1802 Vrancea earthquake

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1802 Vrancea earthquake
1802 Vrancea earthquake is located in Europe
1802 Vrancea earthquake
Date Tuesday, 26 October 1802
Origin time 12:55 (local time)[1]
Duration 2–3 minutes
Magnitude 7.9 Mw
Depth 150 km (93 mi)
Areas affected
Total damage Hundreds of buildings destroyed
Max. intensity IX–X[2]
Landslides Yes
Aftershocks 6
Casualties 4 dead, hundreds injured

The 1802 Vrancea earthquake occurred Tuesday, 26 October [O.S. 14 October] 1802, during St. Paraskeva's celebrated Day.[3][4] Its magnitude is estimated at 7.9 on the moment magnitude scale making it the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Romania[4] and one of the strongest earthquakes in European history. It was felt from Saint Petersburg to Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, and from Belgrade to Moscow.[5] Its felt area (more that 2 million square kilometers) places it among the largest earthquakes known on the interior of the Eurasian continent.[5] According to local witnesses, "in many localities in Burzenland (Romanian: Țara Bârsei) were formed huge holes in the ground, cracks, wide crevices of several feet (1 foot = 33 cm) and many fathoms deep, partially filled with water".[6]

In Bucharest, many church steeples fell, and Turnul Colței broke in half, killing an itinerant merchant.[7] The earthquake was felt in Bucharest with an estimated intensity of VIII–IX on Mercalli scale.[8] Likewise, Cotroceni Monastery completely collapsed. Numerous fires broke out, caused mainly by overthrowing stoves. In Focșani, wall of St. John Monastery fell. Also, several households and church steeples collapsed following the first oscillations of the soil.

In Moscow, some walls were cracked, suspended objects swung. In many other cities in Russia and Ukraine, soil oscillated for several minutes. Significant damage was caused in other areas of Ukraine, in Lviv and even Kiev. The earthquake caused fear in Warsaw (Poland), and in Bulgaria, the cities of Ruse, Varna and Vidin were almost completely destroyed.[9]

The Great Earthquake (Romanian: Cutremurul cel Mare),[10] as the Bucharest inhabitants of 19th century called this sinister event, coincided with the ascent to the throne of Prince Constantin Ipsilanti, surprised by the earthquake in the commune of Radovanu (Călărași County).[11] He prayed for the salvation of his submissives. An engraving print shows that roofs and chimneys of houses flied, walls fell, and people tried to run scared and couldn't keep up. The Chronicle of the craftsman Ioan Dobrescu (1802–30) mentions that "the earth here and there opened a whole as if a man with a horse could enter in it (...) and through the cracks of the earth appeared water with black clay which smelt badly like brimstone".[1] Such a description of the disaster caused by this earthquake in Bucharest appears in the record made in the Cyrillic alphabet on the book Pentecostarion: "ground cracked and appeared water with sand".[1]


This seismic event was followed by a sequence of aftershocks among which the largest had a magnitude of 5.5, and it occurred about 14 hours after the mainshock.[12]

Damage and casualties[edit]

Colțea Tower before and after 26 October 1802 and 23 January 1838 earthquakes. Drawing by M. Doussault, published in l'Illustration (1842)

According to local chronicles, in the village of Bod (Brașov County), more than 50 houses and several churches were damaged or completely destroyed. In the village of Feldioara, a column of water rose from a crack caused by the earthquake and continued to throw water in the air to a height of several meters.[13] At Brașov, many chimneys felt down and houses and churches were damaged.[14][15] In neighbouring Sibiu, people could not stand up.

Lord! Lord! Don't waste your people for my sins, but only me!

