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1546 CE Quake

noon to early afternoon 14 January 1546 CE

by Jefferson Williams









Church of the Holy Sepulchre before Church of the Holy Sepulchre after
        (left) A drawing by Dominik de la Greche of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre apparently before the earthquake when the Bell Tower Dome to the left was still intact - from The Met - NYC
        (right) drawing of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after the 1546 CE earthquake. Note that the dome of the bell tower to the left is missing.

Introduction & Summary

This earthquake is documented by a wide array of authors writing in multiple languages and coming from a variety of traditions. There is enough chronological agreement between authors to state that sometime between noon and the early afternoon of 14 January 1546 CE, an earthquake struck which caused death and destruction in Jerusalem, Hebron and Nablus along with many other localities. The Jordan River was reported to have dried up for 1-3 days which one report (Ot nafshi) said might have been due to a landslide causing a natural damming of the river (e.g., in Damiya). The damage reports and the possibility of corroborating paleoseismic evidence from the Dead Sea suggests an epicenter in the northern part of the Dead Sea or the southern part of the Jordan Valley. Although several authors claimed every house in Jerusalem was severely damaged or cracked, a drawing of the city made a few months after the earthquake and placed in a travelogue written by Voldrich Prefat suggests that damage wasn't so extensive. There are, however, reports of heavy damage and hundreds of fatalities in Nablus. Some damage in Jerusalem, heavy damage in Nablus, the Jordan River running dry, and an epicenter in the northern Dead Sea/southern Jordan Valley sounds eerily familiar to the effects experienced in the 1927 CE Jericho Quake which had a magnitude of ~6.3 and an epicenter in the northern part of the Dead Sea or the southern Jordan Valley.

There are reports of a tsunami off the coast of Jaffa, continuing aftershocks immediately after the earthquake and two specific after shocks on 14 March and 12 May 1546 CE (give or take a day). In Jerusalem, there are many reports that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was damaged something which is corroborated by another post earthquake drawing in Voldrich Prefat's travelogue. Elsewhere in Jerusalem, Mosques, madrassas, structures on Mount Zion, structures on Temple Mount (including Al Aqsa Mosque), and perhaps a couple of synagogues were reported damaged. Damage is frequently ascribed to tall thin structures such as towers and minarets. Hebron and Bethlehem are also reported to have received damage along with Ramla, Jericho, Gaza, es-Salt, and al-Karak1. The authors are unclear as to whether Damascus was badly affected or spared serious damage.

Finally, it should be noted that Nablus and Ramla seem to have frequently been damaged in earthquakes even when the epicenter seems far away. This is likely due to a site effect at both sites. At Ramla, the site effect appears to be due to a sandy soil and a shallow water table leading to liquefaction. Raml in Arabic means sand. In Nablus, the site effect may be more geometric - possibly due to constructive interference in its well defined valley.
Footnotes

1 Safed could also be included depending on how one interprets the location of the town of Cifayde in the News of '46' however, due to the distances involved and the discussion in Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:261) [reproduced as point 9 in Ambraseys and Karcz (1992) in Notes], this seems unlikely.

Textual Evidence

Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
Damage and Chronology Reports from Textual Sources n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Anonymous Venetian Italian translated to French and German
Biography

Ambraseys (2009) suggests that the earliest information about the 1546 earthquake comes from a letter written to a nobleman in Venice and published the same year in Wittenberg. He adds that the original letter was written in Italian, probably originating from a town on the coast of Palestine. This letter, according to Ambraseys (2009) seems to have been the basic source of information for a number of contemporary flysheets in Europe that spread the news of the earthquake in Jerusalem of Thursday noon, 14 January 1546.

Christian 1546 CE probably Coastal Palestine
Account

Dates the earthquake to noon 14 Jan. 1546 CE. Characterized the earthquake as terrific in Jerusalem. Notes that the vault of the Holy Tomb sunk and the walls and tower of the Temple were damaged and parts of them collapsed while stating that the same happened in Damascus and great damage was done to other towns and villages. States that many people perished at sea and on land and four towns in particular, Rama (Ramla), Joppe (Jaffa), ‘Zozilgip (Giv'on a township north of Jerusalem?) and Sichem (Nablus) were totally destroyed by this earthquake to the extent that, with the exception of Damascus and Joppe (Jaffa), one can no longer recognize that there had been towns on these sites. Says that the River Jordan dried up for two days and all the streams around Joppe (Jaffa) that fall into the sea [...] stopped flowing for three days. And when they began to flow again, the water was red. Described a tsunami in Jaffa and added an embellished account of blood flowing for four days out of a fountain named after the Prophet Eliseo (Elisha ?) preceded by flames (natural gas leakage ?).

News of '46' Spanish
Biography

Ambraseys (2009) describes the News of '46' as a 16th century Spanish Manuscript which Beinert (1955) says was discovered in the National library in Madrid. Although Beinert (1955) says that the name of the author is not contained within the manuscript, he surmises from clues in the text that the writer was a Spanish clerk living in Palestine or a pilgrim from Spain. The manuscript itself is a copy. Beinert (1955) suggests that the earlier original document (i.e., the autograph) appears to have been written soon after the earthquake struck while Ambraseys (2009) reports that Braslavy-Braslavsky, J. (1955) and Shalem (1955) assume that News of '46' is no more than a somewhat careless translation of the German or French version of the Letter written by an Anonymous Venetian and reproduced in flysheets in Europe.

Christian probably 1546 CE probably Palestine
Account

Dates the earthquake to 8 January 1546 CE. States that in Jerusalem the earthquake knocked down the dome on the Holy Sepulchre, shook all of the Temple of Solomon, and collapsed most of the Mosques. Says that there was great ruin in the whole region as far as Damascus and many died. List the cites most affected as Ramayar (Ramla), Cifayde (Safed ?), and Cigle (Schechem/Nablus ? Jaffa ?). In those cities, the author says that it looked as if no buildings had been there. Reports that Elisha's spring (Jericho) flowed blood instead of water and the River Jordan dried up for a full day. Also reported a tsunami in Jaffa and potential tsunamogenic effects at an undisclosed location where an arm of the sea and nearby rivers stopped [flowing?].

Eliezer Sussman Hebrew
Biography

The 1546 CE earthquake is described in a letter found in the Cairo Geniza. The letter, written in Hebrew, was composed in Jerusalem and, based on agreement between the date and day of the week reported and concerns expressed due to continuing aftershocks, was probably written shortly after the earthquake. The writer appears to be Eliezer Sussman and the recipient his son Avigdor ( The Geniza Lab at Princeton University, Bodl. MS heb. c 64/1). Eliezer had arrived in Jerusalem in November 1545 CE - ~2 months prior to the earthquake (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992). Although the letter is considered authentic, Braslavsky (1938) and Turnianski (1984) disagree about who wrote the letter and when they wrote it (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992).

Jewish probably 1546 CE Jerusalem
Account

Dates the earthquake to about 1 pm on Thursday 14 January 1546 CE. States that because of the quake many towers [in Jerusalem] fell down, almost the third of their height and the tower of “A. A.” ( the tower over Abraham's tomb in Hebron ?) also fell. Say that ten gentiles were killed in Jerusalem and that in Nablus the earthquake was so strong that at least three hundred gentiles, and three or four Jews were killed. Reports aftershocks that were not so strong.

Unknown source in Ot nafshi Hebrew
Biography

A description of the earthquake can be found in the Hebrew booklet tilted Ot nafshi. Ambraseys and Karcz (1992) report that, according to Klein (1939), Ot nafshi belonged to Isaac Levy and the section describing the earthquake was copied by him from an earlier document of unknown origin in 1562 or 1625 CE. A reference in the document to the Ottoman authorities refusing to allow a church to be rebuilt in Jerusalem suggests that the original report was composed and/or redacted at least a few months or years after the earthquake. Braslavsky (1938) noted that some words and phrases which offend Christianity were deleted by censors indicating that the larger text of Ot Nafshi may have a redactional history.

