Field of Science

4 September, 1618: The landslide of Plurs - the wrath of god

It's not possible to describe/
The unspeakable power of god/
So he on the evening of the 25 August/
Terrible has done in this valley to the place of Plurs/
Where a part of the mountain was taken down/
Just on target of Plurs/
(Anonymous, Chiavenna 26 August 1618)

The 25 August 1618, after our modern calendar the 4 September, was the first sunny day after a rainy period
from the 15 to 20. August, and the inhabitants of the village of Plurs (former Swiss city, today Italian) in the shadow of the Monte Conto, enjoyed the weather.

The mining for talcum, by locals called Lavazzi [stone] and appreciated for its fire resistance, found in the flanks of Monte Conto had bro
ught for centuries a humble wealth to the region.
500m above the village the horizontally disposed talcum layers in the gneiss were excavated in a very careless way - no boles were used in the min
es, and no material was relocated in the tunnels to support the overlying mountain, even the authorities never controlled the security of these improvised quarries.
Instabilities, like fissures in the rocks and rumours coming from the mountain were noted during the last years, but not considered threatening. Local chronicles tell that before July 25, 1618 "the mountain [is] always torn [apart], its even open and 10 years ago [it was] fissured."

The 25 August strange phenomena's were reported, the soil shacked and fissure opened just under standing persons, from the inside of Monte Conte loud "bangs" were heard, bee swarms flee from the forest or felt dead from the sky, cows left their pastures and in some places an intensive stench of sulphur laid in the air.

Fortunat Sprecher zu Bernegg, commi
ssar of the nearby village of Claven (modern Chiavenna) reported after the catastrophe: "After midday there began rock falls and debris flows went down, destroying some vineyards at Chilan" (located southeast of Plurs).

Bartholomäus Anhorn, pastor of Claven: "At 4 o'clock in the afternoon a rock fall of the mountain of Conte happened, from the side were the Lavazzi are mined."

Fig.1. Xylographic print by Jeremias Gath, Augsburg 1618 (figure from HAUER 2009).

At midnight the landslide occurred, smashing the entire village of Plurs and killing estimated 1.000 to 2.500 people, there were only six "survivors", being the fatal night not in the affected area.

Anhorn: "It was torn out [the mountain], but not so much, until the beginning of the dark of night. Then from the mountain the greatest part broke out with great rumour, and has buried completely the beautiful place with the small village of Chilan."
Eyewitnesses' stories report the terrible sound, a large dust cloud with "ligthenings" and a "strange, stinking vapour".

Sprecher mentions regarding the dust cloud "even if I was at a half of hour distance of Plurs, my hat become covered by the raised dust.
The river Mara was dammed by the Rufi [landslide] landslide for one and a half hours. The landslide at many places is 5 Spiess [ca. 30m, modern thickness estimates range between 8 to 10m] thick and you can't see any spire of a church."

Fig.2. Print by Johann Hardmeyer, Zurich 1618, depicting Plurs before and after the landslide (figure from HAUER 2009).

It's interesting to note that after the disaster rumours were put in circulation, depicting the inhabitants of Plurs corrupted by their wealth.
The clergyman Francé tells the story "of an earthly paradise with all sorts of lusts", and the disaster is "an example of the fury of god above sins", then "the peaks of the mountains, who raised behind Plurs, felt down and the entire place […] with all people became buried in night and terror."

A more naturalistic approach is tried by E.G. Happel in his "Größte Denkwürdigkeiten der Welt" (The greatest wonder on world, 1683-1689):

"What a large earthquake can do, the small city of Pleurs can testimony […] it laid under a steep rock wall and there were much rich and noble people. In the year 1618, the 25. August on the old calendar, with sunset, that great overhanging rock was torn apart by a might sub terrestrial force and thrown on the city, the greatest part of it buried and destroyed with all churches, houses and palaces which were abundant.
It was such a rock piece, that thousand of people couldn't possibly move it and so Pleurs was beaten in the earth, nothing as some houses and a small church, so near, and yet untouched, could be seen after the fall.

No living soul could escape from it, and it's impossible to see were the city once was situated. But it was situated on the river called Mera, who was so obstructed by the fallen boulders that the water grow in height and so another city - named Claven - was threatened with doom.
But God finally showed to the water a way nearby the mentioned city - so it was saved."

Today nothing reminds the old Plaurs, still buried under the landslide - the area today is used for pasture and agriculture use. Only chronicles tell of two recuperated items in 1767 and 1861: the bells of a church were found in the debris.


HAUER, K. (2009): Der plötzliche Tod. Frühneuzeitliche Bergstürze in den Städten Salzburg und Plurs kulturhistorisch betrachtet, LIT Verlag: Münster-Hamburg-Berlin-Wien-London-Zürich: 241
HÖFLER, H. & WITT, G. (2010): Katastrophen am Berg - Tragödien der Alpingeschichte. Bruckmann Verlag: 144

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