Italy may be fragile but our love for the land and its people is unshakeable.
“We all forget—visitors and residents alike—that Italy is a stunning but shaky land,” wrote Beppe Severgnini in The New York Times after the recent devastating earthquake in central Italy on August 24.
Only a few days before that tragic event, Walter and I were in the Naples area face-to-face with the history of Italy’s fragility: the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD. Eerily, historians pin date the deadly volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius as August 24.
We walked the stone streets of the once-prosperous town of 20,000. We saw the stone shells of its homes, shops, public baths, and amphitheaters. We looked in appropriate awe at the peak of Mt. Vesuvius less than five miles away. A French couple we met had climbed Vesuvius to peer into the crater. Like looking into the mouth of hell.
Friends advised us to tour the National Archeological Museum of Naples to gain a better understanding of daily life in Pompeii. The museum houses countless objects from the town when it was alive: Vivid frescoes, stunning mosaics, glassware, silver serving pieces, finely crafted pottery, cooking vessels, and an eye-popping collection of erotic art kept in “The Secret Room.”
The Past is Prologue
The volcanic eruption that time-encapsulated the ancient Roman settlements of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae was preceded 17 years earlier by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Modern scientists understand that these natural disasters are caused by a fault line where the Eurasian and African plates come together and pull apart to facilitate earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In other words, a really bad location for one of the world’s greatest civilizations.
As Severgnini explained, “Since 1861, when the country was unified, there have been 35 major earthquakes and 86 smaller ones. Every region has been hit. Over 70,000 people lost their lives in an earthquake that struck Messina, Sicily, in 1908. The island was hit again in 1968; Friuli in 1976, Campania in 1980, Abruzzo in 2009, Emilia in 2012. The Apennine mountain range, the geological spine of Italy, has been repeatedly battered.”
Italy shall prevail. It always has. The hope is that it will prevail with earthquake-proof buildings and improved seismic activity forecasts. Italy may be fragile but our love for the land and its people is unshakeable.
For information on how to donate to relief efforts for people affected by the earthquake in central Italy, click here.