Jewish unknown probably Jerusalem
Account

Dates the earthquake to 1 pm 14 January 1546 CE. Characterizes it as a great earthquake which caused almost total destruction of Jerusalem where there [was no house that was not destroyed or cracked. Added that Mosques and the cupola of Al Aqsa mosque fell as did the Church of the Holy Sepulchre while his synagogue in Jerusalem was undamaged. Noted that in Nablus, over 500 people died and that in surrounding villages, people were buried under rubble. States that there were deaths and injuries in Hebron and that the gentiles report that the River Jordan dried up and could be crossed over on foot for three days. This was attributed by some to two big hills falling into the river (e.g., a landslide near Damiya causing a temporary natural damming of the river) or by others to earth fissures which swallowed up the waters of the river. Says that the water (of the Jordan?) turned into blood for three or four days.

Moshe Meali Hebrew
Biography

The 1546 CE earthquake is described in a Piyyut (liturgical poetry) composed by Moshe Meali and found in the Cairo Geniza (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992).

Jewish unknown Jerusalem
Account

Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:257-258 ) suggest that the author of this Piyyut erred on the year possibly dating it to the spring of 1543 or 1544 CE. In Jerusalem, seismic effects are described which, according to Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:257-258 ) includes the collapse of houses and shops, two synagogues which fell apart, two adjoined churches which fell apart, severe damage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock, and people leaving their houses to stay in the city cemeteries which is a common response of populations experiencing strong continuing aftershocks that damaged the structures they or their neighbors lived in.

Anonymous of Douai French or Latin
Biography

Anonymous of Douai (1714) is a travelogue of a trip taken to the Holy Land a few months after the earthquake. A copy of this travelogue was made in 1714 CE but the original composition appears to have been written in 1546 and/or possibly 1547 CE. The writer is anonymous but may have been a Franciscan Friar (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992:258).

Christian 1546/7 CE probably Palestine
Account

According to Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:258), the author of this travelogue does not provide a date for the earthquake, does not mention any aftershocks, and does not specifically mention any earthquake damaged structures except when he travels to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. There he noted that Jericho was in ruins and that a bridge at a place called "Donny" was destroyed by earthquakes. The bridge is in the vicinity of the monastery of St Joachim (in Wadi Kelt). Another nearby site of the “trois montagnes” may have contained fresh rockfalls from the earthquake.

Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova Czech
Biography

Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova (1523-1565 CE) was a Czech writer, mathematician, and astronomer (wikipedia) . From 1546-1547 CE, while in his early twenties, he traveled from Prague to Palestine and back. 15-20 years later, in 1563 CE, he wrote and published a book in Czech about his travels to Palestine for which the shortened title is known as Journey from Prague to Venice and from there by sea to Palestine (Cesta z Prahy do Benátek a odtud potom po moři až do Palestiny).

Christian 1563 CE based on travels undertaken in 1546 CE Prague ?
Account

Provided an unreliable date of the earthquake from hearsay but included two illustrations in his book made soon after the earthquake. One illustration documents destruction of the Dome of the bell tower at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and another indicates that Jerusalem was not completely ruined by the earthquake. Also mentioned damage to Churches in Bethlehem due to the 1546 CE earthquake and damage to other structures in Palestine where, according to Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:259-260), the reason for the damage is not stated.

Germanus of Jerusalem Greek
Biography

Dositheus II of Jerusalem (1641-1707 CE) was the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem between 1699 and 1707 (wikipedia). He wrote a 12 volume history titled History of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem which was published in 1715 CE (wikipedia). According to Ambraseys and Karcz (1992) Chapter 7 of Volume 6 contains a brief description of seismic damage in Jerusalem as described by the Patriarch of the time - Germanus of Jerusalem (aka Germanos II).

Christian ~1546 CE but quoted in a text published in 1715 CE Jerusalem
Account

Reports that the cupola of the copper tower of the belfry of the Holy Sepulchre fell on the nearby church of the Resurrection and caused the collapse of its dome and that the same earthquake destroyed the bell-tower of the Saint Bethlehem.

Anonymous Greek Document Greek Anonymous Christian written in Jerusalem in the early 19th century and deriving from earlier sources (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992:259). Jerusalem
Account

Provided a date of 14 Jan. 1545 CE where the year of 1545 CE is probably an error of some sort. Reports that during the earthquake the top of the bell tower of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre fell and damaged the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre [in Jerusalem] and that the earthquake also destroyed the bell tower in Bethlehem.

Ottoman Repair Documents various various various various various Repair requests and other evidence suggests damage to structures in Jerusalem and Hebron and possible damage in Bethlehem, Ramla, and Nazareth.
Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din Arabic
Biography

After Mujir al-Din's death in 1521 CE, his chronicle was continued by an anonymous author creating a sequel (dhail). Ambraseys (2009) notes that the continuation begins with the description of three earthquakes that followed one another during the period a.H. 952–953 (AD 1546).

Muslim ? probably Jerusalem
Account

Reports one main earthquake and two aftershocks. The dates and day of the weeks provided differ by a day so there is a ~1 day uncertainty on all of these dates. Main shock was 14 Jan. 1546 CE. Aftershocks occurred on 14 March and 12 May 1546 CE. For the main shock on 14 Jan., damage is reported in Jerusalem, al-Khalil [Hebron], Gaza, al-Ramlah, al-Karak, as-Salt, and Nablus and an earthquake that extended to Damascus. In Jerusalem, it is said that generally there was not a tall house in Jerusalem that was not left destroyed or fissured. The same is reported for al-Khalil [Hebron]. Also states that in Nablus the earthquake was stronger than elsewhere and 500 lives were lost under the ruins.

Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
Damage and Chronology Reports from Textual Sources

Seismic Effects

Seismic Effects
Effect Sources Notes
Damage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem Anonymous Venetian, News of '46', Ot nafshi, Moshe Meali, Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova, Germanus of Jerusalem, Anonymous Greek Document, Ottoman Repair Documents
Damage to Temple Mount in Jerusalem Anonymous Venetian, News of '46'
Damage to Mosques or Madrassas in Jerusalem News of '46', Ot nafshi, Ottoman Repair Documents, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din
Damage to Churches in Jerusalem Moshe Meali, Ottoman Repair Documents
Damage to Synagogues in Jerusalem Moshe Meali
Damage to Houses in Jerusalem Ot nafshi, Moshe Meali, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din
Many fatalities in Nablus Eliezer Sussman, Ot nafshi, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din
River Jordan dried up Anonymous Venetian, News of '46', Ot nafshi
Tsunami in Jaffa Anonymous Venetian, News of '46'
Aftershocks Eliezer Sussman, Moshe Meali, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din

