Seismic Activity in Italy

In Italy, earthquakes can strike nearly anywhere as almost the whole Italian peninsula forms one giant earthquake-prone zone. This is due to many factors the most important of which is that the country is sandwiched between the African tectonic plate and the Alps, which makes it a real hotspot for enhanced seismic activity.


The Occurrence of Earthquakes in Italy

In Europe, there probably isn't a country more known for its high probability of earthquakes than Italy. Not just recently but also over the past 2,000 years more than 400 destructive earthquakes with a magnitude equal to or greater than 5.5 have been reported in Italy. In the first half of 2020, for example, around 13 earthquakes with a magnitude higher than 3.6 were reported whereas since 1905 more than 15 major earthquakes have occurred in Italy with a magnitude of 7.1 or greater which also has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

One of the most recent seismic events, the L'Aquila earthquake in 2009, killed more than 300 people and caused severe infrastructural damage in L'Aquila as well as in the whole Abruzzo region.

Nevertheless, Italy remains a popular tourist destination and a country with much to offer due to the beauty of its landscape and its many natural attractions. However beautiful these may seem, they are also closely connected to the country's geological structure and occurring natural hazards, with earthquakes being one of them.

L'Aquila_earthquakePicture 1: The damage caused by L'Aquila earthquake in 2009.


The Geological Structure of the Italian Peninsula

The Earth is divided into several tectonic plates: micro, minor and major. It's well known that tectonic plates are constantly moving, causing friction and releasing energy in the form of waves that travel through the earth's crust and are felt as earthquakes. It is no secret that almost the whole Italian peninsula but especially its southern part is located close to the line between the Eurasian and African plates that constantly grate against each other, which causes tension and contributes to enhanced seismic and volcanic activity.

The Apennine range, also known as the Apennine Mountains or the geological spine of Italy, runs from northern to southern Italy and contains several faults running along the entire peninsula, forming a destructive boundary between tectonic plates, as well as contributing to high numbers of seismic events. Additionally, especially Calabria and Sicily, lie near the place where the African plate subducts under the Eurasian plate forming ruptures and the stratovolcano Mount Etna.

Tectonic_PlatesPicture 2: Boundaries between tectonic plates.


The Biggest Earthquake-Prone Regions in Italy

Due to its geological structure, the entire Italian peninsula is often endangered by seismic activity. Over the last 1,000 years, approximately 260 earthquakes with a magnitude equal to or greater than 5.5 have been reported, which, on average, occurred every four years. In the past, the strongest earthquakes occurred in »North-Eastern Italy (Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto), in Western Liguria, in the Northern Apennines (from Garfagnana to Rimini), and along the Central and Southern Apennines, in Calabria and Eastern Sicily.«

Listed below are the strongest earthquakes that occurred in Italy between 1900 and 2017:

7.1 magnitude earthquake in the Strait of Messina, which killed between 75,000 to 200,000 (28 December 1908)

6.7 magnitude earthquake in Avezzano, Abruzzo, which killed between 29,000 to 33,000 (13 January 1915)

6.5 magnitude earthquake in Trieste, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which killed more than 900 (6 May 1976)

6.9 magnitude earthquake in Campania and Basilicata, which killed between 2,400 to 4,900 (23 November 1980)

6.3 magnitude earthquake in L’Aquila, Abruzzo, which killed 309 (6 April 2009)

6.2 magnitude earthquake in Lazio, Umbria, and Marche, which killed 299 (24 August 2016)


Further Natural Hazards on the Italian Peninsula

Earthquakes present one of the most life-endangering natural hazards posing a threat to the entire Italian peninsula. According to the Italian Civil Protection, the seismic hazard in Italy is medium-high, whereas the vulnerability remains extremely high due to the fragility of the Italian building stock. Although earthquakes are shaking the country on a monthly basis, there are also several other natural hazards, such as landslides, mudflows, floodings, avalanches, and volcanic eruptions, endangering the life of the Italian population.

According to the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), 2.2% of the Italian population is, for example, endangered by landslides that also cause substantial damage and fatalities. In addition, 10.4% of the population lives in areas that are at high risk from floods. Furthermore, the Italian peninsula is also known for its volcanic eruptions posing a threat to the communities living nearby.  Four of Italy's volcanoes that have erupted in the last one hundred years include Mount Etna, Stromboli, Mount Vesuvius, and Vulcano.

Volcanic Activity in ItalyPicture 3: Volcanic activity in Italy.

1) Civil Protection Department. Seismic Risk. Accessed on 15-Sep-2022. Available at:
2) Italy News. Earthquakes in Italy and a Map of Italy's Earthquake Zones. Accessed on 15-Sep-2022. Available at:

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