is a highlight of any visit to St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Michelangelo's sculpture La Pietà
Photo by Stanislav Traykov/CC BY 2.5

Travel tip:

Inside the Basilica, look out for Michelangelo’s beautiful Pietà, a marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary with the dead body of Jesus lying across her knees.  It is now kept behind bulletproof glass following its restoration after an attack badly damaged it. Michelangelo carved this sculpture from a single piece of Carrara marble in 1499 when he was only 24 and it is the only work he ever signed.