Locations

Locations
Effect Sources Notes
Jerusalem Anonymous Venetian, News of '46', Eliezer Sussman, Ot nafshi, Moshe Meali, Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova, Germanus of Jerusalem, Anonymous Greek Document, Ottoman Repair Documents, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din
Bethlehem Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova, Germanus of Jerusalem, Anonymous Greek Document, Ottoman Repair Documents (possible)
Khalil (aka Hebron) Eliezer Sussman, Ot nafshi, Ottoman Repair Documents, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din Eliezer Sussman mentioned Hebron if one accepts that the tower of “A. A.” ( the tower over Abraham's tomb in Hebron ?) is in Hebron
Ramla Anonymous Venetian, News of '46', Ottoman Repair Documents (possible), Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din
Jaffa Anonymous Venetian, News of '46' Braslavy-Braslavskyn (1955) suggests that Cifayde of News of '46' may be Jaffa
Jericho News of '46', Anonymous of Douai
Nablus Anonymous Venetian, News of '46', Eliezer Sussman, Ot nafshi, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din Shalem (1955) suggests that Cigle of News of '46' may be Shechem/Nablus
Nazareth Ottoman Repair Documents (possible)
Safed News of '46' Beinert (1955) suggests that Cifayde of News of '46' may be Safed
'Zozilgip (Giv’on, a township north of Jerusalem?) Anonymous Venetian
Damascus Anonymous Venetian, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din
Gaza Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din
es-Salt Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din
Karak Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din

Dates

Dates
Date Sources Notes
14 Jan. 1546 CE Anonymous Venetian, Eliezer Sussman, Ot nafshi, Anonymous Greek Document, Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din 13 Jan. 1546 CE is also a possibility from the anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din.
Anonymous Greek Document reported 14 Jan. 1545 CE but the year reported is probably a scribal error of some sort.
8 Jan. 1546 CE News of '46'
Spring 1543 or 1544 CE Moshe Meali poetry can lead to poetic license
1543 CE Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova

Times

Times
Time Sources Notes
noon to ~1 pm Anonymous Venetian, Eleizer Sussamn, Ot nafshi
afternoon Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din

Letter written by an Anonymous Venetian and reproduced in flysheets in Europe

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Ambraseys (2009) suggests that the earliest information about the 1546 earthquake comes from a letter written to a nobleman in Venice and published the same year in Wittenberg. He adds that the original letter was written in Italian, probably originating from a town on the coast of Palestine. This letter, according to Ambraseys (2009) seems to have been the basic source of information for a number of contemporary flysheets in Europe that spread the news of the earthquake in Jerusalem of Thursday noon, 14 January 1546.

Excerpts
English translation of the German version from Ambraseys (2009)

About noon, on the 14th of January AD 1546 there was a terrific earthquake in Jerusalem. As a result the vault of the Holy Tomb sunk and the walls and tower of the Temple were damaged and parts of them collapsed. The same happened in Damascus and great damage was done to other towns and villages; many people perished at sea and on land. Four towns in particular, Rama, Joppe, ‘Zozilgip and Sichem were totally destroyed by this earthquake to the extent that, with the exception of Damascus and Joppe, one can no longer recognise that there had been towns on these sites. And there exist no other places in these regions that would not have been damaged. On the same day, blood was flowing out from a fountain, named after the Prophet Eliseo, from which always water was drawn off. And at the beginning of this, flames coming out from the fountain were seen, and this lasted for four days. On the day of the earthquake the river Jordan dried up for two days and so did all the streams around Joppe that fall into the sea, which stopped flowing for three days. And when they began to flow again, the water was red. The sea near Joppe retreated to a distance of a full days’ walk off shore (sic.), so that one could walk with dry feet on the sea bed. A great many people, about 10 000, who ventured on foot offshore were drowned when the sea came back. At the same time, unusually strong winds got up so that near Tripoli they brought up a lot of sand and clay from the south that drifted into mounts. At the same time, equally strong winds caused great damage to the city of Famagusta in Cyprus and ruined its vineyards, something that also happened at San Sergio’ (Anon. 1546).

Observations about the French version from Ambraseys (2009)

The French version does not mention Zozilgip at all, and differs in some details from the German version. It attributes to a tempest the collapse of part of the walls of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem, of one third of the temple of Solomon, i.e. one of the mosques on Temple Mount, and of all the bell towers in Judea; in addition it implies that the coast was flooded by the sea all the way from Gaza to Jaffa (Techener 1861).

Original Document - German version - front page
Chronology
Year Reference Corrections Notes
about noon 14 Jan. 1546 CE about noon 14th of January AD 1546 none
Seismic Effects

German version French version Locations Online Versions and Further Reading

News of '46'

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Ambraseys (2009) describes the News of '46' as a 16th century Spanish Manuscript which Beinert (1955) says was discovered in the National library in Madrid. Although Beinert (1955) says that the name of the author is not contained within the manuscript, he surmises from clues in the text that the writer was a Spanish clerk living in Palestine or a pilgrim from Spain. The manuscript itself is a copy. Beinert (1955) suggests that the earlier original document (i.e., the autograph) appears to have been written soon after the earthquake struck while Ambraseys (2009) reports that Braslavy-Braslavsky, J. (1955) and Shalem (1955) assume that News of '46' is no more than a somewhat careless translation of the German or French version of the Letter written by an Anonymous Venetian and reproduced in flysheets in Europe.

Excerpts
English from Beinert (1955)

On the 8th of January, 1546 , there was an earthquake in Jerusalem, which knocked down the dome on the Holy Sepulcher, shook all of the Temple of Solomon, and collapsed most of the Mosques. There was great ruin in the whole region as far as Damascus. Many died. The cities most affected were
  • Ramayar (Ramla)
  • Cifayde (Safed ?)
  • Cigle (Schechem/Nablus ? Jaffa ?)
They looked like no buildings had been there. There was great damage in other places up to Damascus and another city.

On the same day Elisha's spring (Jericho) flowed blood instead of water, a fire broke out that lasted for four days, and the River Jordan dried up for a full day. In an arm of the sea and all the nearby rivers, the water stopped [flowing ?] for three days and afterwards the water flowed like blood. In the port of Jaffa where the pilgrims disembark, the sea receded more than [a days journey ?] and many people went to the dry seabed to recover the sea's riches. As you all [or they] know, every single person from there and their neighbors went to harvest from the dry sea. On the fourth day, the sea took more than 10,000 people with such ferocity that they all drowned. No-one escaped.

In those days, there were winds and storms so strong that they made great mountains of sand (brought by the wind) in Tripoli, the island of Cyprus, and many other cities. Antiquities were discovered in some places and in other places, all the land and properties was covered causing great damage. The entire Roman Court and the whole country is in upheaval with the war against the Lutherans. The Pope helps the Emperor with 12,000 men and they, the people, brought his two grandchildren. The lady's husband serves as Captian-General and his son the Cardinal heads up the Army.

Praise God
Praise God

And old form of Spanish from Beinert (1955)

En 8 de henero de 1546 anos fue vn terremoto en Jerusalen que hizo caer el cinborio del santo sepulcro, hizo tenblar todo el tenplo de Salomon, derribo la mayor parte de las mezquitas de los moros, y en toda aquella provincia hasta damasco ovo gran rruyna, y en los lugares gran mortandad de gentes, y las cibdades que mas dano Recibieron son: Ramayar, cifayde, cigle, que no se vieron mas como si nunca fueron alli edificadas, y a todos los demas lugares vino gran dano saluo a damasco y a otra cibdad. En el mismo dia la fuente de eliseo en lugar de agua corrio sangre, y al principio fuego duro quatro dias continuos, y el rrio Jordan suedo en se lo todo vn dia. Y cierto braco de mar con todos los Rios alli vezinos quedaronse los por tres dias, y despues corrieron agua a manera de sangre. En el puerto de jafa, donde desenbarcan los peregrinos, el mar se rretruxo mas de vna jortlada adentro, y andavan muchos de aquella tierra cogendo muchas rriquezas que dexava la mar descubiertos. Y como lo supieron todos los pueblos alli vez[ino]s cada vno yva a sacar Riquezas. Y a1 quarto dia estando en esta co[n]dicion a mas de diez mill personas tomo el mar con tanta ferocidad que los ahogo a todos sin ninguno escapar.

