A seismic event beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea triggered a catastrophic wave, forever altering the landscape of present-day Amalfi. Today, Amalfi stands as a serene town with a tranquil harbour, a stark contrast to the devastation it faced on 25th November 1343.
The once-thriving maritime republic of Amalfi, boasting a population of 70,000, met its tragic fate when a colossal earthquake beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea set off a devastating tsunami along the southern coast of Italy. The quake itself caused fatalities, but the real toll unfolded with the colossal wave that swept along a stretch of coastline from north of Naples to south of the Cilento National Park.
Communities like Bussanto and Blanda vanished entirely, while Amalfi and Minori along the Amalfi Coast were decimated. Amalfi’s harbour and all its vessels succumbed to destruction, and the lower town submerged into the sea. What had once been a thriving city dwindled into a village, its population never surpassing approximately 6,000, marking the end of its days as a prominent maritime power.
Salerno and Naples, though damaged significantly, lacked recorded death tolls, hinting at a likely count in the tens of thousands.
Petrarch recorded the terror
Poet Francesco Petrarca, known as Petrarch, captured the horrors of the event while staying in Naples. He described the fear, tremors, and the chaotic aftermath in his volume of letters, Epistolae familiares.
Petrarch vividly detailed the frantic scenes during the quake, with people running outdoors to escape falling debris.
As dawn broke, Queen Giovanna witnessed the aftermath, and Petrarch recounted the sea’s unsettling retreat. Subsequently, “a thousand mountains of waves” emerged, striking the Naples shoreline. The first victims were a thousand soldiers deployed to aid quake survivors. Petrarch noted that only one ship, carrying 400 convicts, survived the harbour’s destruction.
Second recorded tsunami
This 1343 tsunami wasn’t the first recorded along the Italian coast, with historical accounts referencing a small tsunami following the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Present-day seismologists warn of potential threats from the submerged volcano Marsili, located about 175 miles south of Naples in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
While it hasn’t erupted in recorded history, concerns arise due to its fragile structure and proximity to densely populated coastal areas. Marsili, part of the Aeolian Islands volcanic arc, holds the distinction of being the largest active volcano in the chain, surpassing even Mount Etna. It was named after Italian geologist Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, who discovered it in the 1920s.