The earthquake in central-southern Italy of 1456 was one of the strongest earthquakes in Italy, with an intensity of magnitude 7.1. It had destructive effects on a large area of the Kingdom of Naples due to the superimposition of several earthquakes. The earthquake struck five regions and the victims were more than 30.
The earthquake in central-southern Italy of 1456
Considered the most destructive of the second millennium, the earthquake in central-southern Italy of December 5 1456 is remembered as one of the stronger earthquakes in Italy.
With an intensity of 7.1 magnitude, the earthquake occurred early in the morning, between about 03.00 and 04.00, and had serious effects on a large area of the Kingdom of Naples.
Following in-depth studies, it is believed that the epicenter of the earthquake, felt as far as Tuscany and Sicily, was located in the seismic district of Irpinia and that the main shock had lasted at least two minutes.What were the effects and damage caused by the earthquake?The earthquake of 1456 struck over 90 locations over a large area ofCentral-southern Italy, counting 5 regions e over 30 000 victims. The effects were destructive in Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia and Basilicata the cause more earthquakes in sequence that hit the areas.
The affected centers were numerous, from the small villages of the Campania, Molise and Abruzzo hinterland to large cities such as Benevento, L'Aquila and especially Napoli, capital of the Kingdom at the time, where the collapse of the bell tower of the basilica of Santa Chiara and the collapse of the church of San Domenico Maggiore, which had to be rebuilt, were recorded. Also a series of rogue waves in the port of Naples he destroyed the boats, while a real one tsunami in the gulf of Taranto hit the Apulian Ionian coast.
Entire cities were erased and most of the villages in the center-south were destroyed, some of which were never rebuilt.
What do the historical chronicles tell about the earthquake of 1456?
Historical sources report that the shock of the earthquake were long, intense and sequential, felt until the first months of 1457. It is possible that the event of December 5 resulted from thealmost simultaneous activation of several seismic sources and that therefore the very large area of damage could have been caused by the superimposition of the effects of several earthquakes.
"In the year of the Lord 1456, during the fifth proclamation, on the night of Santa Barbara in the month of December, at eleven o'clock in the night, there was a huge earthquake, so intense that no more ancient memory is preserved and there is no news that similar things have been suffered by all the inhabitants in this Kingdom of Sicily since the beginning of the world. "
(Vincenzo Ciarlanti, Historical Memories of Sannio, 1644)
The main shock was followed by numerous replicas, one of which, the 30th December, had an intensity almost equal to that of December 5, although the epicenter was located further north. This reply ended up razing to the ground many inhabited centers already severely damaged by the previous tremors.
Following the earthquake, small villages were abandoned and a process of decastellation began: the population gradually abandoned the fortified sites on the high ground to concentrate in flat land.
How was the situation handled and what was the government's response?
The large area of the Kingdom of Naples it was at the time ruled by the Aragonese that, after the earthquake, they did not undertake major reconstruction efforts. The interventions by the Kingdom of Naples were in fact limited: King Alfonso the Magnanimous did not take any extraordinary measures and it did not accept the requests for tax exemptions from the most affected communities, claiming that the survivors were able to pay them because they had inherited the goods of the deceased.
Also papal interventions were very limited, essentially aimed at encouraging the reconstruction of ecclesiastical buildings.
The earthquake was perceived as an occasional misfortune which in the governmental culture of the time did not require, despite its tragic nature, specific interventions, except the restoration of public works (such as fortresses, roads and bridges) that could compromise the military defense works.
The burden of this reconstruction therefore fell entirely on the shoulders of the resident population.