En tripul aquellos dias y en la ynsola de chipre con otras muchas cibdades ovo vientos y torvellinos tan grandes que hizo grandes montones de arena, que el viento traya, que descubria en partes antiguallas y en otras partes, hazia donde yva el viento, cubria todas las heredades y hazia gran dano. Toda la corte rromana y toda la tierra esta alborotada, con guerra contra el luterano. El papa ayuda al enperador con doze myll onbres y llevan sus dos nietos la gente. El marido de madama va por la capitan general y el cardenal su hijo por senor del exercito.

Laus deo
Laus deo

Chronology
Year Reference Corrections Notes
8 January 1546 CE the 8th of January, 1546 none
Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading

Letter from the Cairo Geniza by Eliezer Sussman ben Rabbi Abraham Corit

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

The 1546 CE earthquake is described in a letter found in the Cairo Geniza. The letter, written in Hebrew, was composed in Jerusalem and, based on agreement between the date and day of the week reported and concerns expressed due to continuing aftershocks, was probably written shortly after the earthquake. The writer appears to be Eliezer Sussman and the recipient his son Avigdor ( The Geniza Lab at Princeton University, Bodl. MS heb. c 64/1). Eliezer had arrived in Jerusalem in November 1545 CE - ~2 months prior to the earthquake (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992). Although the letter is considered authentic, Braslavsky (1938) and Turnianski (1984) disagree about who wrote the letter and when they wrote it (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992).

Excerpts
English from Ambraseys (2009)

In the month of Shvat the Almighty has shown us signs and wonders that none of our forefathers ever witnessed, and on the 11th of that month, on Thursday, about one in the afternoon . . . [because] of the quake many towers fell down, almost the third of their height, and the tower of “A. A.” ( the tower over Abraham's tomb in Hebron ?) was one of them. About ten gentiles were killed in Jerusalem but none of the Jews, and in the town of Nablus the earthquake was so strong that at least three hundred gentiles, and three or four Jews were killed. There were also further shocks after that, but not so strong, and to this day we are in constant fear of an earthquake all day and night (Braslavski 1938).

Chronology
Year Reference Corrections Notes
about one in the afternoon on Thursday 14 January 1546 CE about one in the afternoon on Thursday 11th of Shvat 5306 (Hebrew year assumed) none
  • Calculated using CHRONOS
  • 14 January 1546 CE fell on a Thursday (calculated using CHRONOS)
Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading
The letter in Hebrew

The letter (Bodl. MS. Heb. c. 64, Fol. I from Braslavsky, 1938:329) is mis-ordered due to my cut and paste of the OCRed document from Braslavsky (1938:329). JSTOR may order all of its text left to right. If I get around to fizxing this, this Hebrew text will get placed above in Excerpts.

הדועת ב.:

התיה ךתדל תע רודגיבא ינב
יאובב ה"ה ל"ז טיראצ םהרבא ר"רהמ ןב ןמסוז הנוכמה רזעילא ינאו שדוחב הטמשה תנשב יששה ףלאל ק"פל ץ'ש תנשב היה ב"בות 'ילשורי ק"קל אלש םיתפומו תותוא ונל 'יה הארה ליעלד הנשב טבש שדוחב ב"חאו :ןושחרמ 23םוי רשע דחאב יהיו [המדאה] לע םתויה םוימ וניתובא תובאו וניתובא ואר ונתוא 'יה [ה] ארה םויה תוצח רחא תחא העש רשפא ישימחה םויב הזה שדוחב הטנ אוה םאו רצויה דיב רמוחכ ודיב לכהש הארהו היבשויו לבת ץראה ולש C *א"א לש לדגמו םהבגמ שילש טעמכ םילדגמ הברה ולפנ שערה תמחמו 'וגו ודי לארשי ינב לכלו םיוג הרשע רשפא םילשוריב הפ וגרהנו םהמ דחא [ה] יה םג תואמ שולש תוחפל וגרהנש דע לודג ךכ לכ שערה היה םכש ריעבו דחא תמ אל לודג ךכ לכ םניא לבא 'ישער כ"ג ויה תאז לכ רחא :םיד[והי] 'ד וא 'גו םיוג וניוק 'יהל לבא שערה ינפמ הלילה לכו םויה לכ הלודג [ה]־חחב ונחנא םויה דועו רזעילא םואנ 'וגו םוחר אוהו האלהו ןאכמ כ"ג ונעישוי אוהש ונרזע הניח דעש .ל''נה טיראצ ןמסוז הנוכמה

Unknown source in Ot nafshi

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

A description of the earthquake can be found in the Hebrew booklet tilted Ot nafshi. Ambraseys and Karcz (1992) report that, according to Klein (1939), Ot nafshi belonged to Isaac Levy and the section describing the earthquake was copied by him from an earlier document of unknown origin in 1562 or 1625 CE. A reference in the document to the Ottoman authorities refusing to allow a church to be rebuilt in Jerusalem suggests that the original report was composed and/or redacted at least a few months after the earthquake. Braslavsky (1938) noted that some words and phrases which offend Christianity were deleted by censors indicating that the larger text of Ot Nafshi may have a redactional history.

Excerpts
English from Ambraseys (2009)

On Thursday 11th, of the month Shevat, year Hashav [14 January 1541], at one in the afternoon, there was a great earthquake and there was almost total destruction of Jerusalem, there is no house that was not destroyed or cracked, and even from the new city wall there fell a scythe in height, such as at the Gate of Mercy. And also fell the Ishmaelite mosques as well as the cupola of al Aqsa, and so did the Holy Sepulchre, a building full of windows, that some say was built by Nabuchadnezar king of Babylon and even the Ishmaelites are wondering since it was a very strong building. And the gentiles say that there never was such an earthquake in Jerusalem . . . and in contrast, praise be to God, our synagogue was left undamaged. About 12 Ishmaelites perished, and none of the Jews. But in Nablus about 560 Ishmaelites perished of the townfolk, but nobody knows of the villagers, since they still may be buried under the rubble; three Jews died in Nablus. And in Hebron, 16 Ishmaelites perished and 70 were injured with broken arms and legs. And the gentiles report that the river Jordan is dry and they crossed it on dry land and that this lasted three days. Worse than the fall of their houses, they lamented their [loss of] water, . . . which turned into blood for three or four days. And . . . the Jordan was dry and desolate because two big hills fell into the river, and others say that the earth cracked and swallowed up the waters of the Jordan. It is also said that the gentiles in Jerusalem offered monies to the Ishmaelites to allow them to rebuild a church, but to no avail, and what fell, remained fallen. There is no house in Jerusalem that did not crack in the earthquake, and also, many mosques have collapsed . . . (Braslavski 1939).

Chronology
Year Reference Corrections Notes
at one in the afternoon on Thursday 14 January 1546 CE at one in the afternoon on Thursday 11th of Shvat year Hashav (Hebrew year of 5306 is assumed) none
  • Calculated using CHRONOS
  • 14 January 1546 CE fell on a Thursday (calculated using CHRONOS)
Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading

Piyyut composed by Moshe Meali

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

The 1546 CE earthquake is described in a piyyut (liturgical poetry) composed by Moshe Meali and found in the Cairo Geniza (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992).

Excerpts
Description of the piyyut from Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)

[It] describes plague, earthquake, famine and locusts that befell Jerusalem. The earthquake, it says, caused houses and shops to collapse. Two synagogues fell apart and so did two churches that adjoined each other. Severe damage was caused to the Holy Sepulchre and to the Dome of the Rock. The people left their houses and stayed in the city cemeteries.

