Earthquakes 1504/05 and 1570 in Ferrara and Bologna

Yesterday occurred an earthquake in the region of Ferrara, Mantova and Modena.

It made me looking for earlier earthquakes in the same region. There was a very big one in 1570 in Ferrara:
The 1570 Ferrara earthquake was a major earthquake that struck the Italian city of Ferrara on November 16 and 17, 1570. After the initial shocks, an earthquake swarm continued for four years, with over 2000 aftershocks concentrated from November 1570 to February 1571.
The disaster destroyed half the city, permanently marked many of the buildings left standing, and directly contributed to – but was not the sole cause of – a long term decline of the city lasting until the 19th century.
At the time of the 1570 event, it was a medium-sized city, with 32,000 inhabitants.
Despite continuous – and often victorious – wars against the age's superpowers, the nearby Venice and the Papal States, Ferrara in the XVI century was a thriving city, a major hub for trade, business and liberal arts. World class music and painting schools, linked with Flemish artistic communities, were established in late 15th and early 16th century under the Medici patronage. Musical instrument workshops, and especially the making of lutes, were a pride of the city and were considered preeminent.
A new part of the city, named Addizione Erculea (Herculean adding) had been built in the previous century: it is commonly considered one of the major examples of urban planning in the Renaissance, the biggest and most architecturally advanced town expansion project in Europe at the time.
In 1570 the city was held by Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, vassal of Pope Pius V ...
The city was a safe refuge for Jews and converts from the persistent prosecutions promoted by the Roman Catholic Church. Despite Alfonso II formal status as a vassal of the Holy Seat, he never took any action against the two thousand Jews living in the city walls, well knowing that the Hebrew community accounted for a strong share of the city cultural and economic success.
Earthquake lights were seen above the city on November 15, 1570, the night before the first quake. Flames were reported to come out from the soil and raise into the air, probably small pockets of natural gas set free by cracks in the earth crust. The earthquake struck at dawn: three strong shocks hit the city in the first day; one – the strongest – the day after. The first strong shock struck at 9.30 (local time) November 16, 1570, its epicenter just a few kilometers under the city centre. Six hundred pieces of stone masonry (mostly battlements, balconies and chimneys) are reported to have fallen, further damaging the flimsy stone and hay roofs. The following day the ground trembled again many times. At 8 pm a new powerful shock caused severe damage to walls and caused some buildings to sustain structural damage. Just four hours later, a new tremor caused new cracks and some collapse. At 3 am on November 17 the ground shook harder then ever: many buildings, damaged by the previous shocks, gave way and caved in. Many churches' facades, often built as self-standing walls raising well over the effective architecture, collapsed, including at the Duomo.
Minor earthquakes had struck Ferrara in the past (events were recorded in 1222, 1504, 1511 and 1561, some of them causing little damage, and a stronger event in 1346). The exceptional length of the seismic swarm, unprecedented at the time in Ferrara, led some to believe it was a supernatural phenomenon.
The earthquake's intensity has been assessed as VIII on the Mercalli intensity scale: only the 1346 event was similar in intensity, though minor urbanization led to less evident damages (but more victims), the other have been all marked as class VII or VI. Other seismic events would hit the city in 1695, 1787 (three shocks in ten days) and 1796.
The seismic wave kept going for four years, but the worst was over after about six months.
Just one month after the earthquake, on December 15, 1570 a new powerful shock hit the city: this time the battered Palazzo Tassoni, S.Andrea church and S.Agostino church were not spared.
On the following January 12, 1571 a new shock damaged Palazzo Montecuccoli.
Despite the widespread damage, fatalities were quite limited. The initial shocks alerted the population, and gave them time to evacuate the damaged buildings. The majority of houses were of one or two story height, and received less severe damage than the grander palaces and churches.
Reliable sources, such as historian Cesare Nubilonio, estimate 40 victims, while Azariah dei Rossi and Giovanni Battista Guarini both place the estimate at 70. Other sources vary from 9 dead to over 100, with some other occurrences of estimates of the order of two hundred or five hundred, usually taken as unreliable.[5] Florence's ambassador Canigiani is known to have written home about 130 to 150 victims.
People were scared by the disaster and about a third of the populace left the city for good. City jails collapsed and prisoners escaped the rubble, leading to a crime spree in the city and countryside.
