Messina, 1908

Hundred and three years ago, on 28 December 1908 the most powerful ever recorded earthquake in Europe shook the city of Messina in Sicily, and within minutes a twelve-meter tsunami swept across the coast. Almost every building of the city collapsed, burying seventy thousand people under themselves.

Messina is located on the shore of the strait separating Sicily from the Italian peninsula, opposite the city of Reggio Calabria. The two cities of Greek foundation were the ancient Scylla and Charybdis known from the Odyssey, between which either the vortex of the latter sucked in the boats, or the former decimated the sailors. Messina once before had played a tragic role in European history: from its port spread in 1348 to all Europe the Black Death which in two years killed half the population of the continent. A century before the 1908 disaster, in 1783 already a major earthquake shook the city, but this warning was not successful: Messina was rebuilt with elegant, but not earthquake-resistent buildings, with weak foundations and heavy roofs.

On vintage photos we often see the members of the Italian, British, and even American navy who arrived to Messina in the week after the disaster to help the survivors. It is not widely known, however, that in the ruined city for several days it was only the Russian navy who rescued the survivors from under the ruins, provided for the wounded, extinguished the fire following the earthquake, and transported to safer regions those who lost all their property. In fact, four cruisers of the Imperial fleet – the Tsesarevich, Slava, Admiral Makarov and Bogatyr – during their Mediterranean voyage, with the cadets of the St. Petersburg naval academy on board, anchored just a day earlier to the south of the city, in the harbor of Augusta. Their commander, Admiral V. Litvinov on hearing the news asked in telegram the Russian Maritime Ministry for permission to participate in the rescue. In the course of this even an armed struggle took place. The nearly eight hundred criminals who escaped from the collapsed prisons began to plunder the city, but the Russian cadets successfully applied their newly acquired military training against the forces outnumbering them.

Italian king Victor Emmanuel arriving soon to the city personally thanked for the help of the Russian navy, and then in telegram to Tsar Nicholas II. In the following year Messina became the twin city of St. Petersburg, and this relationship has survived all the vicissitudes of the century. The anniversary is regularly remembered on the Italian and Russian net as well, where I collected the archive photos. And the documentary below was broadcasted some months ago on the Petersburg television channel of the Orthodox Solunsky Foundation.

A postcard with the photo of the surviving postmen of Messina, issued to support the rebuilding;
international aid stamps with Russian, German and Hungarian denominations;
and the royal award bestowed on the Russian, British and
American navy participating in the rescue

2 comentarios:

MOCKBA dijo...

Until I noticed the date of the Messina quake, I was positive that this entry was inspired by my epigraph from The Scythians, where it continues on to

И дикой сказкой был для вас провал
И Лиссабона, и Мессины

Quakes rent Messina and Lisbon asunder –
To you this was a distant tale – no more

Studiolum dijo...

It might have had its share, as I have just re-read the poem in search of a Hungarian translation of the epigraph. But in fact I have prepared for the date some days in advance. And the terrible fate of Messina was very much in the air at the time, even if – as Blok refers to it – the much more terrible recent events may have faded it out.