Constantine Ypsilantis entering the church of Radovan (on his way to Bucharest)

In Constantinople and neighboring provinces, the earthquake was felt very intense. For a while, it was thought that the entire capital of the Ottoman Empire had been completely destroyed.[16] In a letter from Petrovaradin are mentioned significant damages to houses and mosques in the Galata neighbourhood. The mainshock and subsequent replicas lasted up to 30 minutes.[17]

At 1:30 p.m., violent tremors were felt in Kiev. Aftershocks, in total 6, lasted 3 minutes and were so strong that all masonry buildings were strongly shaken and city bells began to ring themselves. As in 1730, the earthquake caused damage to churches and houses in Kiev.[18][19] In Chernivtsi some houses were damaged. In Lviv, Armenian church was cracked and the bells ring alone.[15] The tremor was also felt in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, in neighboring Russia. In a letter of academician Anatolie Drumea from Chișinău is mentioned that a nanny walked a little boy in a stroller, in the courtyard of Lomonosov University Library, when at 1:53 p.m. "the statues began to fall", and the stone benches were overturned. The boy was the future Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.[20]

Between 12:00 and 13:00 in the afternoon, Bucharest was hit by the mainshock.[21] The earthquake was felt for about 10 minutes and was so violent that all chimneys in the city collapsed,[5] as chronicler Dionysius the Ecclesiarch mentioned in his "Hronograf".[22] A few houses and several churches were shattered. Numerous historical monuments were destroyed, including the Cotroceni Monastery and the 54 meters high Colțea Tower.[14][23] The soil was split in several places; greenish water gushed from the earth that emanated a smell like sulfur in the city. At 5 o'clock occurred an aftershock, but the tremor was less intense and did not cause any damage. A testimony of the Greek chronicler Dionysius Fotino reveals that Prince Constantin Ipsilanti moved with his family to the Văcărești Monastery as the Princely Palace was severely damaged.[3] Despite a large number of buildings collapsing during the first earthquake, no other deaths were reported besides those of a Jewish woman, her baby and 2 other people.[24] An explanation for the low death toll might be the fact that houses were built at distance from one another and were surrounded by large yards and gardens, so the buildings' vibrations did not propagate. Also, the building materials – mostly shingle and timber – were light ones.[25]


Location Intensity
Romania Bucharest IX
Romania Iași
Moldova Chișinău
Romania Craiova
Bulgaria Ruse, Silistra
Romania Deva, Sebeș, Sighișoara
Bulgaria Vidin, Varna
Ukraine Chernivtsi
Moldova Soroca
Ukraine Kiev VI
Turkey Istanbul V–VI
Russia Moscow IV–V

Restoration of Bucharest[edit]

Phanariot Prince Constantin Ipsilanti ordered Bucharest's immediate restoration, as the city was badly affected by the earthquake.

Gravely damaged by the earthquake, Constantin Ipsilanti ordered its immediate restoration from the ground. And because the first who tried to profit from the disaster were masons and craftsmen, Ipsilanti had disposed maximum wages that they could work for. And Bucharest was rebuilt in a few years, although some buildings and structures have not ever got their shape as before the earthquake.[3] During the rebuilding, some buildings were reinforced so well that they would resist future earthquakes. And some neighborhoods became, after reconstruction, even more civilized than before.

In the following years there were several more large earthquakes, but that scared the Bucharest inhabitants more than caused damage. Among them was one that shook the city on June 15, 1803, affecting Bucharesters' water system and thus rendering many pumps unusable. Three other major earthquakes occurred in 1804 and 1812.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Constantin, A. P.; Pantea, A.; Stoica, R. (25 May 2010). Vrancea (Romania) subcrustal earthquakes: historical sources and macroseismic intensity assessment (PDF). Bucharest: National Institute for Earth Physics. 
  2. ^ "Cutremurul vrâncean major din 26 octombrie 1802". Cutremur.net (in Romanian). 
  3. ^ a b c Marius Ionescu. "Bucureștiul și Marele Cutremur de la 1802". Historia.ro (in Romanian). 
  4. ^ a b Georgescu, Emil-Sever (August 2004). "Forensic Engineering Studies on Historical Earthquakes in Romania" (PDF). 13th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering. Vancouver, B.C. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Frohlich, Cliff (7 January 2010). Deep Earthquakes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0521123969. 
  6. ^ "1802, "blestemul" Sf. Parascheva: Cel mai mare cutremur din istoria României făcea ravagii în Bucureşti: "Mugete şi urlete s-au ridicat către ceruri"". Antena 1 (in Romanian). 18 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Kozák, Jan; Čermák, Vladimír (2010). The Illustrated History of Natural Disasters. Dordrecht: Springer. ISBN 9789048133246. 
  8. ^ Georgescu, E. S. (24–26 October 2002). The partial collapse of Coltzea Tower during the Vrancea earthquake of 14/26 October 1802: the historical warning of long-period ground motions site effects in Bucharest (PDF). Bucharest: The International Conference Earthquake Loss Estimation and Risk Reduction. 
  9. ^ Popescu, I. G. (May–June 1941). Etude comparative sur quelques tremblements de terre de Roumanie, du type du celui du 10 novembre 1940 (in French). Bucharest: Cartea Romaneasca. 
  10. ^ Oncescu, Mihnea C.; Mârza, Vasile I.; Rizescu, Mihaela; Popa, Mihaela (1–4 November 1997). The Romanian Earthquake Catalogue Between 984 – 1997. Bucharest: Springer. pp. 43–47. ISBN 978-94-011-4748-4. 
  11. ^ Ionescu-Gion, Gheorghe (1899). Istoria Bucurescilor (PDF). Bucharest. p. 350. 
  12. ^ Constantin, Angela Petruța; Moldovan, Iren-Adelina; Toader, Victorin Emilian (25–29 August 2014). "Depth and magnitude estimation of the two strongest earthquakes occurred on the Romanian territory in 19th century" (PDF). Second European Conference on Earthquake Engineering and Seismology. Istanbul. 
  13. ^ Quin, Michael Joseph (1836). A steam voyage down the Danube. With sketches of Hungary, Wallachia, Servia, Turkey, &c. London: R. Bentley. 
  14. ^ a b Zaicenco, Anton; Craifaleanu, Iolanda; Paskaleva, Ivanka (20 May 2008). Harmonization of Seismic Hazard in Vrancea Zone: with Special Emphasis on Seismic Risk Reduction. Chișinău: Springer. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-1-4020-9242-8. 
  15. ^ a b D. Lungu, C. Arion (2012). "Seismic Risk and/or Real Estate Risk for the Bucharest Heritage Buildings" (PDF). Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. 
  16. ^ Nouveau dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle, appliquée aux arts, à l'agriculture, à l'économie rurale et domestique, à la médecine, etc [New dictionary of natural history, applied arts, agriculture, rural and home economics, medicine, etc.] (in French). Paris: Chez Deterville. 1816. 
  17. ^ Mihaela Dicu (21 January 2014). "Cutremurele din România (partea I)". Astrele (in Romanian). 
  18. ^ Nova acta Academiae scientiarum imperialis petropolitanae (in Latin). Petropolis: Typis Academiae Scientiarum. 1783. 
  19. ^ Nichols, Jack. The Gentleman's Magazine, volume 92. p. 1151. 
  20. ^ Borcea, Ştefan (26 April 2014). "Poetul rus Aleksandr Puşkin, martor al devastatorului cutremur care a avut loc în 1802, în Vrancea". Adevărul. Archived from the original on 2015-01-08. Retrieved 2015-01-05. 
  21. ^ Giurescu, Constantin C. (1966). Istoria Bucureştilor din cele mai vechi timpuri până astăzi. Bucharest. 
  22. ^ "Cutremurul din 14 octombrie 1802". WorldWideRomania.com (in Romanian). 14 October 2014. 
  23. ^ Georgescu, Emil-Sever (1999). Coltzea Tower, earthquakes and Bucharest. INCERC. 
  24. ^ The European Magazine: And London Review, volume 42. 
  25. ^ "The earthquake of 1802". Radio România Internațional. 11 May 2009. 
  26. ^ Ramona Ursu (4 March 2012). "Blestemele lui Dumnezeu asupra Capitalei: istoria cutremurelor care i-au îngrozit pe bucureșteni. Cum s-a refăcut orașul!". Adevărul (in Romanian). 

Coordinates: 45°43′N 26°43′E / 45.72°N 26.72°E / 45.72; 26.72