Rebuilding After An Earthquake: Lessons From 17th Century Sicily

Nov 29, 2018 152

In my previous pieces I wrote on three relations that appear evident in Italian society: that between the religious and the secular, between culture and agriculture, and between earthquake and architecture. In demonstration of the last relation, I offer in this piece a discussion of the earthquake that struck the Val di Noto in Sicily in 1693 and its subsequent reconstruction, and what it might reveal to us in a time in which earthquakes and our responses to them continue to be an important part of life in Italy. I engage these topics as a geographer, which means that the materiality of landscape, the natural and built elements of the places in which we live, is very much front and center in my thinking.

You might think that people who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries were radically different from us, but if you look at the representations of themselves that they created, and often mounted on the facades of their buildings, you realize that they were very much like us, essentially human in their facial expressions while at the same time modern in the technologies that they enjoyed, eyeglasses for instance. So too was a building, then as it was now, built of stone or masonry, having doors and windows, and having roughly the same proportions that contemporary buildings have. In fact, many buildings from this period are still standing and highly functional, a cultural richness that blesses Italy and other parts of Europe.

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