EC project "Review of Historical Seismicity in Europe" (RHISE) 1989-1993

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Paola Albini*, Ina Cecic**, Gianni Morelli*,
Ivica Sovic ***and Mladen Zivcic **

* Istituto di Ricerca sul Rischio Sismico, CNR, via Ampère 56, 20131 Milano, Italy.
** Seismological Survey of Slovenia, Observatory, Pot na Golovec 25, 61000 Ljubliana, Slovenia.
*** Geofizicki Zavod, Prirodoslovno-matematicki facultet, Sveuciliste u Zagrebu,
Horvatovac B.B., 41000 Zagreb, Croatia.

A preliminary investigation of the January 4th, 1802 earthquake

Parametric catalogues locate the epicentre of an earthquake occurred on January 4th, 1802 in various areas: in the wider area around the towns of Rijeka, in Croatia (Karnik, 1971) or Trieste, in Italy (Postpischl, 1985); in southern Slovenia near to the Croatian border (Shebalin et al., 1974) or in the eastern part of Istrian peninsula (Cvijanovic, 1981) (Fig. 1). The parameters assigned to this earthquake by these catalogues are shown in Tab. 1.

Fig. 1 - Epicentres according to the main parametric catalogues.


Lat Lon

I o
Karnik, 1971

1802 01 04


45 18 14 24

>=7 MSK

Shebalin et al., 1974

1802 01 03

06 30

45 36 14 18

8 (?) MSK

Cvijanovic, 1981

1802 01 03

06 30

45 24 14 18


Postpischl, 1985

1802 01 04

06 00

45 40 13 48


Tab. 1 - Main parameters of the 1802 earthquake in the parametric catalogues.

Parametric catalogues disagree also upon date and time of the earthquake - Shebalin et al. (1974) and Cvijanovic (1981) date the event on January 3rd - and about epicentral intensity, which ranges from V MCS to VIII MSK. The earthquake catalogue of Slovenia (Ribaric, 1982) does not include this event.

The background of parametric catalogues
To evaluate which records best represent the earthquake effects, the first step was to go back to the sources from where catalogues took the information. A supplementary analysis was devoted to the most important seismological compilations referring to the involved areas. Among them, the following do not mention this earthquake: Baratta (1901) for Italy; Mitteis (1862), Müllner (1895) and Koblar (1896) for Slovenia.
Fig. 2 presents the background of the parametric catalogues and two sources unknown to the compilers of the catalogues, retrieved through the investigation described further. From this figure, it clearly appears that, apart from the observation made at Trieste (Rosetti, 1829), the correspondences published in Gazette Nationale (1802a, b, c, d, e, f) are the only contemporary records used by the compilers. The daily Gazette Nationale - the same newspaper had also the title of Le Moniteur Universal before and after the Napoleonic period - was printed in Paris. The records concerning the earthquake were supplied by correspondents from Vienna and Trieste.

In the period when the earthquake occurred, the area concerned was part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, between two French occupations of this region (1797 and 1805). Therefore, the possibility of finding records from this area lies in research in central archives (Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv in Vienna for Trieste and surroundings, Slovenia and Croatia) and local ones (such as those at Rijeka, Idrija, Ljubljana).
A sampling was carried out at the Historijski arhiv Rijeka (Historical Archives of Rijeka, Croatia, from now on HaR) only. In particular, the following documents were consulted: the Sjednice pulskog kaptola (Sessions of the Capitol of Pula), available for the period 1801-1882 (HaR, 1801-1882); Knjiga upravljanja katedralne sakristije u Puli (Book of the administration of the Cathedral sacristy in Pula), for the period 1741-1808 (HaR, 1741-1808).
The latter gives year accounts of income and expenses, which were written once every year; some are very detailed, some just brief with total sums. Neither type of documents contain information on this earthquake.

Fig. 2 - Background of the parametric catalogues for the 1802 earthquake.

