Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 73, Issue 6, pp 655–677 | Cite as

The Campi Flegrei caldera: historical revision and new data on seismic crises, bradyseisms, the Monte Nuovo eruption and ensuing earthquakes (twelfth century 1582 ad)

Research Article

Abstract

This paper presents the results of a systematic historical study of the seismic, bradyseismic and eruptive activity of the Campi Flegrei caldera. The aim is to make a revised historical data available for accurate volcanological interpretation, supplying additional data and highlighting spurious previous data. The analysis begins with the supposed 1198 eruption, which did not actually take place. No information is available for the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. As far as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are concerned, only direct sources were examined for this paper, and they include many different types of evidence. The chronological breadth of the analysis has also provided information about the seismic crises and bradyseisms prior to the eruption of 1538. The exceptional nature of this 1538 eruption attracted the attention of intellectuals, diplomats and natural philosophers, who left valuable accounts, which we have analysed, and which include many that are still available in their original manuscript form. The previous studies concerning the 1538 eruption were based on 23 (variously used) sources. We have examined 35 additional sources bringing the overall corpus of sources analysed to 58. The results provide a more precise scenario of events preceding the 1538 eruption, including bradyseismic activity starting from the end of the fifteenth century. The chronology of the phenomena described comprises the core result of this study, and has been constructed so as to clarify the time, location and impact of each event. For the 1538 eruption, a countdown is included which may also have a predictive value. For the last 36 hours before eruption began, the countdown is hour-by-hour. The effects of the eruption and earthquakes on people, structures and society are also described for Pozzuoli, Agnano and Naples. The areas where heavy materials and ash fell are likewise indicated, as well are the earth tremors felt by the population from the eruptive crisis up to 1582.

Keywords

Campi Flegrei caldera 1538 eruption Earthquakes Precursors Chronology of the eruption Bradyseisms Seismic crisis Volcanic hazard 

Research aims and method

This paper is designed to make available to volcanologists a revised historical data and new sources of information on historical events, thereby providing the fullest possible knowledge of the historical events concerning the Campi Flegrei Caldera. The historical research behind this study has brought to light valuable manuscripts from new unpublished sources along with previously overlooked aspects of already known sources. The aims of this research have been:
  1. 1.

    To provide detailed knowledge of the sequence of events at Campi Flegrei, starting with the first data reported in the catalogues in use and in the literature, namely from the twelfth century on;

     
  2. 2.

    To analyse the seismic crises and bradyseisms (episodes of slow uplift or downdropping) reported in the historical sources from the fifteenth century to the eruption of Monte Nuovo in 1538;

     
  3. 3.

    To attempt to create a new and detailed reconstruction of the eruption scenario of 1538, as described by witnesses, in order to provide volcanologists with a new overall outline that can be used for civil defence purposes;

     
  4. 4.

    To construct the chronology of the 1538 eruption entirely from direct sources, thereby keeping the original descriptions of the phenomena separate from their volcanological interpretation. This method aims to provide a chronological succession of “cold” data: this is not intended in the sense of “objective” data, but in the sense of data “not yet interpreted” from a volcanological point of view, as has already been reported for the 1631 Vesuvius eruption by Guidoboni (2008).

     

We believe that between the historical sources and their volcanological interpretations, there needs to be an explanatory, easy-to-check, information compilation that can be assessed from an exclusively critical and historical standpoint. This kind of explanatory compilation should, on the one hand, favour increased transparency by volcanologists when it comes to interpreting historical data. On the other hand, it should make it possible for the same data to be interpreted and used in different ways, although without necessarily avoiding critical problems related to the interpretation of words, measures, sequences and durations.

The method applied: a “cold” historical chronology for volcanological interpretation

Most of the phenomena described in the historical sources used in this study can be pinpointed in time and space, and hence be analysed as a fully fledged sequence of “cold” data from historical and philological premises before any scientific interpretation.

The separation of the two levels followed here, i.e. historical and volcanological, does not come without its surprises or problems, as it lays bare certain unresolved aspects (and also, at times, some that are hard to resolve), including some possible contradictions between the texts examined, and some overlooked points that are of key importance. Compared with accounts already in the literature, this appears to be a more realistic set of data, even if the increased detail revealed can sometimes make the volcanological interpretation more difficult. In contrast, the volcanological literature on these historical events generally provides an already interpreted version. More like a “story of a story”, rather than the scientific use of historical data; such an analysis can create a closed circuit, as only those points already known and understood tend to be selected. Our method aims to avoid this type of closed circuit and expressly aims to restore to volcanological interpretation the freshness of the direct sources. The “cold” chronology presented here also includes the seismic crises and bradyseisms before the eruption of 1538, and provides information that should prove useful in the field of hazard assessment and in construction of eruption scenarios.

State of art on the data preceding the eruption of 1538

The false eruption of 1198

The historical catalogues (Mercalli 1883 and, although listed here as doubtful, by Imbò 1965) and the Siebert and Simkin catalogue (2002–) refer, on the grounds of “historical records”, to an eruption that took place in Solfatara in 1198. This eruption was said to have been accompanied by an earthquake that caused damage in Pozzuoli, listed in the historical tradition of Italian seismological catalogues starting with Bonito (1691), Mercalli (1883) and Baratta (1901) up to those currently in use (CPTI 1999, 2004). Recently, Scandone et al. (2010) considered this eruption as having really occurred. Instead, we argue that this eruption is a false event that was generated by transcription errors in scholarly historiographies (see Guidoboni 2010).

In brief, the reasoning underlying our historical analysis is as follows:
  1. 1.

    No eruption in 1198 is referred to in any of the contemporary or chronologically close evidence: this alone testifies against the authenticity of the event. There is no mention of it in the famous booklet De Balneis Puteolanis (source no. 60 in “References”)1 by Pietro da Eboli (1160–1220), who dedicated an epigram to each of the Phlegrean hot springs, describing the location and specific therapeutic properties of each one. Scholarly analysis has verified that the original document of Pietro da Eboli, the actual signed text of which has not been saved, had some further additions made to the copies over the following decades, which over the course of the centuries and the various editions have been included as if a part of the original. Petrucci (1979) has ascertained that the epigram for Solfatara was not written by Pietro da Eboli, but was inserted into the work starting with a manuscript in the thirteenth century, and therefore some time after the presumed eruption of 1198. We note, then, that there is no reference to an eruptive event alleged to have happened a few decades before the epigram dedicated to Solfatara was produced.

    There is also no mention of an eruption or earthquake in the Phlegrean area in the contemporary Chronica (no. 61) by Riccardo di San Germano (c. 1165–1243), written in the monastery of Montecassino (just a few hundred kilometres from Solfatara), which gives very detailed descriptions of Naples and the surrounding area. Lastly, there is no mention of an eruption in the Phlegrean area in the Otia imperalia (no. 59) by Gervase of Tilbury (ca. 1150–1228), which was written in about 1212 by an author who visited Naples before 1198 and was in Rome after that date. His taste for exceptional events would almost certainly have led him to write about an eruption in the Solfatara area (he recalls the 1139 Vesuvius eruption, albeit in a literary context).

     
  2. 2.

    The presumed Solfatara eruption and accompanying strong earthquake stem entirely from writers active during the second half of the sixteenth century and the end of the seventeenth century. Bonito (1691), drawn on by Mercalli (1883), used the second book of the Historia Neapolitana (1652) by Giulio Cesare Capaccio (1552–1634, at the time still a manuscript), and the work of Giuseppe Mormile (1617). Baratta (1901) quoted Scipione Mazzella (1591) and Pompeo Sarnelli (1691). These are therefore mainly scholarly texts belonging to a genre that developed from the second half of the sixteenth century onwards, with the aim of describing famous places in the Neapolitan and Phlegrean areas. The prototype for these texts was probably the work by Ferrante Loffredo (1570). Unlike later authors, this author did not mention the 1198 event. It is equally significant that no contemporary author from the time of the 1538 eruption recalls an eruption occurring in 1198, either in the descriptive or interpretive sections.

