Page images
PDF
EPUB

to the ground in the morning, and at last was forced to be laid flat upon the tomb, in which posture it lay till this late destruction both of it, and the town itself.

A third presace, that seemed to foretel this earthquake, happened in a little village, within three miles from Catanea, named Alari, where used to grow as good wine as any in Sicily. In February last, about sun-setting, all the people of the country about saw, as they thought, this village all in flames. The fire, they imagined, began from less to more, increasing for about a quarter of an hour together, and then all the houses of the village appeared as in one flame, which lasted for about six minutes, till it seemed to decay, for want of more fewel. A great many people, that lived near the village, when they saw the fire first begin, came running to it, to do the friendly office of helping to extinguish the fire; and, all along the road, till they were alniost within the very village itself, they imagined they saw the fire extend itself more and more; but, being entered, they found all was a deception of the sight, if not a presage of that calamity that, some months after, befel the place.

But I come to the dreadful earthquake itself, a greater thanı which we read not of, in either ancient, or modern history. It is here indeed, that I can neither give myself, nor others, the satisfaction I could wish, there being so many little places, and even some considerable towns destroyed, where there are no inhabitants left to give us an account of the manner how these places were swallowed up; so that, of these, we can have no other narrative, but what people at a distance, and in a hurry themselves, for fear of sinking into the same ruin, have been able to give us.

This earthquake diffused itself into all these three districts, or divisions, into which the island of Sicily is ordinarily divided; which are, 1. Valli di Noto, comprehending principally the eastern parts of the island; 2. Mazaro, containing the western and southern parts; and, 3. Mono, which confines itself to the north and north-east parts of the island. The greatest shaking reached, from mount Ætna, all along to Cape Passaro, the Pachynus of the ancients. In all this vast tract of land, nothing stood the shock, but all fell under the weight of a general ruin.

It was on the seventh of January, 1693, about ten at night, that mount Ætna began to utter those hideous roarings, which commonly usher in some tragedy of the nature of what followed. Those loud bellowings continued till the ninth, when, about twelve of the clock, they began to cease, or rather fall lower. Within an hour after, the inhabitants of Catanea, which was the next town to the mountain, began to perceive a shaking under them, about three minutes together. This did little other hurt, than affright the people, and give them fears of some further hurt. It was remarkable, that, during the three minutes this shake continued, and an hour before, there was not the least noise beard from mount Ætna, but, within less than a minute after the shake was over, not only did the noise redouble, infinitely more terrible than it had been before, but the

[ocr errors]

whole top of the mountain appeared all in flames, which, the wind blowing from the westward, carried with it a vast quantity of burnt ashes, which have always been found to be the ordinary attendants of those flamy irruptions. It is not certain how far this shake of the ninth diffused itself, but it is probable, that more or less of it was felt through most of the south parts of this island; for the inhabitants of the cities of Mineo, Palaonia, Ragosa, and the town of Licodia, felt all of them the same shake, and at the very same minute of the day, as Catanea had done.

All this was but the forerunner of the horridest shake of all, which fell out on the eleventh. This affected the whole island, but very unequally; and, by the exactest computation that can be made, the whole period of it lasted not above six minutes, from Messina northwards, to cape Coio, the farthest point of Sicily to the south.

Catapea is thought to have been the first that fell under the weight of this heavy calamity. This city, which is as ancient as most in Sicily, seated in a pleasant and rich soil, inhabited by several of the gentry thereabouts, endowed with an university, and containing about twenty-four thousand souls, was sunk out of sight in a moment. There happened some fisherboats to be at that time in the bay that lies south of the town, and within a league's distance, who give an account, that they saw the city sink down, with the noise, as it were, of some thousand pieces of great ordnance discharged all at once. After it was thus vanished out of their sight, the fishermen say, that, some minutes thereafter, to the eastward, near wbere the city stood, there rose up a little mountain, which, lifting itself up several times a considerable height above the ordinary level of the ground thereabouts, sunk at last likewise out of their sight. The fishermen do likewise declare, that, during all this horrid tragedy, which they saw befal the city Catanea, they themselves were every moment expecting to be swallowed up in the bay, by reason of the strange violent agitations of the sea; and scarce was this heaving up of the imaginary mountain on the southside of Catanea over, but they felt the sea calm. It is thought there have not escaped, of the inhabitants of Catanea, above two thousand in all: those, that escaped, came away either after the shaking of the ninth, or the morning of the eleventh ; and the hideous roaring of mount Ætna, which used to be the forerunner of some calainity on that side, gave them warning to flee: but they were the better sort of people only, that had the opportunity to make so happy an escape, the rest falling under the universal ruin. In the place, where Catanea stood, appears now at a distance a great lake, with some great heaps of rubbish appearing here and there above the water.