In the fund storing documents produced by the local government of Rijeka (Repertorio degli Atti esistenti nella Cancelleria della Città di Fiume) a document written five days after the earthquake by the local governor was found. It institutes religious manifestations "against" the earthquake (HaR, 1802). The document is reproduced in the Appendix.
A sampling was performed also in newspapers in German language. Wiener Zeitung was a newspaper published twice a week in Vienna since 1780. In its first part it had news from many European countries (Italy, France, Switzerland, etc.). The news about the earthquake were reported from Ljubljana, Trieste and Senj (Wiener Zeitung, 1802a, b, c).
Allgemeine Zeitung from Augsburg was a daily newspaper which contains information about this event also (Allgemeine Zeitung, 1802). However, it cannot be considered as an independent source of information, because it explicitly refer to the same Wiener Zeitung issues above mentioned.

The analysis of 19th and 20th centuries historical studies, such as Kandler (1855) for Trieste, Kobler (1896) and Klen (1988) for Rijeka and Marochino (1978) for Bakar, did not supply information on local contemporary sources of information on this earthquake, although they give descriptions of other earthquakes (e.g. 1750).

Effect descriptions
Relying on the primary sources, the earthquake effects can be described as follows (German texts are given in English translation).

Rijeka, Bakar
A correspondence from Ljubljana, dated January 12th (Wiener Zeitung, 1802c), reports that on January 4th an earthquake
"between 7 and 8 in the morning had anxiously worried our town and went without the misfortune. It was much stronger in Fiume [Rijeka] and Bukkari [Bakar] - stronger than ever in these localities - than here and has threatened with horrible destruction. Strong shocks followed each other and people were leaving their homes in fear not to be buried; also the strong sea-waves broke through. Huge mass of water rose two feet above the shore and threatened to fall down hanging like a wall. Desperate people were scared of the inevitable breakthroughs of the furious sea, inundation of the area and the destruction of the vineyards, fields and homes. The fear and despair of the inhabitants of the towns near the sea can be only felt, and not described. ... This shaking had a direction almost from south to north, only some directions towards west were deviating, and lasted particularly on the sea coast more than a minute".
Dated January 22, a correspondence from Vienna is published in the Gazette Nationale (1802d); it says that
"On a ressenti ... particulièrement à Fiume [Rijeka] et Bukkari [Bakar] des secousses violentes de tremblement de terre, qui menaçaient de la ruine la plus effrayante".
The details are similar to those reported by Wiener Zeitung. The perception of the earthquake in Rijeka and Bakar is mentioned also in a following issue (Gazette Nationale, 1802e).
The document by the governor of Rijeka (HaR, 1802) does not supply any information on earthquake effects or on eventual damage, but it may be considered as an effect by itself. Moreover, it does not even give the information whether the earthquake was felt or not.

Grobnik, Senj
The newspaper Wiener Zeitung (1802c) supplies the following description:
"Zengg [Senj], January 5. Also the Theodor Batthyanisch's graeflich Herrschaft Grobnigg [Grobnik] suffered from an earthquake and heavy fall of rain. Almost all vineyards on the hills were broken and fallen down and were covered by falling pieces of rocks; the one in the lowland subsided and considerable hills arose instead of them. The castle itself was, like many other houses, uncovered and only thanks to the Providence there were no victims. Besides the earthquake and the inundation we had also thunderstorm, while the lightning lit up the sheep pen and burned it with 250 sheep. The peasant, owner of the sheep and pen, was brought into a sad condition".
The Gazette Nationale (1802c) reports the earthquake effects with similar wordings, but referring them to "la seigneurie de Grobbing", which is an obvious missprint. It also adds details to stress the bad sea conditions:
"Un capitaine du régiment d'Ottocha, parti d'Aichellon sur la Licca, avec 12 hommes et 3 chevaux pour aller chercher les fond à Agron fut renversé dans l'eau par un coup de vent, avec tout ce qui se trouvait sur la barque. Il n'échappa que quelques hommes, qui parvinrent à se sauver à la nage".

