History >> Dubrovnik earthquake

Dubrovnik earthquake

Dubrovnik was built in the most seismically active area in Croatia, and also Dubrovnik earthquakes are the strongest in the whole country. It is the only Croatian town that is shown in red on the seismic map, which means that it is exposed to potential hazard of the strongest earthquakes, those of 10 degrees in the Mercalli scale.


Since ancient times Dubrovnik had been hit by strong earthquakes, and since the 15th century it seems as if as they had become even more frequent. The first serious earthquake occurred in 1520. It killed several dozen people, and many houses were demolished, so the people of Dubrovnik, because of the fear of God's wrath, built the votive church of St. Savior that should protect them from earthquakes and other natural disasters.


But not even the church of St. Savior could help them on 6 April 1667, on Holy Wednesday just before Easter. Between 8 and 9 am Dubrovnik was affected by the most dramatic event in all its history. Witnesses give almost identical description of these horrors. A brief but strong shake from the underground was short lived, yet it made Dubrovnik begin to crumble. In just a few seconds, the city of luxurious Gothic and Renaissance palaces, churches, monasteries and many other buildings, was transformed into a sad ruin filled with the cries of the survivors who were left covered with rocks and wooden beams. Everything was falling apart and shaking, and the walls were shifted sideways and then fell back to place. Huge rocks broke from the Srđ hill, rolling down and destroying everything in their path. On Pile and Ploče, holes in the ground opened up and engulfed the houses. The dust rose into the sky and blotted out the sun, whose light looked as red as blood. Water supply was interrupted; the wells dried up and were filled up with yellow mud. The apocalyptic atmosphere was completed with the scenes at sea where thunder as from lightning or cannons could be heard. Soon enough Dubrovnik was swept by a tidal wave. As the sea retreated, the ships anchored in the harbor were left with broken keels, torn against the rocks. Soon the sea returned with high waves, sinking the ships.


Dubrovnik's catastrophe was complete. Half the population of the old city was killed - 3000. Overall, more than 6,000 people were killed, among whom were the Rector and half of the members of the Great council. Half of the nobility lost their lives (it is interesting that a year before the earthquake, the plague claimed 1,000 souls). But the real problems were yet to arrive. The city was shaking from the earthquake for a full week more, and the fire which broke out ravaged the city, carried by strong winds for the coming twenty days. The survivors took refuge in the Revelin fortress and the Lazaretto, as those were not damaged. Thousands of wounded were left in ruins and were crying out for help. There was total chaos. Hardly anyone helped the ones buried in the ruins unless they knew it would be financially rewarded. A good portion of them drank their own urine to survive. Terrible lootings ensued. Villagers from suburban areas came to Dubrovnik with the intent to pillage it. Given that the earthquake killed the Rector and a great part of the government, there was total anarchy. People would cut the ears and jaws from the dead to take their earrings and gold teeth. Everyone was stealing - rich and poor alike.


But even in this complete disarray, several of Dubrovnik nobles managed to retain equanimity and composure. They founded the Council of the Twelve that brought the key decisions in the days after the earthquake. It was decided that everyone who left the town in this difficult time was to be punished, because they were obliged to rebuild Dubrovnik and move on. They paid 800 people to protect the city from possible attacks by the Turks or Venetians, as well as to prevent robberies. Even in these most difficult times of Dubrovnik's history, diplomacy played a key role, especially Stjepan Gradić, a diplomat in the Vatican. He undertook hundreds of actions in order to see his hometown soar again to the former prosperity. He particularly emphasized that Dubrovnik must rely on its own resources in the reconstruction. His notes on the reconstruction of the city are kept today in the Franciscan monastery. How his contribution was acknowledged by the people of Dubrovnik is best evidenced by a memorial plaque on the newly-built Baroque cathedral in his honor (the old one was completely destroyed).


Regardless of the terrible earthquake, Dubrovnik managed to hold on and began a new phase of its history. It had been one of Europe's biggest earthquakes of all time. The ultimate microseizmic waves were felt as far as Venice, Naples, Constantinople, and even in Egypt - to a distance of a thousand miles on an area of more than 12 million square kilometers.


Not only was Dubrovnik damaged, but also many surrounding cities counted the bodies and suffered tremendous destruction. In Kotor, among the hundreds of dead, the Venetian governor was also killed. Ston and Herceg Novi also suffered great damage.


It is interesting that the church of St. Savior, that was supposed to protect Dubrovnik from earthquakes, failed in its mission, but remained intact. One of the few buildings, really, together with Revelin fortress, Sponza palace and the Lazaretto.

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