This poem, which was composed some time after these calamities, extends their occurrence over several years, starting with 1542/3 ("hashab", i.e. 5302 of the Jewish Era). The earthquake is placed in the midst of a Passover feast of the following year, that is, sometime in the spring of 1543 or 1544. It would appear that the poet, who was writing some time after these events, erred in the year, and that the association of the earthquake with the Passover is purely decorative.

Chronology Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading
References

Anonymous of Douai

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Anonymous of Douai (1714) is a travelogue of a trip taken to the Holy Land a few months after the earthquake. A copy of this travelogue was made in 1714 CE but the original composition appears to have been written in 1546 and possibly 1547 CE. The writer is anonymous but may have been a Franciscan Friar (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992:258).

Excerpts
Description of Anonymous of Douai from Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)

The Anonymous of Douai (1714), most probably a Franciscan friar, left France in October 1545. The copy of his narrative made in 1714 is incomplete and starts in the middle of a phrase describing the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem about which he does not mention any earthquake damage. From Jerusalem he proceeds to Bethlehem, Ramla and he is in Jaffa on 7 June 1546, from where he sails off to Cyprus and Venice where he arrives on 29 August. Therefore, he should have arrived in the Holy Land, a few months after the earthquake and probably he should have experienced the aftershock of 13 May 1546. However, nowhere in the extant part of his narrative do we find any explicit mention of the effects of the 1546 earthquake. His truncated account contains nothing about the effects of the earthquake in Jerusalem. He travels to the Jordan river and the Dead Sea, and it is after leaving the monastery of St Joachim (in Wadi Kelt) that he describes (fol.14.r) a site called ’Donny', previously a natural arch cut through rock forming a bridge, destroyed by earthquakes. From there he proceeds to the site of the “trois montagnes”, dangerous on account of the rocks that earthquakes cause to roll down from the summit and arrives in Jericho which he finds in ruins.

Chronology Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading
References

Ambraseys, N. and I. Karcz (1992). "The earthquake of 1546 in the Holy Landz." Terra Nova 4(2): 254-263.

Anonymous of Douai (1714) Copie du Saint voyage de Jerusalem en parfie fait et renouvele le 11 d'aout l'an degrna 1714, MS Bibl. Nat. Fonds Francais no. 13083, Paris

Manuscripts Department at Bibliotheque Nationale Francais (BnF)

Journey from Prague to Venice and from there by sea to Palestine by Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova (1523-1565 CE) was a Czech writer, mathematician, and astronomer (wikipedia) . From 1546-1547 CE, while in his early twenties, he traveled from Prague to Palestine and back. 15-20 years later, in 1563 CE, he wrote and published a book in Czech about his travels to Palestine for which the shortened title is known as Journey from Prague to Venice and from there by sea to Palestine (Cesta z Prahy do Benátek a odtud potom po moři až do Palestiny).

Excerpts
Extended discussion (with drawings of post seismic destruction) of Voldrich Prefat's observations

Voldrich Prefat described seismic damage to some of the buildings he encountered and included some drawings in his book which allow one to better assess the extent of seismic damage due to the earthquake. In Chapter 23 of Prefat (1546:126), he produced a drawing by the Venetian artist Dominik de la Greche of the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which showed that the dome of the belltower was missing - due to the earthquake. Apparently, de la Greche had also drawn this scene before the earthquake which allows for the before and after comparison below.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre before Church of the Holy Sepulchre after
(left) A drawing by Dominik de la Greche of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre apparently before the earthquake when the Bell Tower Dome to the left was still intact - from The Met - NYC
(right) drawing of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after the 1546 CE earthquake. Note that the dome of the bell tower to the left is missing.

Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:258) provided a translation for the caption of the image to the right
This is the correct and true picture of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, with its square, seen from the south side, as it was in the year 1546, drawn by Master Dominik de le Greche, Venetian painter, in the year 46, and now printed under the care of Woldrich Prefat.
In Chapter 22 of Prefat (1546:122) we can read some more details about the damaged belltower
English from Prefat (1546)

On the left side of the same square [in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre], facing the church door, opposite the east side, there is a rather large and tall square tower attached to the church, nicely built of hewn stucco stone with many windows. Here, as they told us, that three years before we were there, before the Three Kings, there was a great earthquake in the city of Jerusalem, and with that earthquake the top or roof of that tower collapsed, which they say (how can we know then) that it was all vaulted up to the top and battered with lead sheets, a good chunk of the tower at the top also collapsed. And so today it stands demolished and no one is repairing it.

Czech from Prefat (1546)

Na levé pak straně téhož placu, stoje obličejem proti dveřuom kostelním, proti vejchodní straně jest věž přistavená k kostelu dosti veliká a vysoká čtverhraná, pěkně stavená z tesaného kamene štukového s mnoha okny. Tu, jak nám pravili, že tři léta předtím, než jsme my tam byli, před Třemi králi bylo velké zemětřesení v městě Jeruzalémě a tím zemětřesením ssul se vrch neb krov té věže, který praví (jak pak i znáti), že byl všechen klenutý až do vrchu a na to plechy olověnnými pobitý, též se zbořil i dobrý kus té věže nahoře. A tak podnes zbořená stojí a žádný toho neopravuje.

In Chapter 42 of Prefat (1546:204), Prefat produced a drawing by de la Greche of the city of Jerusalem in the summer of 1546 CE (after the earthquake) which showed a largely intact city and the missing belltower at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (marked by a red arrow).


Drawing of Jerusalem by de la Greche in the summer of 1546 CE as seen from the east. Red arrow points to the missing bell tower of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:259-260) summarized Prefat's descriptions of other ruined buildings for which they say he [did] not give the cause of their destruction.
  • In Ramla he notices several small chapels badly damaged and says that parts of the town walls were always ruined.
  • On the way from Ramla to Jaffa he saw a church with the upper part of its belfry destroyed.
  • Near Ramla he found the remains of a monastery that had also been destroyed.
  • On the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, on a hill, there was a tower, the upper part of which was heavily damaged.
  • Near Bethlehem he saw a chapel that had collapsed completely; however, a church in a nearby field was not damaged.
  • Between Bethlehem and Bet Jala he found another church that had collapsed, but its tower was still standing.
  • Near Battir, a small half-ruined town, he found a chapel near a cave that had collapsed.
  • On his return from Bethlehem, near the place where John the Baptist was born, he saw a church that was partly ruined, as well as another church and a monastery nearby that had suffered considerable damage.
  • Also a square tower and a few houses in Bethany were heavily damaged.
  • On the "Olivet hill(?)" Mount of Olives?) he found the remains of a church and a monastery, with some walls still standing.
  • Jericho was in ruins and the church, allegedly built by St Helen, damaged.
  • On the way from the Dead Sea to Jericho, on a hill on the left-hand side of the road, he saw another church, which he says was that of St John the Baptist, which was damaged.
  • On traveling from Bethlehem to Hebron he noticed another small church, a part of which had collapsed.
  • Hebron and Jaffa, he says, were in ruins, but this he attributes to the Egyptians and to the recent wars.
Some fuller descriptions from Prefat (1546) can be read in the collapsible panel below:
Descriptions of Damaged Buildings in Palestine by Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova

Bethlehem
In Chapter 32 of Prefat (1546:166) we can read the following:
English

From there we turned back again towards Bethlehem; and there, about as far as he could shoot with a handgun, opposite the entrance from him is a small, vaulted chapel, a piece of the front of which has also been demolished, and a lot of rum and stones in it. It collapsed, as they say, from the earthquake that was there, from which also the vault of the church of St. Jerome collapsed

Czech

Odtud jsme se obrátili nazpátek zase proti Betlému; a tu asi co by mohl dostřeliti z ručnice, od něho proti vejchodu jest kaplice malá, klenutá, kteréž předku kus též i zadku zbořeno, rumu a kamení v ní mnoho. To se zbořilo, jakž praví, od zemětřesení, kteréž tam bylo, od kteréhož se též zsulo klenutí kostela svatého Jeronýma.
In Chapter 33 of Prefat (1546:168) we can read the following:
English

Also by that church, in the same close and monastery, there was another church against the midnight side, vaulted and quite large, but the earthquake (as they told us) demolished it, that the cellar and vaulting all fell; it still stands with columns and pieces of arches, walls broken down, rum and stones in a heap.