Idrija, Postojna, Duchy of Krain
The same correspondence from Ljubljana which supplies information about the localities above mentioned (Wiener Zeitung, 1802c) gives also the following information:
"... Also the earth was shaken much more terribly in Adelsberg [Postojna] and in the mine town Idria [Idrija] ".
The Archives of Idrija mercury mine stores documents about the mine from the year 1700. The diary of the mine was consulted, but it contains no records about the event or eventual damage caused by it.
A correspondence from Vienna, dated 22 January, reports that the earthquake was felt "dans le Duché de Krain" (today central and southern part of Republic of Slovenia), without referring the effects to any locality inside the territory of the Duchy at that time (Gazette Nationale, 1802d). A reference to Idrija appears in a later issue (Gazette Nationale, 1802e).

The effects at Ljubljana are described in a correspondence from the locality itself (Wiener Zeitung, 1802a):
"Yesterday [January 4] in the morning between 7 and 8 we felt here one unimportant earthquake, whereupon lightning after lightning, followed by thunderclaps illuminate our horizon. (It is strange that out-of-town newspapers spoke earlier about an earthquake in Laybach, where an inn should have been destroyed completely)".
The same correspondence was published also by the Gazette Nationale (1802a). An ensuing issue of the Wiener Zeitung (1802c) stresses that the shock was stronger at Rijeka and Bakar than at Ljubljana.

Both Wiener Zeitung (1802b) and Gazette Nationale (1802b) publish the same correspondence, dated from Trieste, January 16th:
"Après un vent impétueux qui régna quelques jours, il commença le 3 au soir à pleuvoir, la pluie, la grêle et la neige se succéderent tour à tour jusqu'à minuit, vers 2 heurs, le tonnerre gronde d'une manière effrayante. Cette tempête fut suivie d'un débordement de la mer, chose dont on n'avait pas eu d'exemple depuis plusieurs années. Une grande partie de la ville fut inondée, l'eau pénétra dans les magasins situées au rez-de-chaussée et causa de grands dommages. Cet orage se termina à sept heurs du matin, par une si violente secousse de tremblement de terre qu'on ne se rappelle pas d'en avoir essayé de semblable" (Gazette Nationale, 1802b).
A table of earthquake observations concerning Trieste (Rosetti, 1829) confirms that the earthquake was strongly felt there, although a description of the earthquake effects is not given. It also adds an information about a light earthquake on the same day, at 4 in the morning.

Banat and Turkey
One month after the earthquake, on February 7, a correspondence from Vienna reports that
"La secousse de tremblement de terre qu'on a essuyée au commencement de janvier et sur tout cette côte, s'est aussi fait sentir dans le Banat et en Turquie" (Gazette Nationale, 1802f).
Banat is a region between Transylvania and rivers Tisa and Danube, while the wording "Turquie" should be here interpreted as referred to the Ottoman Empire, the western boundary of which at that time corresponded roughly to the present north-western border of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It is worth noting that neither Wiener Zeitung nor Allgemeine Zeitung have information about it, although they had a regular correspondence from Belgrade and other towns in Turkey.

The material consulted allows to draw only few conclusions regarding location and size of the earthquake. An earthquake was felt on January 4th, 1802, between 7 and 8 in the morning (local time) in a region between Trieste on the west, Ljubljana on the north and Senj on the south.

Fig. 3 - Distribution of the effects of the 4th January 1802 earthquake.

