Remembering the 1693 Earthquake in the Val di Noto

Out of pure coincidence we are once again talking about earthquakes - but this time in order to highlight the 313th anniversary of an event that has reshaped South-East Sicily.

On the 11th of January 1693 a huge earthquake destroyed at least 45 cities, affecting an area of 5600 square kilometres and causing the death of more than 60 000 people - about half of the population of the South-East of Sicily. Hardest hit was Catania, where 2/3rds of the population lost their life.

This was one of the biggest earthquakes to hit Italy alongside the 1908 earthquake of Messina.

The reaction of the locals when faced with such complete destruction was to plan new cities in new locations. They decided against reconstruction and for the creation of something completely new. Leaving aside medieval towns like Noto Antica (in the picture) they embarked on grand town planning projects which in the subsequent 50 years created historical city centres in the unique Sicilian baroque style.

The historical centres of cities like Noto, Modica, Palazzolo Acreide, Scicli and Caltagirone are now recognised as a single World Heritage Site precisely because, beyond of the uniqueness of the style, they have all been shaped within the same short time period of about 50 years from 1693 across a relatively large goegraphical area.

Written on
January 10, 2006