And he praised the church of St. Jerome; so much so that the earthquake destroyed some of the buildings where the [brothers of Munich?] s lived, also a piece of the refectory where they ate, and the cloister was also badly destroyed. The rest of the same monastery still stands in the church in which there are the 32 columns.

Czech

Též byl při tom kostele v témž zavřetí a klášteře jiný kostel proti puolnoční straně, klenutý a dosti veliký, ale zemětřesení (jakž nám pravili) zbořilo jej, že sklep a klenutí všecko padlo; ještě ho stojí slaupy a kusy klenutí, zdi zbořené, rum a kamení na hromadě.

A slaul kostel svatého Jeronýma; tolikéž tím zemětřesením sic nětco stavení se pobořilo, kde byli příbytkové mnichuov, též kus refectorium, kde jídali, také ambitu se drahně pobořilo. Ostatek téhož kláštera ještě stojí v kostele tom, v kterým jest těch 32 slaupů.

Chronology Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading
Dominik de la Greche

Dominik de la Greche was a Woodcutter and publisher who worked in Venice in the 1540s and is best known as the publisher of the 1549 edition of Titian's 12-block woodcut of the Drowning of Pharaoh's Army in the Red Sea (The Met - NYC). Another drawing of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre dated to 1546 CE is in The British Museum (1935,0713.6) which, like the one at the The Met - NYC (dated ca. 1546 CE) shows the Bell Tower intact. The drawing in Prefat's travelogue appears to have been commissioned by Prefat.

An account by Germanus of Jerusalem inside of History of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem by Dositheus II of Jerusalem

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Dositheus II of Jerusalem (1641-1707 CE) was the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem between 1699 and 1707 (wikipedia). He wrote a 12 volume history titled History of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem which was published in 1715 CE (wikipedia). According to Ambraseys and Karcz (1992) Chapter 7 of Volume 6 contains a brief description of seismic damage in Jerusalem as described by the Patriarch of the time - Germanus of Jerusalem (aka Germanos II).

Excerpts
English from Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)

as a result of the earthquake in the time of Germanos, the cupola of the copper tower of the belfry of the Holy Sepulchre fell on the nearby church of the Resurrection and caused the collapse of its dome that remains in ruins to the present day. The same earthquake destroyed the bell-tower of the Saint Bethlehem, its ruins left as seen today . . . these were the only two belfries left standing by the Arabs that fell in this earthquake.

Chronology Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading

Anonymous Greek Document cited in Papadopoulos-Kerameus (1898)

Excerpts

Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:259) provided a translation from Papadopoulos-Kerameus (1898: vol. 3 p. 40) who cites an anonymous Greek document, written in Jerusalem in the early 19th century and deriving from earlier source. Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:259) noted that the churches of Adelphotheou or Adelphopoeitou and of St Tessarakonta were chapels in the compound of the Holy Sepulchre next to the bell-tower.

English translation from Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)

in the year 1545 (sic.) 14 January there was a frightful earthquake in the Holy City and throughout Palestine which caused the top of the beautiful bell-tower of the church situated between those of Adelphotheou and of St Tessarakonta to fall and destroy the dome of the church; also in Bethlehem the earthquake destroyed the bell-tower, the only one left standing by the Agarini [i.e. the Arabs] (Papadopoulos-Kerameus 1898, iv. 40)

Machine translated English from Greek from Papadopoulos-Kerameus (1898)

This dome and the canopy of the Holy Sepulchre, which had not been destroyed before by the Arabs, he also renovated with marble columns. It solidified and faded and [is] covered with lead, as it appears today. On the 12th [probably 14th] of January, the Holy City and all of Palestine became fearful, because the tower of the beautiful 5 bell tower collapsed, (over) falling on the tower of the church, in the middle of the two churches, that of Adelphotheos and Saints Tessarakontos, along with it was demolished and the bell tower in Saint Bethlehem remained under the Agarines, as it is said, at that time it was unaffected by the earthquake, but it collapsed 10 feet.

Greek from Papadopoulos-Kerameus (1898)

Ούτος ο αοίδιμος και το κουβούκλιος του Παναγίου Τάφου δν συντετριμμένον πρό τερον υπό των Αράβων ανεκαίνισε και με στύλους μαρμαρίνους έστερέωσε και εκαλλώπισε και με μόλυβδον εσκέπασεν , ώς φαί νεται την σήμερον . ' Εν δε τώ αφμε ' έτει Xγ ιανουαρίου ιδ ' σει σμός εν τη “ Αγία Πόλει και πάση τη Παλαιστίνη εγένετο φοβε ρώτατος , υφ ' ου κατεκρημνίσθη το τούρλαιον του ωραιοτάτου 5 καμπαναρείου , ( όπερ ) επιπεσών επί το τούρλαιον της εκκλησίας , της μέσον των δύο εκκλησιών , της του ' Αδελφοθέου και Αγίων Τεσσαράκοντα , συν αυτώ κατηδαφίσθη προς δε και το εν τη αγία Βηθλεέμ καμπαναρείον εναπομείναν και αυτό υπό των Αγαρηνών , ως είρηται , τότε ανεπηρέαστον υπό του σεισμού όμως έκρημνί 10 σθη .

Chronology
Year Reference Corrections Notes
14 January 1545 CE 14 January 1545 CE none Ambraseys and Karcz (1992:259) indicate that the year (1545 CE) is questionable by using the abbreviation sic.
Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading

Ottoman Repair Documents

Excerpts

Discussion about Ottoman Repair Documents from Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)

Evidence for the repair of the damage caused by the earthquake to various buildings can be found in Ottoman archival sources. Some of those refer to repairs of public buildings, chiefly Christian places of worship in Jerusalem. Although at first the attitude of the local authorities was negative, some repairs were eventually allowed, and gradually more substantial construction work was permitted.

Thus, following a petition dated June 1548 made by the Franciscans of Mt Zion in Jerusalem, permission was granted first to restore several rooms and the damaged northern and eastern halls, and four months later to repair six small rooms in the southern part of the monastery (Cohen, 1982).

The archives of the Custodia Terra Sancta in Jerusalem contain numerous contemporary Ottoman documents granting permission for the repair or strengthening of churches and convent property across the land (Castellani, 1922; Hussein et al., 1986). However, it is not possible to say whether the damage that required repair was due to the 1546 earthquake or to the war and natural ageing of these structures. These documents refer, for example, to repairs of the walls of the convent in al-Ramla, of the church in Nazareth, on Mount Zion, restoration of the cupolas and chapels of the Holy Sepulchre, repairs of the terraces and cupola of the church in Bethlehem. The decision to abandon a convent in Nazareth in 1548 (Cirelli 1918), may also have been the result of the 1546 earthquake.