Contemporary sources (Gazette Nationale, 1802a, b, c, d, e, f; Wiener Zeitung, 1802a, b, c; HaR, 1802) suggest that at Rijeka, Bakar, and Grobnik damage - if any - was light. Damage to buildings (Grobnik castle, many houses and a sheep pen) is reported together with that caused by the heavy winds and flood, so that it is difficult to separate the effects due to each event.
Strong sea-waves for Rijeka and Bakar related to the earthquake are reported by both Wiener Zeitung (1802c) and Gazette Nationale (1802d); the latter is the same source quoted by a study on seismic sea-waves in this area (Ambraseys, 1962). The correspondence from Trieste (Gazette Nationale, 1802a) clearly states that the earthquake occurred after a heavy storm, and after a "débordement" of the sea, which happened around 2 in the morning, so that storm and high sea did precede the earthquake. For the other localities it is not clear if the sea-waves came before, during or after the earthquake. Therefore, it seems that the high water and the damage caused by it are rather independent coincidental events for other localities along the coast (Rijeka and Bakar) too, where the storm, propagating from west towards east (which is usual meteorological pattern in this region) came later.
The available data raises serious doubts on the fact that effects were so heavy as the high epicentral intensities given by Karnik (1971), Shebalin et al. (1974) and Cvijanovic (1981) suggest. The parameters of Postpischl (1985) are obviously wrong. As no evidence supporting such epicentral intensities and locations were found, it has to be supposed that they come from unreported interpretation of the compilers.
Actually, the location proposed by Shebalin et al. (1974) and Cvijanovic (1981) might follow from the knowledge of regional seismicity and active faults: the high epicentral intensity would be then necessary to justify the available data. But this, of course, is an hypothesis only and, obviously, not a recommended procedure.
Finally, the information from the Gazette Nationale (1802f) was used by A. Rethly (1952) to locate an earthquake in Banat which, on the contrary, is not included in the more recent catalogue of that area (Zsiros et al., 1988). At this stage of the research, the perception of January 4th earthquake as far as Banat and Ottoman Empire territories has yet to be confirmed, because the only available information is not sufficiently reliable.

The authors would like to thank the historians from the Archives in Rijeka, and especially to Boris Zakosek, for their kind help in finding and explaining the contemporary material. Christa Hammerl, Majda Hrzic and Renata Mukavec helped us with translations from German; Tibor Zsiros from Hungarian.

Historijski arhiv Rijeka, JU2, 163/1802.
"Ritrovandosi necessario di istituire delle pubbliche preci, onde impetrare dall'Altissimo la serenità dell'aria e la preservazione in conseguenza di questa città dal flagello del Terremoto, fu di concerto colla superiorità ecclesiastica disposto di tenere le medesime nel corso di due consecutivi giorni, cioè il prossimo lunedì, martedì e mercoledì nella Chiesa di S. Vito innanzi il miracoloso Crocefisso avanti e doppo mezzo giorno. Il principio a questa divozione si darà il lunedì suddetto alle ore 9 1/4 mediante una Processione, che sortirà dalla Collegiata. Doppo mezzo giorno all'ore 4 verrà recitato il Rosario, colle Litanie, e l'istesso verrà praticato nelle susseguenti due giornate ad esclusione della Processione. Il primo giorno nell'ora soltanto conservata a siffatta devozione dovranno esser chiuse tutte le botteghe. Tutti gli abitanti di qualunque siasi rango, carattere, o condizione vengono di ciò mediante il presente resi avvertiti, ed esortati contemporaneamente di concorrere a questa divozione in unione col Magistrato.
Fiume, li 9 gennaio 1802
Ad Numero 163, Prot. pub. dd. 5 Februar. 1802".
English translation
"Since it seemed necessary to establish public prayers, to ask the Almighty the serenity of the air and as a consequence the preservation of this towns from the calamity of the earthquake, in agreement with the higher-ranking ecclesiastics, it was decided to held the prayers during two consecutive days, that are next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the Church of St. Vito, in front of the miraculous Crucifix before and after midday. The beginning of this devotion will be on the said Monday at 9.15 with a Procession which will step out from the Collegiata (church). After noon, at 4, the Rosary will be recited, together with Litanies, and the same will be done in the two following days, with the exception of the Procession. The first day only at the hour reserved for such devotion all the shops must be closed. All inhabitants of whichever class, character or condition have been advised of this by means of this proclamation and also exhorted to participate in this devotion together with the Magistrato".

Allgemeine Zeitung, 1802. 25 January.
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