The palaces of the notables and courtesans were damaged as well as the poorest mansions, and the whole city population had to seek shelter together in tents and refuges, despite their status or wealth. Contemporary account estimate eleven thousand people left the city.
The townspeople remained refugees for the following two years, due to the aftershocks. The resulting situation, in which societal rules were upset or fell in disuse, was perceived as awkward and unnatural by both peasants and well-to-do, leading to common psychological issues amongst the population. Along with the fear of aftershocks, people developed a sense of impending doom, precariousness and a general mistrust in humanity
Ferrara's fate appeared sealed to the ambassadors visiting the refugee Duke: in correspondence between the embassies and the nobles, the region is sometimes called "di Val di Po dov'era Ferrara" (Po Valley, where Ferrara once stood). Florence's ambassadors were especially skeptical about the chances of city recovery.
The Duke asked Pope Pius V for help, or at least a public blessing to the city: he receiving nothing but a firm reprimand for not having prosecuted enough the city's Jews, well deserving God's wrath toward the city. Alfonso II's answer was prompt, pointing out the evident natural cause of the disaster and discharging any allegation about blaming the Jews.
Pope's rebuttal was a blunt political maneuver, meant to undermine Alfonso's authority by exploiting the discontented minorities: it stated that since the city administration tolerated the presence of the assassins of Jesus Christ, then God was justifiably angry toward the whole city. Full blame was to be put on Alfonso's part, not on the Jews, for failing to expel them from the city walls.
Along with the Pope's stern letter, emissaries from the Capuchins were sent to the town from Bologna, in order to scare the populace and turn it against Alfonso. The friars took some decomposing corpses from the rubble, and brought them in procession claiming that God was going to sink the city to hell if the people refused to drive Alfonso away.
The macabre show further contributed to the widespread sense of doom and distrust: people living in one of the most free and culturally lively cities of Italy suddenly was cast into a gloomy atmosphere of superstition and religious obscurantism.
Bothered by the Capuchins' show, annoyed by the Pope's political maneuvers and worried about the loss of hope of the citizens, the Duke decided to display his strength by forcibly expelling the rabble-rousing friars from the city, abandoning any expectation of papal help and unilaterally taking in his hands the control of the city rebuilding.
After Castello Estense was made safe again, thanks to many iron rods and anchors, in March 1571 the Duke triumphantly relocate back to the city and the return to normality begun to look possible. Minor shocks kept coming, but the city was ready for rebuilding.
Immediately Duke Alfonso ordered a census of the remaining population, and on August 14, 1571 issued a decree ordering the Ferraresi to come back to the city. Return was mandatory for people living in the city for at least 15 years (that is, people with full citizenship rights), under penalty of seizing of their estates. Despite the order, only about two out of three came back to the city: among the people who left the city were many of the wealthiest and a good portion of the court nobles – further diminishing the prestige of Alfonso II.
Late in 1571 Alfonso II was called to fight against the Ottoman Empire fleet in the Battle of Lepanto. While the Duke was away, the Pope executed a thorough purge of the Jews from the Papal States, including Ferrara. The only allowed ghettoes were established in Rome and Ancona. Pope Pius V died the following year.
After the earthquake, many nobles and well-off merchants left the city, managing their business in their country villas or moving their houses to nearby towns. Ferrara lost its capital city status and was demoted to a simple border city squeezed between Venice and the Papal States, never fully achieving economic recovery from the disaster. Without the Jews' businesses, crushed by costly reconstruction debts and losing its thriving cultural circle, the city became a minor trade and agricultural hub up until the 19th century.
In 1598 Alfonso died without legitimate heirs, and the city was formally annexed to the Papal States by means of questionable claims of vacancy.
The city's architecture still bears many marks from the earthquake.
Well, our concern are playing cards.
A sale document in Rome 1559 ...
... gives reason to assume, that Ferrara had in 1559 a strong dominance in Italian Tarocchi card production, and it also seems to indicate, that French Tarot card production didn't play a role, at least not in Italy. This is in contrast to general French playing cards, which also were sold in Rome in 1559.
A recent research on early French Tarot card notes ...
... has so far the result, that there are indeed not much French Tarot documents till the 1570s, and strong increase of French Tarot card production might be assumed since 1575 with some possible beginning since 1572.