The repair of buildings damaged by the earthquake apparently continued for almost a decade. An order detailing repairwork, issued in Istanbul and addressed to the finance officer (defterdar) of Arabistan, dated 17 Rabi-II 959 (12 April 1552), says
. . . the tombs of Abraham the Friend (al-Khalil), Isaac and Jacob (at Hebron) are situated in a mosque which has fallen down in part and has become a ruin. Also the mosque that houses the tomb of the Prophet Moses (Nabi Musa) is in need of repair. And some parts of the wall which is situated on the east side of the Dome of the Rock have been destroyed by earthquakes so that a man can pass through; twice the mosque’s lead has been stolen . . . The repair of all these buildings is necessary and urgent. . . (Heyd, 1960).
Since this order was issued almost six years after the earthquake, it may be only a supposition that it refers to damage caused by the 1546 earthquake and not perhaps by later shocks. However, this is unlikely, since delays in the Porte's response to requests for repairs of this nature were long. Moreover this order refers to the repair of structures that we know from other sources that they had been damaged by the 1546 earthquake and no other shocks during the period 1547-1552 have as yet been identified (see Appendix).

Archaeological evidence and contemporary documents presented by Burgoyne (1987) also give further indication of the damage to some of the Muslim buildings in Jerusalem, such as the Ribat of 'Ala'al-Din and Qayitbey's madrasa (the Ashrafiyya). There is also evidence of damage to the Aminiyya madrasa and the minaret of the Fakhriyya.

Seismic Effects Locations Notes and Further Reading
Appendix of Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)

Seismic activity during two decades preceding and following the earthquake of 1546

Many shocks have been reported from the eastern Mediterranean region during the decades that preceded and followed the earthquake of 1546. These were either large distant events or minor local shocks. In order to avoid any chance of misinterpretation, we examined also the seismicity of the Eastern Mediterranean region during a period of about 20 years before and after the 1546 earthquake. In what follows we give a summary of the events so far retrieved:

1525 Mar 9. A slight shock in Egypt (or Cairo) was felt during the night, al-Da’udi: 261; as-Suyuti: 62.

1527 Jul 12. A slight shock occurred in Cairo around dawn, al-Da’udi: 261; as-Suyuti: 63.

1529 Nov 13. A light shock in Cairo, which lasted about half a minute, towards the end of the night about 50 minutes before dawn. A mu’ezzin, who was up a minaret says the shock lasted 2-3 minutes and made the minaret sway in a most frightening way, al-Da’udi: 261; as-Suyuti: 62.

1531 Nov 6. A damaging earthquake in Crete; it is not known how far the shock was felt (Ploumidis, 1974).

1532 Jul 10. A very slight shock reported in Cairo during the night, al-Da’udi: 261, al-suyuti 63. This is perhaps the same shock experienced in Bethlehem (Possot, 1890)

1534 Mar 23. We know that on 23 March l534 a slight earthquake was felt in Cairo after dawn, al-Suyuti:63. The entry in Arvanitakis (1903) for 1534, referring to Dositheos (1715) for the destruction of the belfry of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem, is inaccurate. Dositheos does not give the year for this event and his notice dearly refen to the earthquake of 1546. Awanitakis is followed by Willis (1928). and Siiberg (1932).

1537 Jan 8. A very slight shock was reported in Cairo(?) during the night of 8 January 1537, al-Da’udi: 261. A second account states that it was also felt in Syria, al-Ghuzzi: 261. Al-’Umari places this earthquake vaguely in 944 a.H. (1537-8) and says that the town of Dumyat (Danietta) in Egypt was shaken by shocks that continued for four days, five times a day, al-’Umari: 188.

1537 Mar 9. Later in the year, on 9 March 1537,another slight shock was felt in Damascus. al-Ghuzzi: 261. Al-’Umari places this earthquake in 944 a.A. (sic.) (1537-8) and also mentions that in Antioch the shock caused walls to collapse, al-’Umari 118.

1539 Apr 1. A marginal note in a manuscript found in Laconia in the Peloponesus, refers to great earthquakes that began at the first hour of the day on the l April 1539. Marvrelakis (l939) considers that this note was written in Jerusalem.

1542. A earthquake is reported this year to have affected the kingdom of Cyprus, Lusignano: 211. There are frequent mistakes in Lusignano’s dates so that the year of the event needs authentication.

1544 Jan. An earthquake in Eastern Anatolia devastated the region between Zitun and Malataya, causing damage as far as Aleppo. Ambraseys (1989).

1546 Jan 14. This earthquake and its aftershocks of 13 March and 13 May are described in this paper.

1549 Sep 10. An earthquake in Crete caused the collapse of a number of houses and the damage of buildings in Candia where a number of people were injured (Archivio: c). There is some evidence that this was a relatively large earthquake in the Eastern Mediterranean. that also caused damage to the church of the monastery of Avgasida, west of St Sergios, about 10 km NW of Famagusta in Cyprus (Enlart. 1896). Modern writers wrongly date this event in 1547 (Raulin, 1869; Jeffrey, 1918).

1557 Feb. An earthquake caused the collapse of a gun foundry, the forging house and ovens in Jerusalem (Cohen, 1990).

1563 Sep 13. At dawn, on Monday 13 September 1563, an earthquake destroyed a number of houses and cracked walls in Damascus, Badr al-Din al-Ghuzzi (sub ann.). Alexander von Pappenheim, who was in Jerusalem at that time does not mention the event (Rohricht and Meisner, 1880).

1564 Aug 12. This was a large, probably intermediate depth earthquake which caused extensive damage in Crete (Archivio: d)and was felt over a large area, as far as northern Greece, Lampros (1910), and southern Turkey (?).

1565 Jul 27. Another earthquake was felt in Damascus about dawn, Badr al-Din, al-Ghuzzi.

The Glorious History of Jerusalem and Hebron by an Anonymous continuator of Mujir al-Din

التاريخ المجيد للقدس والخليل (?) by مجير الدين

Aliases

Aliases Arabic
Mujir al-Din al-’Ulaimi مجير الدين العليمي (?)
al-’Ulaimi العليمي (?)
'Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad al-'Ulaymi مجير الدين عبدالرحمن الحنبلي العليمي الشهير بأبن قطينه (?)
Ibn Quttainah يبن قوتتايناه (?)
Background and Biography
Background and Biography

After Mujir al-Din's death in 1521 CE, his chronicle was continued by an anonymous author creating a sequel (dhail). Ambraseys (2009) notes that the continuation begins with the description of three earthquakes that followed one another during the period a.H. 952–953 (AD 1546).

Excerpts
English from Ambraseys (2009)

On Thursday afternoon, 10th of Dhu’l-Qa’da 952, there occurred a great earthquake in Jerusalem, al-Khalil [Hebron], Gaza, al-Ramlah, alKarak, as-Salt, and Nablus which extended to Damascus. It lasted a short while and calmed down, and generally there was not a tall house in Jerusalem that was not left destroyed or fissured, and the same in al-Khalil [Hebron]. In Gaza the madrasa of Qayitbey was destroyed as well as the south part of his madrasa in Jerusalem, and its north and east sides; also, the top of the minaret over the Bab as-Silsila was destroyed. In Nablus the earthquake was stronger than elsewhere, and 500 lives were lost under the ruins.

Then, on Sunday night, 10th of Muharram, 953 [= 13 March 1546] there was another alarm, the noise of which was greater before it died out.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, 12th Rabi’ I of the year 953 [= 13 May 1546], there occurred another shock felt by some people more than others, apart from the continuous shocks of previous days, some of which occurred at night and some during the day . . .

