Italian Language Blog

Terremoto – Earthquake Posted by on Dec 29, 2008 in Uncategorized


Terremoto: from the Latin Terrae-earth and Motus-movement or shaking.

In the late afternoon of 23rd December 2008 a deep rumbling vibration heralded the arrival of the latest terremoto to hit the Italian peninsula. The epicenter of the earthquake, measuring 5.1 on the Richter Scale, took place about 40-50 km from us at a depth of 26 kilometers underground in the region between Parma and Reggio Emilia. The fact that the epicenter was so deep meant that the shock waves were felt over a wide area. My neighbor’s mother, who is 83 and completely deaf, was sitting by the stove knitting. When the quake struck she put down her work looked up and exclaimed “Terremoto!”.

“Grande paura, gente in strada” (A big scare, folk out in the street) said the papers the following morning. Being the final run up to Christmas the shops in Parma were packed and there was, naturally, quite a bit of a panic when everything began to shake. Fortunately no one was injured and no serious damage was done.

There is, however, something extremely unsettling about an event like this because the realization dawns that terra ferma (stable ground) is not as stable as you would like to think. It also reminds us that Italia, being on the edge of the African continental plate, is a zona sismica (earthquake zone) and that the worst earthquake to take place in Europe happened a hundred years ago at 5.21 a.m. on the 28th December 1908 in the Stretto di Messina (Straits of Messina). The Terremoto di Messina measured 7.2 on the Richter scale and lasted between 30 and 40 seconds almost completely destroying Messina, located in Sicily, and Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland. The terremoto was followed by a maremoto (Tsunami), which swept 13m high waves against the coast causing further devastation. It is estimated that about 90% of the buildings in Messina were rasi al suolo (razed to the ground). This was partly due to the construction of the buildings themselves which, unlike those built more recently, were not made to withstand seismic shocks, and had heavy roofs, which tended to collapse comparatively easily. This, together with the magnitude of the quake and the fact that it took place in the early hours of the morning when most people were still in bed, accounts for the horrifying loss of life, an estimated 100,000 people.


For a list of the main Italian earth quakes from 62 A.D. to the present day have a look at this link: Lista di Terremoto in Italia

To get an idea of how frequently earthquakes take place in Italy (two so far today, three yesterday!) and view maps of quake locations try this site:


I hope I haven’t put you off a tranquil visit to Italy!


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