So we have here a correlation: A strong and surprising decline of economical activities in Ferrara since November 1570 (and likely this decline had also consequences on Tarocchi card production in Ferrara) in the course of f tremendous earthquake, and then the increase (or real begin) of Tarot card production in France ... and that's somehow after the future new French king Henry III had made a visit of Ferrara during his return of Poland in 1574, described in this festival book: ... rFest=0033

Well, I think, this is a not-accidental, remarkable finding.


The article to the Ferrara earthquake of 1570 pointed to another earthquake in Ferrara in 1504. As 1504 is very near to the often discusssed date of Alfonso's Taroch card production in June 1505, I took up a research of this event, too. ... 16/508.pdf
The earthquake of 25 July 1365 hit a limited area of
Bologna and its most immediate surroundings, causing
some damage to the main buildings of the city. Written
accounts were found of partial collapse and damage to
churches, buildings and to two unidentified towers. The
earthquake was also felt in Ferrara.
The shock of 4 May 1433 induced the collapse of a few
buildings. However, details of the effects are missing. The
shock was felt on a rather large area, which includes Modena,
Forlı`, Lucca and Firenze.
The earthquake of 20–21 December 1455 hit Bologna
and the hills of the medium valley of the river Reno,
inducing diffuse damage to houses and churches. The
most frequent damage was: falling of chimneys and
merlons, collapse of upper parts of a few steeples and failure
of keystones in some of the larger buildings. No damage to
the Asinelli Tower is mentioned. This earthquake was also
felt in Mantova and Lucca.
The most severe damage to the town buildings was
caused by a seismic sequence which started on 31
December 1504 and ended in January 1505.
The shock
on 31 December caused some small damage in Bologna
and Modena, but was heavily felt in Ferrara. The much
stronger shock was a few days later, on 3 January 1505,
which struck Bologna heavily as well as the nearby
Appenine foothills. Damage reported in the written
sources concerned the urban, suburban and hillside
areas of Bologna. In the town, the most damaged buildings
had vaulted structures, e.g. monumental buildings
and churches, and the upper part of several towers. In
fact, a few of the latter had to be demolished or shortened
to avoid damage to nearby buildings. The most
damaged area of the town was between gate San Donato
and Gate Sant’Isaia, in the northern part of the city extending
towards the plain. Only in a few cases had a complete
structural collapse occurred, but extended damage to buildings
was frequent. The shock was felt on an extended area:
from Emilia, to Romagna, Veneto and Lombardia, down to
The article presents then an overview about earthquakes in Bologna:


The overview gives three major hits for Bologna in 1504/05:
31 December 1504 / 3 January 1505 / 20 January 1505
Only the first was very strong in Ferrara (but not comparable to that of 1570). In Ferrara duke Ercole was sick in December 1504 ... I had trouble to find the correct date of his death ...
viewtopic.php?f=11&t=502&p=6841&hilit=e ... uary#p6841
... finally I found, it should have been 26 January.

So short before he had three exciting earthquakes in his surrounding connected to all the bad news, which are connected to a near earthquake.
But likely Ferrara wasn't so deep hit as Bologna then. For Bologna we again can see, what happened: Weakened by the earthquake, the city was taken by Pope Julius in September 1506 and the long reigning Bentivoglio were driven away.
Interestingly the Bolognese overview doesn't mention the very large earthquake of Ferrara in 1570 in their list. It must have been locally either very small ... or they forgot it.

Here are pictures of the "Madonna de Terramoto" (earthquake Madonna), which were painted in 1505, and which show Bologna, how it looked before the earthquake.

And here the modern, luckily a more moderate problem:

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