A few days before I arrived in Italy, the central region was suffering the effects of two significant earthquakes. A 6.1 seismic tremor rocked the town of Visso on the 26th October and another, even stronger, tremor of 6.6 caused serious damage in Norcia just 4 days later. It seems rather coincidental that I find myself in an area which suffered a similar devastating disaster 40 years ago.
Historically, Venzone has been an important trading town since Celtic times and later the Romans built the Via Julia Augusta through it, linking Italy with the northern territories. Fortified in the 13th century, using stone from the adjacent riverbed, it weathered many local rebellions and by 1420 became part of the ever expanding Venetian Republic. More recently, in 1965, the town was declared a national monument.
However, the most defining moment in its history came on the 6th May 1976 when an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 struck the region. In the town of Venzone, 47 people died, many more were injured and thousands were left homeless. Local authorities, assisted by the Alpine soldiers, hastily made the town safe but on the 15th September 1976 another tremor of 6.1 hit the region and flattened 90% of the already seriously damaged buildings.
Over the next 30 years the Italian government supported the restoration of the town, both financially and spiritually and they have done a wonderful job of re-establishing the medieval character. The magnificent cathedral of St Andrew was reconstructed using a pioneering anastylosis technique and luckily some of the 14th century frescos survived. When I visit, it is evident that work is still ongoing as some restored statues are being positioned within the interior. Outside is a circular chapel which houses some mummified bodies, preserved by a parasitic mould similar to those which I saw in Urbania.
Only 8 kms to the south is the town of Gemona del Friuli whose historic centre sits on the slope of Monte Chiampon. I arrive to find a memorial ceremony taking place in the main square to remember the 1918 Armistice of Villa Giusti which ended war between Italy and Austria-Hungary. My Italian is not great but I can tell that they are also remembering those who lost their lives in the 1976 earthquakes and the Alpine soldiers who helped them to rebuild their homes.
Seeing the castle and cathedral of Gemona now, it is easy to identify the original features and those that have been restored. A crane looming over the castle implies that there is still some way to go before the town will have completely recovered from the earthquakes and a detailed photographic exhibition on the main street shows that they are not willing to forget their tragic past.
The Italian earthquakes of 1976 and those of 2016 should remind us all that although nature can be a beautiful thing it can also be a destructive force, especially if we don’t respect it.