     
  3. 3.
    Finally, we suspect that the year “1198” is the result of a mere transcription error. Thus, in a diplomatic letter written in Naples in October 1498, several earthquakes felt in Naples and the Phlegrean area were mentioned (see Table 1). It is possible that the memory of this seismic sequence had remained in some local text, consulted by Mazzella (1591), who perhaps also added the term eruption. We note that in Latin texts the year 1498 is written like this: MCDXCVIII. The year 1198 is written like this: MCXCVIII. The figure D is missing. Thus, a mere transcription error and an interpolation of meaning may have generated the year 1198.
    Table 1

    Chronology of the earthquakes, bradyseisms and gaseous emissions reported by historical sources in the area of Pozzuoli and the Campi Flegrei: 1468–1538 April

    Date or chronological range

    U/K

    Event

    Localities

    Imax MCS

    Historical sources

    Year/month/day (time)c

    1468 May 26 (03:30 hours)

    U

    Earthquake

    Naples

    IV

    40; 29

    1470 January c. –1472 September

    U

    Intense seismic activity that causes damage to houses and buildings

    Pozzuoli

    VII

    11

    U

    Increase in emissions from Solfatara: damage to trees and crops

    Solfatara

     

    11

    1475 August 11 (17:20 hours)

    U

    Earthquake

    Naples

    IV–V

    40; 48

    1488a

         

    1496 November 09

    U

    Earthquake

    Naples

    IV

    40

    1498 October 07

    U

    Earthquake

    Pozzuoli

    V–VI

    3; 9

    Naples

    V

    3; 9

    1498 October 07–1498 October 19

    U

    Earthquake occurring between 7 and 19 October

    Pozzuoli

    V–VI

    3; 9

    Naples

    V

    3; 9

    1498 October 20

    U

    Earthquake that causes damage in Pozzuoli; felt in Naples

    Pozzuoli

    VII

    3; 4; 9

    Naples

    f

    3; 4; 9

    1499 March 18 (00:45 hours)

    U

    Earthquake

    Naples

    IV–V

    40

    1499 March 18 (01:45 hours)

    U

    Earthquake in Naples stronger than the previous one

    Naples

    V

    40

    Before 1503 October

    K

    Bradyseism

    Pozzuoli

     

    13

    On 6 October 1503 Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, Viceroy of Naples, granted Pozzuoli as a State territory the area where the sea was drying up

       

    1505 May 18 (08:55 hours)

    U

    Earthquake that causes serious damage in the Phlegrean area

    Agnano

    VIII

    40

    Pozzuoli

    VII–VIII

    12

    Naples

    VI

    40

    1508 January 25 (15:20 hours)

    U

    Earthquake

    Naples

    IV–V

    5; 40

    1508 April 25

    U

    Earthquake that causes collapses and damage in Pozzuoli

    Pozzuoli

    VIII

    6; 13

    1508 July 19 (08:55 hours)

    U

    Earthquake

    Naples

    V

    48

    Before 1511 May

    K

    Bradyseism

    Pozzuoli

     

    13

    On 23 May 1511 Raimondo de Cardona, Viceroy of Naples, granted the community of Pozzuoli as a State territory the area where the sea was drying up (see Section ‘Seismicity and uplift in the Pozzuoli area from 1472 to 1538’, point b)

       

    1520 January 28 (23:50 hours)

    U

    Earthquake

    Pozzuoli

    VI–VII

    7; 19

    Naples

    V

    7

    1534 April 04b

         

    1534 November 08 ?

    K

    Dubious earthquake

    Naples

    30

    1536 August 07

    U

    Earthquake

    Naples

    V

    50

    1536 September –1536 December

    K

    Seismic activity in the area of Pozzuoli

    Pozzuoli area

    III–IV

    52; 25; 1; 49; 41

    U

    Increase in gas emissions from Solfatara

    Solfatara

     

    52

    Before 1537 January 11

    U

    Frequent earthquakes in Pozzuoli

    Pozzuoli

    IV

    53

    1537 February 14

    U

    Earthquakes of an unspecified number: in Pozzuoli many houses collapse and the dome and the residence of the Viceroy suffer damage; some earthquakes are felt in Naples

    Pozzuoli

    VII–VIII

    2

    Naples

    IV

    2

    1537 March –1538 March

    K

    Seismic activity continues in the area of Pozzuoli

    Pozzuoli area

    III–IV

    1; 25; 49; 52; 41

    U

    Increase in gaseous emissions from Solfatara continues

    Solfatara

     

    52

    1538 April 20

    U

    Earthquake in Naples: great fear among the population

    Naples

    VI

    39; 30

    1538 April 21–1538 May 21

    K

    Seismic activity continues in the area of Pozzuoli

    Pozzuoli

    III–IV

    39; 41; 1; 25; 49

    The names of the localities are those currently in use. Historical sources: order number in the “References”, list of the historical sources

    c. circa, (–) chronological range, f felt, K known in the literature, U unknown in the literature and the catalogues in use, ? uncertain or dubious data, I max MCS maximum intensity in the Mercalli–Cancani–Sieberg scale

    aThe 1488 earthquake, reported in the literature, is a false event. See Boschi et al. (1997) and Guidoboni et al. (2007)

    bEarthquake eliminated: duplication of the one on 20 April 1538 (see section “State of art on the Monte Nuovo eruption in 1538” in this study)

    cIn universal time

     

In conclusion, the eruption in 1198 is a false event, arising as a result of contaminated and spurious literary traditions.

State of art on the Monte Nuovo eruption in 1538

Although the 1538 eruption was of great interest among contemporaries, and was mentioned in countless texts of various kinds from the mid-sixteenth century onwards (e.g. travel reports, guides to the Neapolitan and Phlegrean areas, scholarly historiography), it was the subject of only a few studies based on direct historical sources. Charles Lyell (1875), in his work dedicated to the principles of geology, and J. Logan Lobley (1889), in his text devoted to Vesuvius, described the 1538 event on the grounds of four contemporary sources: Toledo (1539, no. 52) and Delli Falconi (1539, no. 41), which they read in the English translation by Hamilton (1776), and Porzio (1551, no. 49) and Del Nero (ed. 1846, no. 42), translated by Lobley himself (1889).

The contribution by Antonio Parascandola, a professor of mineralogy and geology at the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Naples, was published in 1944–1946, is, to this day, the only extensive study based on historical sources and specifically dedicated to the Monte Nuovo eruption. Parascandola described and quoted extensive passages from 12 historical sources: five contemporary sources, that were published and known before his study, one contemporary source (Marchesino 1538, no. 44) that was unknown, and six other sources by authors who lived shortly after the event. The analysis by Parascandola is divided into four parts: (1) a description of several events that he saw as precursors (the emergence of a thermal spring in classical times, the early sixteenth century bradyseism; the 1488 earthquake (see Table 1), and several seismic events that occurred around 1511 and between 1536 and 1538, only one of which was dated); (2) a description of the 28 September 1538 to 6 October events, in which there are several errors and duplications of the phenomena described, as a result of his sometimes uncritical interpretation of historical sources; (3) a description of the new crater; and (4) geophysical interpretations of the eruption.

Later contributions did not study the eruption in its entirety, but only various aspects of it. Della Rocca (1985) describes the eruption rather briefly, in several introductory pages of a contribution mainly devoted to the publication of texts from eight sources, all of which had already been used by Parascandola (1944–1946). As possible precursors he also indicated ten earthquakes that occurred from the mid-fifteenth century onwards, almost all of which took place in a somewhat vaguely defined “Neapolitan area.” The absence of systematic research and the lack of comparison with seismological literature caused Della Rocca (1985) to make several errors relating to dates (25 May 1469, which was actually 26 May 1468, in Table 1) as well as locations. The 15 January 1466 earthquake, known from Bonito (1691) onwards, was felt over a very large area, and not just in the Neapolitan area (see Figliuolo and Marturano 1996, Guidoboni and Comastri 2005; Guidoboni et al. 2007).