I had a}most forgot one circumstance very remarkable, which the fishermen, that were in the bay of Catanea, at the time of this last shake, do positively affirm. They say, that both before, and some minutes after the earthquake happened, mount Ætna appeared more than ever in flames, and the noise was greater than it had

been since its first irruption of the seventh. But, a few minutes after Catanea was swallowed up, there was neither flames to be seen, nor the least noise to be heard for the space of five or six hours together. And then the mountain began a-new again to roar and throw out flames more duskish and smoky than at any time before.

The same shake, that utterly destroyed Catanea, did lay in heaps more than half of Saragosa, the ancient Syracusa. This city, once the greatest of Sicily, and, if we will believe sonie ancient bistorians, particularly Strabo, the largest once in the world, may contend with any in Europe for antiquity, having been the seat, for a great many ages, of a flourishing commonwealth, and the scene of a great many warlike actions. It retaiued still some marks of its ancient greatness, and, with the advantages of a rich soil, and pleasant situation, and a strong castle to defend it, might contain about six. teen thousand people. This ancient city suffered much by the shake of the ninth, most of the best buildings, and the greatest part of the castle being rent in several places. Upon the tenth at night, it underwent another considerable shake with a mighty tempest of wind, so that the great bell in one of its churches was heard several times to make a sound, through the violent trembling of the steeple. A great many were killed by the fall of houses the time this shake and tempest happened ; and most that were able, or had the opportunity, fled out of town that night, which was the occasion of their safety.

But the shake of the eleventh brought with it a sudden and inevitable destruction, throwing down, in a moment, more than two parts in three of the whole city, and burying in its rubbish above four parts in five of the people that were left. The least computation that can be made of the loss of the inhabitants of it, is above seven thousand, the rest escaping, as I have said, the night before, and some hundreds were digged out of the ruins alive, but lame and bruised, so that few of them, it is thought, will recover. Most of the magistrates, and people of best fashion, ran into the great church for shelter, where they met with death by the fall of the stone roof and the steeple both together.

The city of Noto had yet a worse fate than Syracusa, scarce any part of it now standing. This place is one of the ancientest of Sicily, and once contended for the preheminence with Syracusa, itself. It is situate on a very high rock, almost inaccessible on all sides, but by one narrow passage ; having under the cape Passan, one of the best and largest harbours of the whole island, and being the key of Sicily on that side. The mighty hardness of the rock on which Noto stood, seemed to secure it from the hazard of earthquakes, but it felt that shake on the ninth, with more violence than any other place of the island. That of the eleventh laid it, in a moment, in heaps, the manner whereof we cannot attain, by reason none of the inhabitants are left, but some few that left the place on the ninth. There is seen yet standing a part of the church of a Benedictine monastery, and scarce any more of the whole town; the inhabitants being computed about seven thousand souls.

Augusta, a city well situated, baving a large prospect into the sea, and adorned with very large and safe harbours, a place of good trade for corn; this place suttered considerably by the shake of the ninth; many of the inhabitants, to the number of about six hundred, were bruised to death with the fall of the houses. On the tenth, there was another shake, which obliged most of the people of note to betake themselves to the castle for their security, which proved as unlucky to them, as the great church had been to them of Syracusa ; for, ihere happening great flashes of lightning, which seemed to set ihe whole heavens on fire, one of them fell on the maga. zine of powder kept there, and blew up the castle and all the people within, amounting to about eleven hundred. The shake on the eleventh put an end to the catastrophe, by overturning the town, and burying the rest of the inhabitants in it; so that there scarce remains any thing of the ancient Augusta, but the name. The in. babitants were reckoned near six thousand, of whom we have account of none left.

