Over the last few days, we have informed about the earthquake that hit Crete on Monday. It is worth knowing that these events occurred almost on the 165th anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that almost completely destroyed Heraklion. On this occasion, we would like to introduce you to some facts related to that event, which took place in 1856 in Heraklion.
Photo source: www.zarpanews.gr
Seismic activity in the form of earthquakes is one of the elements in the everyday life of the inhabitants of Crete. These extremely powerful forces of nature have left their mark on the history of the island more than once. Particularly strong earthquakes in antiquity led to the fall of some civilizations and the emergence of new ones. Most likely, it would have been no different in the event of the quakes that took place on Sunday, September 30, 1856. Although more modern earthquakes obviously have an impact on the functioning of local communities, they do not significantly affect the development of human civilization.
According to Nikolaos Stavrakis, the then general secretary of the island administration, who survived the earthquake as a ten-year-old child, his strength was estimated at 7.7 on the Richter scale. It was probably one of the most powerful and tragic earthquakes to hit the island. The element surprised the residents at 2:45 am from Saturday to Sunday, and the earth shook for three minutes.
Heraklion was in the very epicenter, so it suffered the most among the cities of Crete. Almost all of its buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged. Out of 3,620 houses after the earthquake, only 18 were safe to live in that city. On that day, Heraklion also lost many of its important public buildings. The old Venetian churches were destroyed, including the temple of St. Tytus, which then served as a mosque. The church of St. Minas and St. Francis. The Ducal Palace, which was located opposite the Basilica of St. Mark. The elements of the fortifications surrounding Heraklion also did not resist the strength of the earthquake. The barracks of St. George and the vault of one of the Venetian entrance gates.
According to contemporary studies, what influenced the tragic balance of this earthquake in Heraklion was the way houses were built at that time. Buildings with a relatively light structure had roofs covered with heavy ceramic tiles. As a result of the shocks, the weakened walls of the houses were not able to lift this heavy structure and consequently collapsed, burying the inhabitants inside.
It is also worth mentioning here that some houses and utility buildings, which were entirely made of wood, survived the direct impact of the cataclysm. The more flexible design made it possible to withstand the effects of shocks. Among other things, the Mustafa Pasha Mosque, which was turned into a hospital for the wounded, survived.
Unfortunately, 48 of the wooden buildings burned down as a result of the fire that broke out right after the earthquake. Currently, it is assumed that matches could have been used as a source of fire at that time. You certainly know the picture of cowboys lighting matches by rubbing them against their pants. This high sensitivity to friction may have been one of the reasons for the fire that took place after the earthquake.
In total, as a result of this cataclysm in Crete, 538 people died and a further 637 were injured. 11,317 houses were destroyed throughout the island. The condition of more than half of them, i.e. exactly 6512, did not allow any repair work to be undertaken. These buildings were considered to be completely destroyed.
The disaster was not limited to Heraklion. Many villages have been razed to the ground. Quite large damage was also recorded in Rethymno, where a large part of the buildings collapsed. According to the reports of the then chroniclers, not a single victim of this cataclysm was recorded there. In Chania, most of the houses were more or less damaged. However, in the case of this city, only a few of them collapsed completely. The shocks were also felt by other islands near Crete.
Those who survived the catastrophe not only mourned the losses but also considered this event a very bad omen for the future.