As regards the historical data contained in the scientific literature, we see evidence for a general lack of attention to the quality of the basic historical data. Not uncommonly and even where the historical sources were cited as references, the scientific accounts were derived either from the secondary sources of historiography or from other scientific authors. In this way, for example, and even in contributions that are of great value, such as Dvorak and Gasparini (1991), information taken directly from historical sources appear to us to have been undervalued: foreshocks and aftershocks in the Campi Flegrei area were derived from seismological and historical literature, and in particular from Mercalli (1891). Altogether, this summary of the pre-1538 period refers to four periods of seismic activity and four earthquakes, two of which have turned out to be false on the basis of our analysis of direct and contemporary sources (i.e. 31 July 1488 and 4 April 1534), and one of which remains doubtful (8 November 1534) (see Table 1).

Di Vito et al. (1987) reported data concerning deposits collected from the site of the 1538 event, with a brief reconstruction of the main phases of the only eruptive activity (from 29 September to 6 October 1538), using English translations of the four sources (three in Italian and one in Latin) produced by Hamilton (1776) and Lobley (1889), as well as the text by Marchesino (1538, no. 44), that was transcribed by Parascandola (1944–1946). Dvorak and Mastrolorenzo (1991) reviewed the data of Parascandola (1947) regarding the uplifts at the Campi Flegrei: they cited the edicts of 1503 and 1511, although it appears that they did not know the original texts, as they made reference to Della Rocca (1985), a text that did not include the transcription of these important documents. Other volcanological contributions showed important field-based data, but leave the historical scenario substantially unchanged, largely based on Parascandola (1944–1946). Piochi et al. (2005) referred back to the eruption chronology of Di Vito et al. (1987) while D’Oriano et al. (2005) use the same five direct sources cited by Di Vito et al (1987) to briefly describe the eruption, focusing on the products of the main phases of the eruption.

The data presented in our study are based on a much larger corpus of sources that integrates and largely adds detail to the succinct chronologies of Di Vito et al. (1987) and D’Oriano et al. (2005), as well as providing detailed information regarding precursors, timing, description of the active phases and the quiescence of Monte Nuovo, the characteristics of the materials expelled, as described by contemporaries, and the location where they fell (see below Tables 2 and 3).
Table 2

Chronology of seismic activity preceding the eruption of Monte Nuovo, from 22 June to 29 September 1538 (18:30 hours) UT

Date or chronological range. Year 1538

Time before eruption count down

Event

Localities

Imax MCS

Historical source

Month/Day (hours (UT))

June 22–September 13

c. 3 months

Progressive intensification of the earthquake frequency

Pozzuoli

III–IV

1; 25; 49; 41; 39

Naples

III–IV

 

September 14

15 days

Further intensification of seismicity

Pozzuoli

III–IV

31

Naples

III–IV

 

September 20–September 21

9–8 days

Very intense seismic activitya

Pozzuoli

V–VI

31; 35; 42

Fuorigrotta

IV

 

Naples

IV

 

September 22

7 days

Very intense seismic activity continuesa

Pozzuoli

V–VI

35; 42; 39

Many panic-stricken people in the area leave their homes and sleep outdoors

Fuorigrotta

IV

 

Naples

IV

 

September 23

6 days

Further intensification of earthquake frequencya

Pozzuoli

V–VI

35; 42; 39

Fuorigrotta

IV

 

Naples

IV

 

September 24

5 days

Very intense seismic activitya

Pozzuoli

V–VI

35; 42; 39

Fuorigrotta

IV

 

Naples

IV

 

September 25

4 days

Very intense seismic activitya

Pozzuoli

V–VI

35; 42; 39

Fuorigrotta

IV

 

Naples

IV

 

September 26

3 days

Very intense seismic activitya

Pozzuoli

V–VI

35; 42; 39

Fuorigrotta

IV

 

Naples

IV

 

September 27

2 days

Very intense seismic activitya

Pozzuoli

V–VI

35; 42; 39; 45

Fuorigrotta

IV

 

Naples

IV

 

September 28 (06:00–17:30 hours; during the day)

1 day and 12:00 hours

Large number of earthquakes felt in Pozzuoli and in Naples

Pozzuoli

V–VI

35; 42; 39; 1; 25; 52; 8

Naples

IV

 

September 28 (11:00 hours)

1 day and 07:30 hours

Seabed uplift

  

41; 35; 8; 42; 49; 1; 25; 52

A stretch of the seabed between Lake Averno and Mount Barbaro is uplifted, the water flows away: one stretch c. 4.5 m high and along the previous coastline to a variable extent according to the authorsb

   

An enormous quantity of fishes remains in the shoal

   

September 28 (after 11:00 hours)

1 day and 06:30 hours

Many wells in Pozzuoli, previously dry, fill with abundant water

  

41

September 28 (17:30 hours)–September 29 (06:00 hours; during the night)

c. 25:00–12:00 hours

More than 20 earthquakes, some strong, others light, were felt in Pozzuoli, Naples and the neighbouring localities

Pozzuoli

V–VI

41; 28; 8; 20; 21; 22; 23

All the houses in Pozzuoli are by then badly damaged and in danger of collapse; the population sleeps outdoors

Naples

IV

 

September 29 (07:00 hours)

11:30 hours

Lowering of the ground by c. 4 m in the middle of an area of c. 550 m in circumference: between Lake Averno, Mounts Barbaro and Pericolo, the coast and the hinterland, where the eruptive vent will open

  

25; 1; 42

Formation of a water spring in the deepest part. According to some of the inhabitants of the place, the water is cold and clear, but according to others it is tepid and cloudy because of the sulphur. For others, the temperature of the water grows as the hours pass

   

September 29 (11:00 hours)

07:30 hours

The area that had previously sunk starts to rise

  

42; 52; 44

September 29 (11:00–18:00 hours)

07:00–00:30 hours

Progressive and continuous uplift of the area, which in c. 7 h reaches its utmost height; many cracks open, and water comes out from some of them

  

42; 25; 49; 35; 41; 28

Increase of seismic activity

Pozzuoli

V–VI

52; 41; 42

Naples

IV

 

September 29 (18:00 hours)

00:30 hours

Opening of a vent in the sea, near the Sudatorio at a distance of c. 40 and 100 m from the shore, vapours (svaporazione) and flames are to be seen

  

8; 31; 24; 51; 44; 41

September 29 (18:00–18:30 hours)

00:30–00:00 hours

The “flames” advance as far as Tripergole, where they reach the swelling; here they “increase” with the passing of the minutes

  

8; 31; 24; 51; 44; 41

September 29 (18:30 hours)

Eruption

Very strong earthquake accompanied by very loud noises heard in Naples

Pozzuoli

VIII

44; 8; 35; 42; 39; 1; 25; 49; 52; 41; 51; 24; 31; 45; 28

Opening of a crack at the summit of the uplifted area

Naples

V

 

Start of violent expulsion: columns of smoke (white and black) incandescent material (flames, fire), stones, pumice, earth and muddy ash (loto cinerolento)

   

From Naples bright flashes are observed localised in the area of the eruption

   

The names of the localities are those currently in use. Historical sources: order number in the “References

UT universal time, c. circa, (–) chronological range, I max MCS maximum intensity in the Mercalli–Cancani–Sieberg scale

aThe historical sources recall that from 22 to 27 September in the area of Pozzuoli the ground trembled continuously; in the area of Fuorigrotta c.ten earth tremors were felt every hour, and in Naples between five and ten earthquakes a day, some strong, others light

bThe measurement varies between: c. 360 m (Porzio 1539; Toledo 1539), c. 950 m (Del Nero, ed. 1846; Marchesino 1538), c. 1.8 km (Delli Falconi 1539) and c. 5.5 km (Anonymous 1538a)

Table 3

Chronology of eruptive activity from 29 September (18:30 hours) up to 17 October 1538

Date (year 1538)

Time (UT)

Event

Historical sources

Month/Day

September 29

18:30–19:30 hours

Continuous and violent expulsion (up to c. 3.5–5.5 km in height) of incandescent material (earth, stones and pumice), ash and smoke. From Naples, a continuous luminous bow can be seen (bow of flames and sparks) to the east

42; 25; 49; 44; 35; 41; 52; 39

The fallout of different types of materials started in:

 

 Areas adjacent to the eruptive crack: incandescent and heavy material (stones and earth)

52; 44

 Area of c. 2.5 km around the main vent: large pumice stones, which covered the stretch of sea to the south, ash and dry earth

49; 44

 Pozzuoli (c. 3 km to the east): small wet stones and heavy muddy ash (breaking of the branches of all kinds of trees owing to the weight)

42; 52

 Area of c. 11 km around Monte Nuovo: heavy wet sulphurous ash (death of many birds and small animals; damage to crops and trees)

25; 42

September 29

19:30 hours

The fallout of dry sand (it seemed as if it were sulphur) begins in Naples and the air feels as if it had been heated (warm wind) coming from Pozzuoli

35

September 29

22:30 hours

The wet ash fallout starts in Naples

35

September 29–30 (during the night)

22:30–06:00 hours

The intense expulsive activity continues

35; 52; 49; 41

The materials fallout continues at:

 

 Pozzuoli: small wet stones and heavy muddy ash, in 8 h a c. 25 cm layer accumulating on the houses and fields

42; 52; 44

 Posillipo: heavy sand (arena)

31

 Area between Pozzuoli and Naples: wet ash in large quantities (damage to vegetation)

35

 Area of c. 22 km in range around the mountain: wet ash in such an amount that it was difficult to stay in the open

8

 Naples: wet ash, initially very liquid (some important buildings stained as well) and, with the passing of the hours, increasingly dry (in 9 h a layer c. 2–4 cm thick; all the crops and vegetation covered); difficulty in walking in the open

35; 45; 52; 44; 41

 Mercato San Severino: dry ash (fina)

35

 Somma Vesuviana: dry ash

44

 Eboli (c. 80 km to the south-east): ash

42

 Cava de’ Tirreni: dry ash and arena

27

 Up to c. 125 km away: ash

42

Opening of many cracks (multa spiramenta), one of which is located at the beach (spiaggia) that extends towards Lake Averno

49

Formation of two springs: one of warm salty water in front of the so-called house that belonged to the Queen (Sibilla), situated according to tradition near the Balneum Ferri on the southern shores of Lake Averno; the other a freshwater spring, c. 450 m away from the other one in the direction of the main vent

41; 28

September 30 (during the day)

06:00–17:30 hours

Expulsive activity continues from the main vent characterised by two different phases in rapid succession:

35; 44; 41; 39

1. Expulsion to a significant height (accompanied by very loud bangs also felt in Naples) of thick columns of smoke, partly black and partly white, columns of incandescent material (flames), very large stones and wet ash (ash with water). From Naples frequent sudden flashes can be seen in the area of the eruption and frequent as well as loud rumbling can be heard

 

2. Quiet: the smoke starts to dissolve, stones fall again in the surrounding area, more or less close, depending on their weight and size, and wet fallout again depending on the direction of the wind

 

Fallout continues in:

 

 Pozzuoli: pumice and ash, such as to prevent all approach to Monte Nuovo

44; 35

Area of c. 7 km around Monte Nuovo: heavy ash

44; 35

 Naples: wet ash

44; 35

The high ground formed in the space of 24 h reached the current height of around 140 m

52; 42

September 30–October 01 (during the night)

17:30–06:00 hours

The expulsive activity continues from the crack (expulsion phases and unquantified interval) with a heavy material fallout in the vicinity. In Naples the fall of ash diminishes progressively

35; 44; 41

October 01 (morning)

07:00–12:00 hours

Expulsive activity weakening progressively

35; 44; 41

October 01 (afternoon)

12:00–17:30

Expulsive activity progressively diminishing: substantial reduction in smoke and heavy material from the eruptive vent

35; 44; 41

In Naples, there is a progressive decrease in the frequency of rumbling and flashes and ash fallout

 

October 01–October 02

17:30–06:00 hours

Further attenuation of the expulsive activity during the night

41

October 02

 

Throughout the day the expulsive activity lessens

35; 41

October 03

06:00–15:00 hours

Attenuation of the expulsive activity continues

35; 41

October 03

15:00 hours

Violent resumption of activity with sudden violent expulsion of enormous smoke rings and large quantities of ash and pumice stones

35; 42; 44; 41

October 03

After 15:00 hours

Materials fallout at:

 

 Nisida, island c. 8 km away to the south-east: small-sized pumice stones

44

 Area as far as the Vallo di Diano and northern Calabria: ash

41

Opening of two cracks in the territory of Pozzuoli, at a distance of c. 3.5–5.5 km to the east of Monte Nuovo (towards Naples)

42;44

October 04

 

Very attenuated activity: expulsion of reduced quantities of smoke.

44; 41

October 05

 

Very attenuated activity: expulsion of reduced quantities of smoke.

41

October 06

15:00 hours

Vigorous resumption of expulsive activity: the cause of death by suffocation of more than 24 people who are on the slopes of Monte Nuovo watching the crater.

36; 41

October 06

After (15:00 hours)

Materials fallout in:

 

 Proximity to Monte Nuovo: pumices

36; 41; 52

Area to the south of Monte Nuovo as far as the cave of Lucullo (now Dragafora): heavy ash (numerous uprooted trees covered in abundant ash)

 

 Naples and Vesuvius: abundant wet ash

 

October 07–October 16

Reduced smoke emission for an unspecified period of time

41

October 17

Lack of eruptive activity

10

October after 17

Reduced and intermittent emission of smoke for an unspecified period (at times by night the smoke seems reddish, the signs of bubbling over by the “fire” in the mouth)

52

In many places on the new Monte “sulphur starts to be formed

 

Historical sources: order number in the “References

c. circa, (–) chronological range

Other aspects of the relationship between our new data and the recent volcanological literature on the Campi Flegrei are outlined in the Conclusions.

The historical sources used for this study

The dataset presented here is mainly based on 58 contemporary sources, five of which are iconographic, that together give information on precursors, eruptive activities and related phenomena, as well as on earthquakes that occurred up to the end of the sixteenth century. Of the 53 written sources, 35 are unknown in the seismological and volcanological literature. A large number of them, 31, are in manuscript form and are preserved in 13 different research centres (i.e. archives and libraries); 22 are published sources, eight of which were printed between the end of 1538 and the start of 1539. This rich assemblage of original historical sources forms the critical basis of our study (see the explanatory diagram in Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Typology and numbers of contemporary sources analysed. Overall, these numbers were 58 (including texts and drawings); of these, 35 are sources unknown in the previous literature on the Campi Flegrei. The already known sources have also been subjected to new analyses (see the list of historical source in “References)”

The types of written sources analysed are complex and varied. There are five very important documents among the strictly institutional sources: these are privileges (four Royal and one viceregal), preserved in the Archivio di Stato in Naples (nos. 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15) and issued between 1472 and 1521 by the Royal House. Only one of these was previously known. These documents granted tax exemptions to the population of Pozzuoli (ca. 2000 inhabitants) to support the reconstruction of earthquake-damaged buildings. Furthermore, they established as State property the ground emerging as a result of the positive bradyseism. A direct reading of these documents has provided previously unknown information that corrects other data reported in the literature. One such case regards the privilege of 23 May 1511 (no. 13, which the literature always quotes indirectly, from Niccolini, 1829 onwards). This document mistakenly dated 1501 by Niccolini (1829) and quoted as 1511, without any month or day, by De Jorio (1820), engendered confusion in the literature from Parascandola (1944–46) to Della Rocca (1985). This privilege (see Fig. 2) quotes part of the text of a similar privilege dated 6 October 1503 and attests to: (1) earthquake damage that occurred in Pozzuoli during the previous years and (2) perhaps two positive bradyseismic crisis before 1503 and 1511.
Fig. 2

This document is particularly important: it is the privilege issued on 23 May 1511 by the Viceroy of Naples, Raimondo de Cardona, confirming that the common land that had emerged (by bradyseism) was made over to the community of Pozzuoli. The land is described by contemporaries as “dried-up sea” (marem desiccatum). This document has always been quoted in the literature since Niccolini (1829), although the complete original text has never been analysed until the present study. The original is kept at the Naples State Archive (Museo, b. 99.A.5, Privileggi della città di Pozzuoli, fols.14v-16r). Direct (“autoptic”) examination of the document—the literature once again cites it indirectly and inaccurately—showed it to contain part of the edict passed 8 years previously on 6 October 1503 by the Viceroy of Naples Fernàndez de Còrdoba for the selfsame reason

Only one of the five previously unknown documents issued by the ecclesiastical administration and kept in the Archivio Storico della Diocesi di Pozzuoli—the papal bull issued by Leo X (1521, no. 19)—dates from before 1538. The other four (nos. 20, 21, 22, 23, three Episcopal diplomas and a brief issued by Pope Julius III) are dated later and bear witness to damage to buildings in Pozzuoli and the natural environment.

Diplomatic sources also supply new information. There are 12 of these altogether, including letters and dispatches not previously known, written by Ambassadors who were in Naples either permanently or on a temporary basis. These diplomatic sources converge in the archives of the courts of the time, and are presently in the Archivio di Stato of Florence (no. 2), Venice (no.s 16, 17, 18), Modena (no. 10), Milan (no. 9) and Mantua (no.s 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). The information provided by these sources has been fundamental to the present study. They supplement the information from the very few local memoirs available and make up for the extremely fragmentary nature of the local institutional documents. This diplomatic documentation contains information on seven unknown earthquakes, which had not been reported in any local source: the earthquakes from 7 to 20 October 1498, 28 January 1520 and 14 February 1537 (Table 1) and those prior to 16 April 1582 and 5 June 1582 (Table 4).
Table 4

Chronology of the earthquakes in Campi Flegrei: post-eruption 1538–1582

Date or chron. range

U/K

Event

Localities

Imax MCS

Historical sources

Y/Month/Day (hours (UT))

1538–1564 July

1564 July –

K

Earthquake

Pozzuoli

IV–V

30

1564 July –

K

Earthquake

Pozzuoli

IV–V

30

Naples

V–VI

 

1566 May 01 (09:37 hours)

K

Earthquake

Pozzuoli

V–VI

30

1566 May 06 (22:45 hours)

K

Earthquake in Pozzuoli, stronger in Naples

Naples

V

30

Pozzuoli

IV–V

 

1568 December 27

K

Earthquake

Pozzuoli

VI

30

Naples

IV–V

 

1570 April 30 (23:06 hours)

K

Earthquake

Pozzuoli

VI–VII

30

Naples

V

 

1570 June 17 (11:41 hours)

K

Earthquake

Pozzuoli

IV–V

30

Naples

IV

 

1575 November 29

K

Earthquake

Pozzuoli

IV–V

30

1580 June 09 (07:10 hours)

U

Earthquake felt with three shocks in Pozzuoli and one in Naples

Pozzuoli

IV–V

30

Naples

IV

 

1582 April ante 16

U

Earthquake: damage to nearly all of the houses in Pozzuoli

Pozzuoli

VII

16; 17

1582 June 05 (07:08 hours)

K

Earthquake in Pozzuoli, collapses and damage, and the death of 6–8 people; strong in Naples

Pozzuoli

VIII

18; 26

Naples

V

 

The names of the localities are those currently in use. Historical sources: order number in the “References

UT universal time, K known to the literature or to the catalogues in use, (—) missing data, (–) chronological range, U unknown to the literature and to the catalogues in use, I max MCS maximum intensity in Mercalli–Cancani–Sieberg scale

Juan de Valdés (1509–1541) was the founder of Valdesianism (and later branded a heretic by the Church). He was in Naples from 1533 onwards, and on 11 January 1537 he sent a letter to Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga (no. 53, published by Alcalà 1997), attesting to frequent earthquakes in Pozzuoli.

As far as memoir sources are concerned, four chronicles refer to the period before the eruption. Bonito (1691) has already used three of these sources, from which he listed the earthquakes that were later acknowledged by Capocci (1861–63), but that remained unknown in the seismological catalogues in use. These three chronicles are: the Giornali by the Neapolitan Giuliano Passero (no. 48), that gave daily news between 1442 and 1516; the Historia by the Neapolitan notary Gregorio Rosso (no. 50), that reported events in Naples from 1526 to 1537; and the Notamenti, still in manuscript form, by the jurist Antonio d’Afeltro, who lived during the sixteenth century (no. 29, Biblioteca della Società di Storia Patria, Naples), and who drew information from previous local chronicles, from documents in the Archivio della Zecca and from the records of fifteenth and sixteenth century Naples notaries.

The Cronica di Notar Giacomo, attributed to Giacomo della Morte (no. 40), a notary from Naples who died after 1524, attests to no fewer than four earthquakes unknown in the catalogues in use (see Table 1: 1496, the two shocks of 18 March 1499, and 1505).

Only one of the four chronicles that provide information on the 1538 eruption was written at the same time as the event. The anonymous manuscript Chronicon marginale Cavense is preserved in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (no. 27), and it helped to define the ash fallout area. The other three memoirs were written by authors who lived shortly after the event: Giovanni Antonio Nigrone (no. 28, Biblioteca Nazionale “Vittorio Emanuele III”, Naples), Antonio Castaldo (sixteenth century, no. 39) and Scipione Miccio (sixteenth century, no. 45).

Direct witnesses to the Monte Nuovo eruption in 1538, September 29: an important new corpus of information and a new reading of known texts

The 1538 eruption was reported by direct observers who wrote their accounts when the eruption was still underway or very soon after it had come to an end. Some of these texts were printed very soon afterwards, testifying to an interest in the event and an awareness of its exceptional nature. Others remained in manuscript form for a long time and were published much later, while others were never published.

A thorough analysis of these sources has enabled us to establish chronological and intertextual relationships, and direct or implicit reciprocal references, some of which are polemical.

The first account is a letter dated 30 September 1538, that describes the precursor events and the first 2 days of the eruption using original information (no. 31). It was previously unknown and is preserved as a manuscript copy in the Ranuzzi Collection (Bologna, now in the Harry Ranson Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas, Austin). It is anonymous, and the addressee is referred to as “Your Majesty”, therefore making identification difficult. The Italian author describes how he went from Naples towards Pozzuoli to see the new crater, on the same day as he wrote the letter.

Two different, separate letters were written by direct witnesses: these letters were probably both printed at the end of 1538 in Naples, and they are dated 5 October 1538. The first letter (Anonymous, 1538a, no. 35) was previously unknown in volcanological literature, although it was quoted in history studies by Petrucci (2000). The author was almost certainly a novice, because he mentioned the community of monks in which he lived and his first outing “with another student.” He always distinguished between his own observations and the information he received indirectly; he witnessed the event from three different places: first from Naples, then from a farm on a hill outside the city, and lastly from close to the new crater.

The other letter was written by the Milanese printer and publisher Francesco Marchesino (1538, no. 44), who was in Naples when the eruption occurred. This letter has already been mentioned in the volcanology literature, and it was the object on our part of careful analysis. For the hours before and immediately after the eruption, the information is based on the reports of the Pozzuoli inhabitants who fled to Naples. For the resumption of activity on 3 October, it is based on an account by the occupants of a boat moored at Nisida (Naples). The description of the new crater and the surrounding area is based on his own direct observations on 4 October. Marchesino also recalls how inquisitive people and scholars from Naples made trips to the new crater on 30 September. The author specified that it was practically impossible to observe what was happening: that day nobody had managed to get beyond the town of Pozzuoli because of the intense ash fallout and discharged materials. Furthermore, he said that the Viceroy of Naples, Pietro da Toledo, arrived with a retinue of “philosophers and these say this case is to be found in Aristotle” (filosofi et dicono questo caso trovarsi posto in Aristotile).

Among the Viceroy’s experts, there was also the Neapolitan physician and philosopher Simone Porzio (1497–1557), author of the treatise De conflagrazione agri Puteolani (no. 49), that contains many references to Aristotle. This treatise was written in Latin in the form of a letter (epistola). It was addressed to the Viceroy and printed in editio princeps (a first edition, extremely rare today) probably in Naples by early 1539. The text was later reprinted in Florence in 1551, with several changes, including the addition of the exact eruption date. This account by Simon Porzio was also already known in the volcanology literature, but we believe that it had not been analysed fully, either as a text or for the context in which it was written. Perhaps this is why other texts by this author were not searched for. During our study, we found out that Simone Porzio wrote two other texts that have remained in manuscript form and have not been used in the literature:
  1. 1.

    A report in letter format, written in Latin before the eruption came to an end, on 6 October 1538, and sent to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520–1589) in Rome (no. 1). Three copies of this letter are available (two in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano and one in the Ranuzzi Collection in Austin, Texas, USA);

     
  2. 2.

    An undated report in vulgar Italian, sent to the Viceroy of Naples and preserved in the Archivo General in Simancas (Valencia, Spain), with the Spanish title Parecer de Simon Porço (no. 25). In all likelihood this was written shortly before or at the same time as the Latin letter of 6 October 1538. From the similarities observed in the structure of the text, and in its syntax and vocabulary, it appears that the letter to Cardinal Farnese represents the first draft of the Latin text, the revised version of which became the treatise of 1539, and which was later revised and published in 1551. During this transition from manuscript letter to printed booklet format, the description of the 1538 event was changed significantly by Simone Porzio himself. This and other internal elements have enabled us to surmise that in the transition from vulgar Italian to Latin, and from the manuscript to the printed edition, the author screened and checked various facts, choosing to omit some information which he himself had described.

     

We also studied a letter (no. 42) from the Florentine banker Francesco Del Nero (1487–1563), Machiavelli’s brother-in-law, who is another author who was already known in the volcanology literature, but only through historiography and editions. The undated letter was sent to Nicolò del Benino in Rome. Del Nero was in Naples from 1534 to 1555 (Arrighi 1990). This letter has been known since 1846, through Francesco Palermo’s edition, and it had became fairly well known at the time (we traced and analysed two manuscript copies, one in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano and one in the Archivio di Stato at Mantua). Until now, however, it was not known that Del Nero’s original text has several significant differences, and is the same as the one published the day after the eruption on an anonymous printed sheet (1538b, Lettera di novi avisi; no. 36), the existence of which was previously unknown. Compared to the letter published in 1846, this printed sheet also contains information up to 16 October 1538. On the other hand it lacks any reference to Porzio’s two texts, in Latin and Italian, included in the manuscript version.

Another unpublished and previously unknown source is an anonymous, undated letter that is kept in the Archivio di Stato at Mantua, as part of the Archivio Gonzaga (no. 8). The writer refers to a report by a direct witness, Ambrogio Curia of Genoa, who was the owner of a ship moored in the Gulf of Pozzuoli prior to the event and afterwards until 6 October. 1538. This is a complex text in terms of interpretation, with several chronological inconsistencies, but it is particularly important as it contains a description of the 1538 eruption as experienced from the sea.

Two less impromptu sources, more carefully argued in their interpretation of the natural phenomenon, are seen in two known works written and published in Naples at the beginning of 1539. The first is the treatise in vulgar Italian by the scholarly priest Marco Antonio Delli Falconi (who died in 1556), whose edition is dated 22 January 1539 (no. 41). The author described what he saw on the two occasions when he visited the new crater. The first excursion took place via land, following the Viceroy on 30 September, and the second on 3 October by sea, when he witnessed a violent resumption of activity while off the coast of Ischia.

Tommaso Nigrone took part in the same excursion as Delli Falconi. His account (no. 28) was reported by his son Giovanni Antonio (Biblioteca Nazionale “Vittorio Emanuele III”, Naples). This text was published by Di Bonito (1991), but it had not yet been used in the volcanological literature.

The other work published at the beginning of 1539 was a treatise. This was previously known in the volcanology literature. It was written by the Spanish physician and writer of treatises, Pietro Giacomo da Toledo (no. 52), who had the same name as the Viceroy of Naples at the time. The choice of dialogue and vulgar Italian, which were not customary for naturalistic subjects at the time, lead us to conjecture that the writer may have belonged to the literary and scientific avant-garde. This author wrote after Porzio, and their texts have many descriptive details in common.

Other sources that were not previously known include a letter quoted in the works by Prudencio de Sandoval (sixteenth century, no. 51). This was dedicated to Emperor Charles V, and is also the testimony of a direct witness, a Spanish knight who was in Naples at the time. There is also a short Latin hexameter poem by Girolamo Borgia (1475–1550), published on 15 October 1538, which is of little informative value but of historical relevance because of its poetic form (no. 38).

Among the sources that we considered to be of particular interest, even though some are from decades later, are several direct accounts by various inhabitants of Pozzuoli. These people were called upon to give evidence much later, in 1587, at a trial for legal proceedings that concerned the reconstruction of the hospital of Tripergole, destroyed by the 1538 eruption (no. 24, Archivio Storico della Diocesi di Pozzuoli). The inhabitants still remembered the event, and recalled that it began with the opening of a vent in the sea.

An anonymously notice printed in 1539 in German (no. 37) is an indirect source, that was derived from four different known sources, as Petrucci (2000) has rigorously demonstrated. Lastly, direct information collected on the site several years after the eruption was reported by the famous German naturalist Georg Bauer (Georgius Agricola, 1494–1544; nos. 32 and 33), who visited the area of the Campi Flegrei in around 1545, and also by the famous humanist Leandro Alberti (1479–ca. 1552; no. 34). The latter bears witness to the great changes in the area following the eruption of Monte Nuovo, and it compares observations made during two trips to the Pozzuoli area: one in 1536 and the other in 1546. Two other contemporary authors, Lycosthenes (no. 43) and Münster (no. 47), reported indirect information on this eruption.

The framework of historical information concludes with five iconographic sources (no.s 54–58), three of which are part of the printed accounts (Marchesino 1538; Porzio 1539 and Morando sixteenth century), while the other two are independent of the written testimonies (Maestro del Trabocchetto and Francisco de Hollanda, in Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo del Escorial).

The ancient measurements problem

The measurements in the sources regarding the 1538 eruption give rise to several interpretive problems that caution us against supplying the equivalent quantities in current measurement units. The most problematic aspects are:
  1. 1.

    The authors of the historical sources used different measurement units for the same distances or surfaces, which do not coincide when converted into current measurements. In particular, local or Italian sources often used the mile (miglio), and its thousandth part, the pace (passo), which had different values in different geographical areas. However, it is not always easy to understand which miglio the author of a source was referring to. In Naples the miglio was about 1,845 m; in Milan, the homeland of one important author, Marchesino (no. 44), it was 1,784 m; and in Genoa it was 1,488 m, whilst in Florence, the home town of Del Nero, distances were also measured in spans (braccia), and a miglio was the equivalent of 1,653 m. In the Spanish sources the distances were measured in leagues (leghe).

     
  2. 2.

    The authors of these sources often used measurements that referred to the ranges of weapons or the throwing of weights, and as such, they are rather imprecise: the range of a crossbow (balestrate, in Del Nero, no. 42; un tratto di balestra, in Toledo, no. 52); the range of a harquebus (tiro d’archibuxo, no. 8); the stone’s throw (tiro de piedra) and the range of a harquebus (tiro de arcabuz) in Sandoval (no. 51).

     
  3. 3.

    Several measurements were not directly expressed, except in terms of comparisons with heights and similar areas. For example, Del Nero (contemporary source, no. 42) compares the extent of the opening of the main crater with the square of San Petronio (now Piazza Maggiore) in Bologna (about 6,900 m2).

     

In general, analyses of the historical sources have shown that the measurements supplied are more often than not larger than in reality.

Seismicity and uplift in the Pozzuoli area from 1472 to 1538

Regarding the seismic crisis that preceded the eruption of Monte Nuovo, we have listed the earthquakes that were localised by contemporary sources in Naples or in other places in the Campi Flegrei area, which did not correlate with earthquakes originated in the Apennines. Although we are aware that these earthquakes might have originated in areas other than the Campi Flegrei, they are presented as precursors of the 1538 eruption along with this precautionary warning based on three considerations:
  1. 1.

    the historical sources show that earthquakes that caused damage in Pozzuoli were felt, often strongly, in Naples.

     
  2. 2.

    It is possible that the historical sources did not always intercept news regarding effects in the Phlegrean area (Fig. 3), rather than only in Naples. At the time the city of Naples was considered one of the most influential in the Aragonese domain, and from 1501 onwards it housed the headquarters of the Viceroy of the Kingdom of Spain.

     
  3. 3.

    The presence of three royal or viceregal privileges (1472, 1507, 1511), that referred to intense seismic activity, including damage to Pozzuoli during the years before the documents were issued, means that we can hypothesise, albeit with due caution, that the earthquakes mentioned during those years only in Naples might have been due to the effects of those mentioned in a more general way in the privileges.

     
Fig. 3

Campi Flegrei area: location of places and toponyms quoted by this study in section “Seismicity and uplift in the Pozzuoli area from 1472 to 1538” and “Land deformation before the Monte Nuovo eruption

One further point needs to be made: the information presented here regarding the precursor earthquakes is no doubt flawed, since the written sources of the period mention only the events which were felt most by the population.

Numerous new facts have emerged from the sources (see Column 2, in Table 1), which indicate a complex scenario for the seventy years before the eruption, during which time seismicity and bradyseisms were more complex than the literature has previously suggested (Fig. 4). In particular, the following crucial periods are relevant:
  1. a.

    1470–1472: during this 2-year period, the seismic activity that caused damage was accompanied by an increase in the emissions from Solfatara that damaged the vegetation (Table 1 and Fig. 5).

     
  2. b.

    1503 and 1511: earthquakes (which also caused damage) occurred during the 6 or 7 years that preceded the positive bradyseism that occurred in these 2 years. The extent of the uplift was such that a quantity of land emerged on which human activities could take place. The area, previously occupied by the sea, was requested by the inhabitants of Pozzuoli for the building of new houses and buildings, because their villages had mostly collapsed or become uninhabitable due to the repeated earthquakes of previous years (see Table 1 and Fig. 2). Direct analysis of the original documents does not enable us to gauge the extent or locate the uplift occurring in 1503 and 1511. Historically we cannot confirm the Dvorak and Mastrolorenzo (1991) conjecture that uplift took place on the Starza coast.

     
  3. c.

    1536–1538: frequent earthquakes took place, and also caused damage, starting at least 2 years before the eruption, at the same time as an increase in emissions from Solfatara, which did not have any effect on the natural environment (Table 1 and Fig. 6).

     
  4. d.

    June–September 1538: there was progressive intensification in the frequency of earthquakes, not only in Pozzuoli but also in Naples, starting about 3 months before the eruption. The increase in intensity was exceptional during the 8 or 9 days before the eruption, to the extent that the sources recall that in Pozzuoli “the ground shook continuously”, and in Naples people felt between five and ten earthquakes every day (Table 1).

     
Fig. 4

Earthquakes mentioned in the contemporary sources from 1468 to 1582 (for further details on these earthquakes see Tables 1, 2, and 4). In bold, dates of the earthquakes that caused damage; in normal text, the dates of the earthquakes that caused damage less than grade VI of the MCS

Fig. 5

Attempt to reconstruct the chronological sequence of seismic crises and bradyseisms from 1468 to the 1538 eruption. In the years around 1470, there was an important seismic crisis with increased activity of the Solfatara. At the beginning of the sixteenth century there was an important crisis (seismicity and uplift) with no eruption. Around 30 years later, there was the eruption of Monte Nuovo

Fig. 6

Earthquakes and gas emissions mentioned in contemporary sources from the summer of 1536 to the eruption of September 1538. The earthquakes in grey represent the background seismicity, described as almost continuous by the observers at the time. The increased frequency of the earthquakes in January 1537 is also indicated (see Table 1)

Land deformation before the Monte Nuovo eruption

In this study we have reconstructed the chronology of deformation by the hour, as a sort of reverse countdown, starting from ca. thirty one and a half hours before the eruption (see in Table 2: 1538, September, 28, h. 11:00; and Fig. 7) on a background of intense seismicity. The ground in the area where the new volcano was to form underwent at least three important and sudden changes:
  1. 1.

    Uplift from the seabed in the area between Lake Averno and Monte Barbaro (ca. 2.5 km). The sources report that this uplift produced a considerable quantity of dead fish in a kind of shoal. It is very likely that this involved a rapid movement, although the sudden death of the fish which were brought to the surface could also be due to other causes (such as a rapid variation of temperature, or infusion of gas?). This uplift was not described in the sources as such, but rather as a drying up of the sea, and was interpreted by naturalists at the time as the result of a rapid absorption of sea water by the seabed.

     
  2. 2.

    At 20 h after this uplift (i.e. about eleven and a half hours before the beginning of the eruption), the sources describe a lowering of the central part of the area where Monte Nuovo would be formed, as well as the formation of a water spring in the lowest part;

     
  3. 3.

    Three hours after this lowering, the formation of Monte Nuovo began, first with a progressive rise of the part that had previously been lowered, until, over the next seven and a half hours, a real “hill” was formed, or rather a bulge from which, when it broke, the eruption material came out.

     
Fig. 7

Attempt to represent the hourly kinematics of the phenomena described from September 28th to 29th. These phenomena were described by the observers at the time as preceding and following the Monte Nuovo eruption

The dynamics observed at the beginning of the 1538 eruption

The “explosion”, or rather the beginning of the eruption, had more complex dynamics than have previously been known and the eruption affected an area that was wider than just the territory around Monte Nuovo. Descriptions in the volcanological literature did not confirm the timing of the various phenomena described here. We also summarise two noted events (and refer the reader to the Tables for more detail):
  1. 1.
    29 September 1538, h.18:00 UT: about half an hour before opening of the main vent, an eruptive vent opened on the seabed about 40–100 metres from the coast, described by those on land as “the appearance of flames (or of a certain fire)” out at sea. A witness who saw this phenomenon whilst at sea described it as a huge thunderbolt accompanied by an expulsion of vapours (“clouds”) (Table 2 and Fig. 8). This important detail was unknown in the literature previously.
    Fig. 8

    a Location and chronology of the vents that opened just before (1), during (2, 3) and after (4, 5) the Monte Nuovo eruption on September 29th, 1538. Previously only one opening was noted by written sources, the one from which Monte Nuovo was generated. The numbers indicate the order in which the vents opened, according to eye witnesses. We have pinpointed these vents in the contemporary drawing attributed to the Maestro del Trabocchetto. This choice stemmed from the attempt to set order in the imprecise geographical indications and distances provided by the contemporary sources. b Attempt to locate the vents described on a present-day map

     
  2. 2.

    From the sea the flames progressed for about half an hour until they reached the summit of the bulge, where the main vent opened. This phenomenon was confirmed by all six sources that described the opening of the vent out at sea. The scenario appears consistent with the possible opening of several rifts in the earth, from which the glare of incandescent material was visible to observers. The sun had set about an hour before, and so lights, glares and incandescent material were easily visible (Table 2).

     

An extensively fractured area: descriptions of cracks and vents

The sources examined describe a fractured area, with various active vents. This was more extensive than people were aware of until now.
  1. 1.

    29 September 1538: during the uplift of the new hill its sides were described as fractured with water coming out of some of these cracks (Table 2). Further small vents, referred to as rifts (fosse in Italian, holes), opened up, which were fairly small and not particularly deep. Inside these, even as late as 4 October 1538, the “fire” could be seen boiling (Marchesino, no. 44).

     
  2. 2.

    In the area around the new crater several vents were seen, although the quantity was not specified. On 2 October 1538 in addition to the main vent, only one other vent was located in the flat area which stretched out towards Lake Averno. In the area around the new crater several vents were seen, although the quantity was not specified. On 2 October 1538 in addition to the main vent, only one other vent was located in the flat area which stretched out towards Lake Averno. It was affected by eruptive activity, which was described as infrequent and with reduced expulsion of materials, although it was not well detailed by the contemporary observers (Porzio, no. 49; Anonymous, no. 35).

     
  3. 3.

    On 3 October 1538 at the same time as the resumption of eruptive activity from the main crater, two other vents opened up (Table 3).

     

The fractures prior to the eruption of Monte Nuovo seem to be aligned along the principal structures of the Campi Flegrei (Orsi et al. 1996; Di Vito et al. 1999, 2010). The historical sources analysed in this study confirm that the Campi Flegrei may have had eruption fissures, such as Averno 2 and Monte Nuovo (Orsi et al. 1999).

The expelled materials and the ash-fall area

All the witnesses described intermittent activity in which incandescent material was ejected (contemporary witnesses used the terms “fire” and “flames”). As well as smoke, this included heavier material, such as pumice and ash. The area affected by the fall of these materials gradually diminished, in relation to both the distance from Monte Nuovo and the passing of time since the beginning of the event (Table 3, Figs. 9 and 10). According to the sources, the following materials were ejected:
  1. a.

    Pumice stones: the size of these varied, although some were quite large. The largest ones fell within an area of about 2.5 km around the main crater, and therefore also on the town of Pozzuoli, which by then had been damaged by the earthquakes and abandoned by its inhabitants.

     
  2. b.

    Small pumice stones: out at sea, the smaller pumice stones fell at a distance of up to 8 km (Table 3), near the little island of Nisida (in the easternmost part of the Gulf of Pozzuoli, between Bagnoli and Marechiaro). In the expanse of sea in front of Monte Nuovo the floating pumice stones formed a dense semi-circle which covered the water and were then dispersed by the movement of the waves. It is interesting to note the description of the forms and sizes of the small pumice stones which were observed in the sea on 4 October. In the stretch of sea between Nisida and Pozzuoli the small pumice stones were filiform in shape (fili longhi) or coiled (rotoli e rochie di pietre pomici minute), whereas just in front of the volcano there were medium-sized or large pumice stones (mazzacani). Very small pumice stones, described as “wet”, fell to earth after the eruption at a distance of up to 3.5 km from the crater.

     
  3. c.

    Ash fall: overall, the ash fell in an area of about 10,000 kmq south-east of Pozzuoli. The weight of the ash, as a result of the grainsize and different levels of humidity, decreased progressively the farther from Monte Nuovo it fell (the sources state that it was initially wet, even in Naples, but became drier with time and was always dry, and fine-grained, beyond Naples).

     
Fig. 9

Fallout area: small stones, pumice and ashes from Monte Nuovo, during the 28 September 1538 eruption

Fig. 10

Area of ash fallout from Monte Nuovo during the eruption of 28 September 1538. The area is about 10,000 km2 lying to the south-east

Conclusions

Many of the data presented here may be highly relevant to the scientific community, especially as regards techniques of hazard estimation. The data presented arise from our long and thorough analysis of the original historical sources (58, of which 31 are manuscripts), which has also made possible a critical review of the state of the art. The aim is to make historical data available for volcanological interpretation based on a broad set of contemporary sources, analysed by means of specialist historical criteria. We have tried to clear the field of false or doubtful data, to fill in gaps and clarify the unfolding of events. The new data, arranged in transparent chronologies, bear direct and clear reference to the historical sources used. We believe that this approach can both support and confirm the known geological data as well as allow for new correlations. Twenty new earthquakes have emerged from the analysis of these sources.

We have devoted particular attention to the crises of 1503 and 1511, during which there was a substantial rise in the bay area of Pozzuoli, although there was no eruption. We feel that the detail presented and the clear chronological relationship between the various classified events (earthquakes, gas emissions, land raising, cracking and vents) contribute to a better understanding of the eruptive dynamics of the Campi Flegrei and evaluation of its dangers. We have also shed light on a historical scenario relating to the vents that opened, of which there were five altogether, whereas previously the historical sources only knew of the one that gave rise to Monte Nuovo. These data help to better understand the pre-eruptive dynamics of the Campi Flegrei, an area that in 1538 appeared to be extensively fractured; they also support the ground data (Orsi et al. 2004).

We have also highlighted the importance of the Agnano earthquake on 18 May 1505. Previously unknown to the literature, this was activated by one significant episode (VIII MCS) during the Pozzuoli seismic crisis of 1505–1508 (see Table 1). We believe that this particular seismic event is important because it occurred in the north-eastern sector of the caldera, whereas the Monte Nuovo eruption was in the north-western sector (Orsi et al. 2004); this provides important information for short-term hazard analysis (Isaia et al. 2009; Selva et al. 2010). We again highlight the fact that deformation took place in the area just 11 h before the Monte Nuovo eruption. The other deformation episodes that had occurred in the previous years (1503–1511) did not appear to be directly correlated to the Monte Nuovo area (Table 1).

Our analysis also shows the severe anthropic impact of the long seismic sequence that preceded and followed the Monte Nuovo eruption (Tables 1 and 4). More than the actual eruption itself, it was the earthquakes before the eruption that severely damaged housing (date in Tables 1, 2 and 3). The continuing localised seismic activity caused cracks and partial collapses among the buildings in the Campi Flegrei, which were then followed by extensive collapses. By the time the Monte Nuovo eruption occurred, the whole area (Pozzuoli and perhaps other villages too) was depopulated and most of the houses had been abandoned as unsafe. This factor is important too in terms of environmental protection and once again underlines the importance of the seismic indicator in volcanic hazard estimation.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    The numbers in brackets refer to the first section of the “References”, where all of the historical sources, be they positive, iconographic or negative, are numbered such that the reader can rapidly access the bibliographic information of the unedited texts, with their editions, and printings.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The research on the historical sources was carried out within the framework of the programmes of the Dipartimento della Protezione Civile—INGV on Italian volcanism in 2005–2006. The research project was developed by the SGA working group, led by Emanuela Guidoboni. A further phase of analysis and addition to the original texts was carried out in 2007–2009, by the same research group, within INGV. In particular, we would like to thank Dante Mariotti for his contribution to estimating the seismic effects, and Maria Giovanna Bianchi for producing the graphs and maps.

References

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sezione di Bologna, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e VulcanologiaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e VulcanologiaBolognaItaly

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