Lentini, the ancient Leontium, famous for the beautiful lake on which it stood, a place of about three thousand families, and a place of tolerable trade by fishing and salt-mines, underwent the misfortune of its neighbour, and ancient rival, Syracusa. The shake of the eleventh reduced it to ashes, and it is not known if any of the inhabitants be saved. There are now to be seen several great heaps of earth in the lake, where there was none before: and the peasants, who live on the other side, opposite to the place where Lentini stood, have reported, that since this earthquake, the lake, which was formerly clear and limpid, and wonderfully stored with all variety of fish, is now become brackish, and of a salt and bituminous taste, and vast number of fish are found every day dead upon the shore.

Some better fate had Calatgirone, a pretty town, containing above seven thousand people, and well built, most of hewn stone. The shake of the ninth was very little perceptible tliere; and that of the eleventh was much less than any where within some miles of it. It was not so little, but that it overturned about the fifth part of the town, and two monasteries, and, it is thought, destroyed in all no fewer than two thousand souls.

Minco felt both the shakes of the ninth and the eleventh, and there seemed but little difference betwixt the violence of either, or the damage each did. At both :imes several houses, and a pretty large church, were overturned, and it it is thougbt near four thousand of the inhabitants are perished. It was remarkable, that the time of the shake of the ninth, the heavens about this town were very serene, scarce a cloud appearing above the horizon : but that of the eleventh was attended with a mighty storm of thunder, lightning, and hail, which lasted above six hours together.

Monreal, commonly called Morreal, received some damage in its buildings, and some few of the inhabitants perished by their fall. The shake of the eleventh did greatly shatter the cathedral church,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

wbich is, indeed, one of the beautifullest structures in the world. The dome, which stands above the high altar, fell, and crushed in pieces four curious pillars of brass, with several statues of saints of as good workmanship as any in Christendom. Neither was the archbishop's palace free, it being set on fire by lightning, and a considerable part of it burnt down.

Palermo, the seat of the Viceroy, felt little or nothing of the shake of the ninth, though several small shakings they had had some days before. But that of the eleventh was almost as terrible as in any other place, except Catanea, Syracusa, and Augusta. A great many houses were shattered, and some fell to the ground. The cathedral suffered extremely in its roof, and a church, belonging to the Carmelite monastery, was totally destroyed. The Viceroy, with all his family, and the archbishop, retired a-board the gallies in the harbour, where, by the violent motion of the water, they expected every moment to be swallowed up: some part of the great mole built of stone, that secures the port, being shattered within a few feet of their galley. It is said, there were not above one hundred people in all killed at Palermo, and those mostly that lived in a suburb built of wood.

The town of Pasceni, it is not known whether the shake of the ninth, or the eleventh, destroyed it. It was a pretty place, consisting of about two hundred families, and those thought the richest of any little town of Sicily, by reason of the goodness of its wine and silk exported thence to the sea in considerable quantities. Now there is not one single house left standing, nor one single person saved. A new lake takes up now that spacious valley on the eastside of the town, which was all, hitherto, covered with the best of vines; and the water thereof is of a blackish colour, and a bituminous taste.

Patuzolo, a bigger place than Pasceni, though not so happily situated, nor so rich, fell under the same fate with it. None of the inhabitants, for any thing is yet known, were saved, the number of which might probably amount to about one thousand people at least.

Furla, a town about the bigness of Pasceni, and seated on a rising hill amidst quarries of stone, much of the nature of marble, was nothing more fortunate, we having no other account of its ruin, but what those, who saw it at a distance, could give. It may be worthy of remark, that in several parts of the mountain about Furla, the rocks, which formerly were almost as white as Genoa marble, in the chinks that the earthquake made amongst them, the stones are now of a burnt colour, as if fire and powder had been used to rent them asunder. The fountains of fresh water, wherewith these mountains abound, have lost their clearness, and have both a sulphureous smell and taste. The inhabitants of Furla were reckoned to be near a thousand souls.

A town much greater than any of the three last, Sciorti, situated in a pleasant valley, and a rich soil, where the best rock salt is digged, was likewise totally demolished by the shake of the eleventh,

VOL, X

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »