1856 Heraklion earthquake

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1856 Heraklion earthquake
Greece relief location map.jpg
Relief Map of Mediterranean Sea.png
UTC  time1856-10-12 00:45
Local date11–12 October 1856
Local time02:38 am or 02:45 am EET
Duration2 minutes
Magnitude7.6-8.3 Mw
Depth61-100 km
Epicenter 35°30′N26°00′E / 35.5°N 26.0°E / 35.5; 26.0 Coordinates: 35°30′N26°00′E / 35.5°N 26.0°E / 35.5; 26.0
Areas affected Mediterranean Sea
Max. intensity XI (Extreme) XII (Extreme)
Casualties600+ dead
600+ injured

The 1856 Heraklion earthquake, also known as the Crete earthquake or Rhodes earthquake occurred on the morning of October 12 at 02:45 am local time. [1] This extremely catastrophic earthquake had an estimated magnitude of 7.7 to 8.3 at a depth of approximately 61 to 100 km. [2] The earthquake was felt over a very wide area extending from Sicily, Italy to the Levant and North Africa. [3] On the Greek island of Crete, the effects of the earthquake were cataclysmic, over 500 bodies were recovered in the city of Heraklion. Shockwaves from the earthquake were felt intensely, covering all of the Ottoman Empire; present-day Turkey, Cyprus and the Middle East where damage and human losses were reported. In Malta, the earthquake collapsed the Għajn Ħadid Tower—a coastal watchtower built around the year 1638. In Cairo, Egypt, the earthquake destroyed buildings, created seiches in canals, and killed several people. Off the Egyptian and Italian coasts, sailors reported feeling a seaquake. [4]


Tectonic background

Along the southern coast of the Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes, Crete and the Ionian Islands, the African Plate made of oceanic crust is subducting beneath the Aegean Sea Plate (part of the Eurasian Plate) along a convergent plate boundary at a rate of 5 to 10 mm/yr. The interface of the subduction zone occasionally rupture in large megathrust earthquakes such as those in 365 and 1303. Tsunamis are produced along the Hellenic Trench as one side of the fault is suddenly thrust upwards, displacing trillions of gallons of seawater during a massive earthquake.


The Heraklion earthquake of 1856 was an intermediate-depth earthquake with a hypocenter depth of 60 to 90 km, occurring on a fault within the subducting African Plate. [5] The epicenter is most likely located off the northern coast of Crete, based on evaluating where the strongest isoseismic contours were. For a moment magnitude 7.7 (Mw) event, the estimated fault dimensions is 64 km by 64 km at a depth of 90 km beneath the Aegean Sea while an 8.1–8.3 Mwwould involve a 120 km by 120 km fault rupture at a deeper depth of 130 km. [6]


The earthquake caused widespread damage not just in Greece, but in the Middle East and North Africa, where additional deaths and damage was reported. An exact time of occurrence is still debated between 02:38 am or 02:45 am. [7]


The earthquake reached XI (Extreme) on the Mercalli intensity scale in the central part of Crete. The city of Heraklion was almost destroyed, with only 18 or 40 of the 3,600 houses left standing. The seaside cities of Sitia and Chania were also severely damaged. A total of 538 inhabitants on Crete were killed while 637 persons were injured. On the island of Rhodes, several villages were destroyed and the coast experienced uplift. Ground failures were widely observed amidst the destruction. Sixty lives were lost on the island. The island of Thera also reported some damage. [8] In Kasos and Karpathos, 8,000 homes were wiped-out, with about 20 deaths. [9]

On mainland Greece, the cities Ioannina and Kyparissia also felt the quake.


Ruins of the Ghajn Hadid Tower after the earthquake. Ghajn Hadid Tower closer view.JPG
Ruins of the Għajn Ħadid Tower after the earthquake.

In the Maltese Islands, the earthquake was felt much stronger than most earthquakes from Greece when felt on the islands, making this very unusual and of interest to many seismologists. The quake disrupted the night and woke everyone on the island. Shaking lasted between 22 to 60 seconds, causing many residents to lose their balance and threw down many items in houses. Large cracks developed in the homes of some places such as Valletta and Gozo Region. [10] Many churches had cracks in the walls and domes and had hanging crucifixes falling off. In some cases, the damage was more serious, some churches experiencing a total collapse. The dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral in Mdina collapsed from the inside, which caused some £1,000 in damages. [11] Another church, the Carmelite Church, had its steeple rebuilt because the earthquake had damaged it so severely.

