Earthquake at Calabria, in the year 1638
by Father Kircher
A first-hand account of the devestating effects of nature along the coast of Calabria.
An account of this dreadful earthquake, is given by the celebrated Father Kircher. It happened whilst he was on his journey to visit mount AEtna, and the rest of the wonders that lie toward the South of Italy. Kircher is considered, by scholars, as one of the greatest prodigies of learning.
"Having hired a boat, in company with four more, (two friars of the order of St. Francis, and two seculars,) we launched from the harbour of Messina, in Sicily; and arrived, the same day, at the promontory of Pelourus. Our destination was for the city of Euphaemia, in Calabria, where we had some business to transact, and where we designed to tarry for some time."
"However, Providence seemed willing to cross our design; for we were obliged to continue three days at Pelorus, on account of the weather; and though we often put out to sea, yet were often driven back. At length, wearied with the delay, we resolved to prosecute our voyage; and, although the sea seemed more than usually agitated, we ventured forward."
"The gulf of Charybdis, which we approached, seemed whirled round in such a manner, as to form a vast hollow, merging to a point in the centre. Proceeding onward, and turning my eyes to Aetna, I saw it cast forth large volumes of smoke, of mountainous sizes, which entirely covered the island, and blotted out the shores from my view. This together with the dreadful noise, and the sulphurous stench which was strongly perceived, filled me with apprehensions, that some more dreadful calamity was impending."
"The sea itself seemed to wear a very unusual appearance : they who have seen a lake in a violent shower of rain, covered all over with bubbles, will conceive some idea of it's agitation's. My surprise was still increased, by the calmness and serenity of the weather; not a breeze, not a cloud, which might be supposed to put all nature thus into motion. I therefore warned my companions, that an earthquake was approaching; and, after some time, making for the shore with all possible diligence, we landed at Tropea, happy and thankful for having escaped that threatening dangers of the sea."
"But our triumphs at land were of short duration's; for we had scarcely arrived at the Jesuits' College, in that city, when our ears were stunned with a horrid sound, resembling that of an infinite number of chariots, driven fiercely forward; the wheels rattling, and thongs cracking. Soon after this, a most dreadful earthquake ensued; the whole tract upon which we stood seemed to vibrate, as if we were in the scale of a balance that continued wavering. This motion, however, soon grew more violent; and being no longer able to keep my legs, I was thrown prostrate upon the ground. In the mean time, the universal ruin round me doubled my amazement."
"The crash of falling houses, the tottering of towers, and the groans of the dying, all contributed to raise my terror and despair. On every side of me, I saw nothing but a scene of ruin; and danger threatening wherever I should fly. I recommended myself to God, as my last great refuge."
"At the hour, O how vain was every sublunary happiness! Wealth, honour, empire, wisdom all mere useless sounds, and as empty as the bubbles of the deep! Just standing on the threshold of eternity, nothing but God was my pleasure; and the nearer I approached I only loved him the more."
"After some time, however finding that I remained unhurt, amidst the general concussion, I resolved to venture for safety; and running as fast as I could, I reached the shore, but almost terrified out of my reason. I did not search long here, till I found the boat in which I had landed, and my companions also, whose were terrors were even greater than mine. Our meeting was not of that kind, where every one is desirous of telling his own happy escape; it was all silence, and a gloomy dread of impending terrors."
"Leaving this seat of desolation, we prosecuted our voyage along the coast; and the next day came to Rochetta, where we landed, although the earth still continued in violent agitations. But we had scarcely arrived at our inn, when we were once more obliged to return to the boat; and, in about half an hour, we saw the greater part of the town, and the inn which we had put up, dashed to the ground, and burying the inhabitants beneath the ruins."
"In this manner, proceeding onward in our little vessel, finding no safety at land, and yet, from the smallness of our boat, having but a very dangerous continuance at sea, we were bound. Here, wherever I turned my eyes, nothing but scenes of ruin and horror appeared; towns and castles leveled to the ground; Stromboli, though at sixty miles distance, belching forth flames in an unusual manner, and with a noise which I could distinctly hear."
"But my attention was quickly turned from more remote, to contiguous danger. The rumbling sound of an approaching earthquake, which we by this time were grown acquainted with, alarmed us for the consequences; it every moment seemed to grow louder, and to approach nearer. The place on which we stood now began to shake most dreadfully: so that being unable to stand, my companions and I caught hold of whatever shrub grew next to us, and supported ourselves in that manner."
"After some time, this violent paroxysm ceasing, we again stood up, in order to prosecute our voyage to Euphaemia, which lay within sight. In the mean time, while we were preparing for this purpose, I turned my eyes toward the city, but could see only a frightful dark cloud, that seemed to rest upon the place. This the more surprised us, as the weather was so very serene."
"We waited, therefore, till the cloud had passed away: then turning to look for the city, it was totally sunk. Wonderful to tell! Nothing but a dismal and putrid lake was seen where it stood. We looked about to find some one that could tell us of its sad catastrophe, but could see no person. All was become a melancholy solitude; a scene of hideous desolation."
"Thus proceeding pensively along, in quest of some human being that could give us a little information, we at length saw a boy sitting by the shore, and appearing stupefied with terror. Of him, therefore, we inquired concerning the fate of the city; but he could not be prevailed on to give us an answer."
"We entreated him, with every expression of tenderness and pity, to tell us; but his senses were quite wrapped up in the contemplation of the danger he had escaped. We offered him some victuals, but he seemed to loath the sight. We still persisted in our offices of kindness; but he only pointed to the place of the city, like one out of his senses; and then running up into the woods, was never heard of after. Such was the fate of the city of Euphaemia."
"As we continued our melancholy course along the shore, the whole coast, for the space of two hundred miles, presented nothing but the remains of cities; and men scattered without a habitation, over the fields. Proceeding thus along, we at length ended our distressful voyage by arriving at Naples, after having escaped a thousand dangers both at sea and land."