Earthquake in 1976 and reconstruction

On May the 6th, 1976, at 9.00p.m., an earth tremor with magnitude 6.4 Richter (intensity to be compared to level 11 of the Mercalli – Cancani – Sieberg scale) hit the Friuli with its epicentre in Mount San Simeone:  an area of 5.700 km² has been involved which includes 137 towns: 45 were considered destroyed, 40 devastated and 52 damaged.

The event caused in Venzone 47 victims and serious damages to the architectural and cultural heritage of the medieval historical centre. However many buildings did not collapse under the tremor strength: the cathedral – Duomo di S.Andrea – and the Town Hall are some of them.

During summertime, even if with lower intensity, the season was drawn by continuous shakings. In September, the seismic activity showed an increase until the 15th, at 5.20a.m. and 11.15a.m., with intensity of earth tremor with magnitude 6.1 Richter, forcing 100.000 persons to leave the disaster area on the slopes of Mount S. Simeone.
The consequences for Venzone were devastating, the buildings undamaged in May and during summertime, collapsed.

The urban network of the historical centre of Venzone has its main expansion period during XIII and XIV centuries, with further development until XVII century. During XVIII century, an economical decrease started slowly and marked an important fall in architecture or restore construction sites in the walled village.

The recovery of the historical centre after the tremendous earthquakes presented a few different problems at the beginning, like for instance, the bulldozers working almost out of control to move the rubble after May the 6th and this caused the groundless demolition of so many houses.
The immediate creation of the “Coordination Committee for cultural heritage recovering” made of volunteers and qualified experts enabled first to recover the mobile cultural heritage, preserving it from further damages or worse, from robbery; second the recovery of the frescos and third to support the still standing parts of the antique houses and buildings.

After September the 15th and during all following months, the work of restore of stone elements went on close to bulldozers work: it came out that any still standing double lancet windows, coats of arms, portals, windowsills and walls could be recovered. In some case, the composition of the elements started on the ground, close to the concerned still standing parts and preparation of drawings for assembly. In 1977, the uncontrolled demolition of some houses along the main street caused some troubles: therefor the new “March 19th Committee” became a reference point for any subject concerning the reconstruction and prepared the draft of a popular petition in which 645 signatures approved the choice to “rebuilt Venzone where it was and how it was”.

Thanks to the large quantity of documents concerning the period preceding the earthquake, the draft of a Particular Plan was issued; the target was to preserve the original materials entrusting it with the role of whiteness of historical continuity, maintaining readable earthquake traces and the restore of the whole image of Venzone through a faithful reconstruction of the collapsed parts. All this was possible thanks to careful records made on walled rests, identification of destroyed elements foundations and checking of correspondence with antique layout, recovery and restoring of stone elements.

The earthquake of May 6th was not devastating for the cathedral Duomo di S. Andrea Apostolo: the South tower and the adjacent transept façade collapsed as well as the main façade tympanum and the whole chapel San Michele. The restore of the cultural heritage was then possible as well as the controlled clearing and the selection of the collapsed material, the photographic survey of each side, indoors and outdoors, room by room, arches included.

The earthquakes of September the 15th were devastating: a few sections of walls only stand up even if in the balance, the parts already collapsed have been scattered. Almost all stones were preserved, only the connection filer was lost.

In 1982 people started to catalogue all squared stones or part or piece of squared stone: a description card was made for each single piece, with photos of each side; each one received a reference code showing the collapse position, type of stone in relation to its construction’s functions and a consecutive order number. Totally, the classified squared stones were 8.000.

Some targets made the project of restoring and recovering the Duomo of Venzone become the symbol of the reconstruction, such as:

  • The reallocation of squared stones in exactly the same position they had before to collapse (anastilosi);
  • The clear evidence of the difference between original and replacement stones;
  • The maintenance in the restauration work of tracks and signs caused by the collapse event;
  • The philological rigour in the definition of all measurements necessary to the reconstruction

Replacement or integration stones are still today distinguished from the original ones also thanks to a different carving on the top to highlight they are not authentic.

Works finished in 1995 and gave back one of the symbols of the renaissance of the Friuli devastated by earthquakes.