Damage to structures corresponded to intensity VII, higher than expected for the 1,000 km distance from the earthquake in Greece. A typical earthquake should only be felt with intensties IV to V. The occurrence of very strong shaking is likely attributed to long period ground motion. [12]

It was this earthquake that collapsed the Għajn Ħadid Tower. [13] An eyewitness present at the tower one month before the earthquake said large cracks opened in the ground around the tower. [14]

Shaking was also felt in Syracuse and Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy where some minor damage occurred. [11]


In Cairo, the shaking was still perceivable and strong enough to cause damage. Shaking intensity in the Egyptian capital reached VII to VIII. Three distinct shocks were felt with durations between 1 and 2 minutes. Twenty homes collapsed and another 200 were affected, while some 20 mosques were also crippled. Seiches in canals caused water to splash all over while clocks stopped working as a result of the ground motions. At least ten people died in the city. Following the aftermath, many survivors slept outside their homes for fear of a collapse during the night for several days. [15] [16]

In Alexandria, only some old construction fell but there were no major implications to the city. Two people were killed and some injuries were sustained to people. Around the Nile Delta, collapses of homes and falling minarets killed an additional number of people in the towns of Tanta and Damanhur. [15] [17] In other parts of the delta, many residents found it difficult to stand, which terrified many. Ground motions were strong enough to shift furniture and cause water in tanks to slosh around. Sailors off the coasts reported feeling the strong earthquake as well. [18] [19]

Other places

The shock also caused damage to places like Syria and Palestine. Eyewitnesses along the coasts of Haifa and Lebanon reported a small "tsunami" wave. [4]


In the book Domestic Life in Palestine, author Mary Eliza Rogers described her experience of the strong tremors in Haifa, Israel but she dated the event incorrectly between the night of 10 and 11 October. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

The modified Mercalli intensity scale, developed from Giuseppe Mercalli's Mercalli intensity scale of 1902, is a seismic intensity scale used for measuring the intensity of shaking produced by an earthquake. It measures the effects of an earthquake at a given location, distinguished from the earthquake's inherent force or strength as measured by seismic magnitude scales. While shaking is caused by the seismic energy released by an earthquake, earthquakes differ in how much of their energy is radiated as seismic waves. Deeper earthquakes also have less interaction with the surface, and their energy is spread out across a larger volume. Shaking intensity is localized, generally diminishing with distance from the earthquake's epicenter, but can be amplified in sedimentary basins and certain kinds of unconsolidated soils.

2006 Greece earthquake

The 2006 Greece earthquake – also known as the Kythira earthquake – occurred on January 8 at 13:34:53 local time and was felt throughout the entire eastern Mediterranean basin. The earthquake an Mw magnitude 6.7 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of VII. Its epicentre was located just off the island of Kythira about 200 kilometres (120 mi) south of Athens.

1953 Yenice–Gönen earthquake Earthquake in the Marmara region, Turkey

The 1953 Yenice–Gönen earthquake occurred at 21:06 local time (19:06 UTC on 18 March in the province of Çanakkale and Balıkesir in the Marmara Region at western Turkey. It had a magnitude 7.5 on the surface wave magnitude scale and a maximum felt intensity of IX on the Mercalli intensity scale. It caused widespread damage, killing 1,070 and causing damage that was estimated at US$3,570,000 repair value.

1303 Crete earthquake Earthquake (8 August 1303)

The 1303 Crete earthquake occurred at about dawn on 8 August. It had an estimated magnitude of about 8, a maximum intensity of IX (Violent) on the Mercalli intensity scale, and triggered a major tsunami that caused severe damage and loss of life on Crete and at Alexandria.

1810 Crete earthquake Magnitude 7 earthquake (16 February 1810) impacting on Crete and eastern Mediterranean countries

The 1810 Crete earthquake occurred at 22:15 on 16 February. It caused great destruction in Heraklion, some damage from Malta to northern Egypt and was felt from central Italy to Syria. 2,000 fatalities were reported from Candia (Heraklion).

1956 Amorgos earthquake 1956 earthquake and tsunami centered near the Greek island of Amorgos

The 1956 Amorgos earthquake occurred at 03:11 UTC on July 9. It had a magnitude of 7.7 on the moment magnitude scale and a maximum perceived intensity of IX on the Mercalli intensity scale. The epicentre was to the south of the island of Amorgos, the easternmost island of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. There was significant damage on Amorgos and the neighbouring island of Santorini. It was the largest earthquake in Greece in the 20th century. It was followed 13 minutes later by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake near Santorini. It triggered a major tsunami with a maximum run-up of 30 m. The combined effects of the earthquake shaking and the tsunami caused the deaths of 53 people with a further 100 injured.

2017 Aegean Sea earthquake

A magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck on 21 July 2017, about 10 km (6.2 mi) south southeast of Bodrum, Turkey, at depth of 7.0 km. Two people were killed and more than 120 others were injured on the Greek island of Kos, while at least 360 injuries were reported in Turkey.

Seismic risk in Malta is considered to be low with little historic damage noted and no known victims. The archipelago is however in a potentially significant seismic zone and the risk to the population is probably undervalued.

1886 Peloponnese earthquake

The 1886 Peloponnese earthquake occurred at 23:27 local time on 27 August. It had an estimated magnitude between 6.8 and 7.3 on the moment magnitude scale and a maximum felt intensity of X (Extreme) on the Mercalli intensity scale. It caused extensive damage in Messenia, with the towns of Filiatra and Marathos both severely affected. Between 326 and 600 people were killed. It was felt over a wide area from the Khedivate of Egypt to Malta and possibly as far away as Bern and Marseille.

2002 Afyon earthquake Earthquake in Turkey

The Afyon Province of western Turkey was struck by an earthquake measuring 6.5 Mw on 23 February 2002 at 10:11 local time. It had a maximum felt intensity of VIII (severe) on the Modified Mercalli intensity scale. It damage hundreds of buildings and caused the deaths of 44 people and a further 318 injuries.

2020 Aegean Sea earthquake Earthquake and tsunami affecting Turkey and Greece

The 2020 Aegean Sea earthquake, also known as the Samos–İzmir earthquake, occurred on 30 October 2020, with a moment magnitude of 7.0, about 14 km (8.7 mi) northeast of the Greek island of Samos. Many buildings were severely damaged or collapsed as a result of the earthquake, with the Church of the Dormition of Mary in Karlovasi, Greece, partially collapsing, while in the Turkish city İzmir, which was heavily affected by the earthquake, dozens of buildings were either damaged or completely collapsed. Emergency services in both countries immediately attended the scene, as rescue efforts continued into the night.

1940 Lima earthquake

The 1940 Lima earthquake occurred on May 24 at 11:35 a.m. PST with a magnitude of Mw 8.2 on the moment magnitude scale. Shaking from this powerful earthquake was felt throughout the country, and in Ecuador and Chile. An estimated 179 to 300 Peruvians lost their lives while 3,500 left injured by the earthquake. The earthquake was centered near the coastal cities of Huacho and Huaura, about 150 km north of the Peruvian capital, Lima. A tsunami of up to two meters was generated without major damage.

1920 Xalapa earthquake Magnitude 6.4 earthquake in Mexico

The 1920 Xalapa earthquake rocked the gulf coast of Mexico on January 4, causing major damage in the states of Veracruz and Puebla. The epicenter was located somewhere in mountainous region of the eastern Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt which triggered massive mudflows and landslides which claimed anywhere between 700 to 4,000 lives. The event produced extreme ground motions reaching causing severe ground effects. The epicentral region of this earthquake was allocated the maximum level of shaking at X (Extreme) on the Modified Mercalli intensity scale. It would remain the deadliest earthquake in Mexico until the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

1852 Banda Sea earthquake Earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia

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1699 Java earthquake Earthquake in Indonesia

On the morning of January 5, 1699, a violent earthquake rocked the then Dutch East Indies city of Batavia on the island of Java. In the contemporary period, the Indonesian capital city Jakarta. Dutch accounts of the event described the earthquake as being "so heavy and strong" and beyond comparable to other known earthquakes. This event was so large that it was felt through west Java, and into southern Sumatra.

1986 Kalamata earthquake

The 1986 Kalamata earthquake struck the southern Peloponnese Region of Greece on September 13 at 20:24 local time. The moment magnitude 6.0 or surface wave magnitude 6.2 earthquake had an epicenter located near the coastal city of Kalamata. It was assigned X (Extreme) on the Modified Mercalli intensity scale, resulting in localized extensive damage. At least 20 people were killed and approximately 300 injured by the earthquake.

2021 Crete earthquake

A moment magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck the island of Crete in Greece at a depth of 8.7 km on 27 September 2021. The epicenter of the earthquake was located southeast of Heraklion. The quake killed one person, injured 36 and damaged many old buildings on the island.

1790 Oran earthquake

The 1790 Oran earthquake occurred on October 10, striking near the coastal city of Oran in Algeria. The earthquake had an evaluated maximum seismic intensity of VIII to X on the European macroseismic scale (EMS-98). An estimated 3,000 people lost their lives during the earthquake and accompanying tsunami. The magitude of this earthquake is still disputed among members of the paleoseismology field, with estimates ranging from 7.5 to even as small as 5.5.

2021 Lasithi earthquake

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