Chronology

Date and day of the week disagree for all three earthquakes. Since the day of the week produces a 14 Jan. 1546 CE date attested to by many other authors, I am going to propose that day of the week is more diagnostic for the actual date of the shock which leads to the following dates
Earthquake Date
1st Thursday afternoon 14 January 1546 CE
2nd Sunday night 14 March 1546 CE
3rd Wednesday afternoon 12 May 1546 CE
Earthquake Date Reference Corrections Notes
1st Wednesday afternoon 13 January 1546 CE or Thursday afternoon 14 January 1546 CE Thursday afternoon 10th of Dhu’l-Qa’da A.H. 952 none
  • Calculated using CHRONOS
  • 10th of Dhu’l-Qa’da A.H. 952 fell on a Wednesday (calculated using CHRONOS)
2nd Saturday night 13 March 1546 CE or Sunday night 14 March 1546 CE Sunday night, 10th of Muharram A.H. 953 none
  • Calculated using CHRONOS
  • 10th of Muharram A.H. 953 fell on a Saturday (calculated using CHRONOS)
3rd Thursday afternoon 13 May 1546 CE or Wednesday afternoon 12 May 1546 CE Wednesday afternoon, 12th of Rabi’ I A.H. 953 none
  • Calculated using CHRONOS
  • 12th of Rabi’ I A.H. 953 fell on a Thursday (calculated using CHRONOS)
Seismic Effects Locations Online Versions and Further Reading
References

al-’Ulaimi, al-Uns al-jalil bi-tarikh al-Quds wa’l-Khalil, ed. Cairo, 1283/1866; abrev. trans. J. Sauvaire, Histoire de Jerusalem et d’Hebron, Paris, 1876; also 2 volumes, ed. Najof, 1388/1968. - from Ambraseys (2009)

Sauvaire, H. (1876). Histoire de Jérusalem et d'Hébron depuis Abraham jusqu'à la fin du XVe siècle de J. C: Fragments de la Chronique de Moudjir-ed-Dyn, E. Leroux. - French translations of some parts of Mujr ad-Din

Mujir al-Din al-’Ulaimi (ca. 1495) "The Glorious History of Jerusalem and Hebron" (al-Uns al-Jalil bi-tarikh al-Quds wal-Khalil) (Online - in Arabic)

Elad, A. (1995). Medieval Jerusalem and Islamic Worship: Holy Places, Ceremonies, Pilgrimage, E.J. Brill.

Elad, A. (1982:36-37) An Early Arabic Source Concerning the Markets of Jerusalem. Cathedra, vol. XXIV (1982), pp. 31-40 (in Hebrew).

Kister, M.J. "A Comment on the Antiquity of Traditions Praising Jerusalem." The Jerusalem Cathedra, voI. I (1981), pp. 185-186.

Schacht, J. The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979.

Juynboll, G.H.A. Muslim Tradition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Abu '1-Ma'ali, al-Musharraf b. al-Murajja. Fada'il Bayt al-Maqdis wa-'l-Sham wa-'l-Khalil. Ms. Tubingen VI 27.

Abū 'l-Maՙālī al-Musharraf b. al-Murajjā b. Ibrāhīm al-Maqdisī. (1995). Faḍā'il bayt al-maqdis wa al-khatīl wa-faḍa'il al-shām. ed. Ofer Livne-Kafri, Almashreq, Shfaram.

DBpedia contains numerous links to online versions of Mujir al-Din's works

Excerpts and publications

from wikipedia

Mujir al-Din's writings are quoted extensively in the works of 19th century Orientalists and 20th and 21st century scholars alike. It is particularly valuable for what it reveals about the topography and social life of 15th century Jerusalem. A number of copies of manuscripts of al-Uns al-Jalil are kept in libraries in Paris, London and Vienna. El Wahby, a Cairo-based publishing house printed his work in full. A French translation of excerpts of his work with a foreword by Henry Sauvaire was published under the title, Histoire de Jérusalem et d'Hébron depuis Abraham jusqu'à la fin du XVe siècle de J.-C. : fragments de la Chronique de Moudjir-ed-dyn (1876). This compilation was made up of excerpts of his work translated from a manuscript procured in Jerusalem and from the Egyptian edition.

Translated excerpts of al-Uns al Jalil can be found in the work of Joseph Toussaint Reinaud and Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall. Guy Le Strange references the work of Mujir al-Din throughout his book Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500 (1890), drawing upon his descriptions of various monuments to determine their state, appearance, and measurements at his time of writing.

Continuator

Mayer, L. A. (1931), ‘A sequel to Mujir ad-Din’s chronicle’, Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, 11, 85–97.

Notes
Notes on Mujir al-Din's continuation and dating discrepancies from Ambraseys (2009)

An obviously independent contemporary account of the earthquake is found in the anonymous continuator of the chronicle by Mujir al-Din, in Mayer (1931). Though this sequel (dhail) covers events that took place between 1497 and 1509, that is before Mujir al-Din’s death in a.H. 927 (1521), it begins with the description of three earthquakes that followed one another during the period a.H. 952–953 (AD 1546). The part of this chronicle that refers to this sequence says that
On Thursday afternoon, 10th of Dhu’l-Qa’da 952, there occurred a great earthquake in Jerusalem, al-Khalil [Hebron], Gaza, al-Ramlah, alKarak, as-Salt, and Nablus which extended to Damascus. It lasted a short while and calmed down, and generally there was not a tall house in Jerusalem that was not left destroyed or fissured, and the same in al-Khalil [Hebron]. In Gaza the madrasa of Qayitbey was destroyed as well as the south part of his madrasa in Jerusalem, and its north and east sides; also, the top of the minaret over the Bab as-Silsila was destroyed. In Nablus the earthquake was stronger than elsewhere, and 500 lives were lost under the ruins.

Then, on Sunday night, 10th of Muharram, 953 [= 13 March 1546] there was another alarm, the noise of which was greater before it died out.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, 12th Rabi’ I of the year 953 [= 13 May 1546], there occurred another shock felt by some people more than others, apart from the continuous shocks of previous days, some of which occurred at night and some during the day . . .
Although many of the details in the sequel to Mujir al-Din’s chronicle resemble those in the Venetian letter, which refers quite clearly to the 1546 earthquake, their inclusion at the beginning of a historical account that describes events that belong to the period 902–914 (AD 1497–1509) raised some doubt regarding the actual year of these events. Mayer recognised that this complication might be due to a mere slip of the pen of a scribe, who, whilst turning marginal notes into the sequel of Mujir al-Din’s chronicle, copied later events first and a series of earlier events, running consecutively, later (Mayer 1931).

However, Mayer was more inclined to think that what he had in his hands was a faithful copy of the dhail as written by Mujir al-Din himself, and that the events described are in the right chronological order, that is, that there was an error in the years, which should read 902 and 903 rather than 952 and 953. However, another reason why Mayer was more inclined to think that there was an error in the years of these events was that he could find no evidence for an earthquake in either Syria or Palestine in the year a.H. 952 (1546). Obviously, he was not aware of the Venetian letter and of the other sources which we have retrieved that now remove any ambiguity about the actual date of the event. The incorrect year given by Mayer was thus propagated in later catalogues. Reading the years of the earthquake sequence in Mujir’s dhail as a.H. 952 and 953, the date of the main shock, Thursday 10 Dhu’l Qa’da 952, corresponds to 13 January 1546, which was a Wednesday. A discrepancy of one day is common in converting the Muslim calendar. For instance, a sigil in the Khaladiyye Library in Jerusalem (1856, vol. 17, 437), dated 21 Dhu’l-Qa’da a.H. 952, says briefly
the day before today, Thursday the 10th of the month, after the noon prayer, a disaster came from the sky and a great earthquake occurred in the name of God.
For the date of the second shock Mayer considers Mujir al-Din’s date to be the ‘night of 11 Muharram’, which would have been Sunday 14 March, although the Arabic text says ‘Sunday night 10 Muharram’ 953, which corresponds to Saturday 13 March 1546. This is correct since Sunday night in the Muslim calendar means the night starting on Saturday, since the Muslim day starts at sunset and day follows night. However, the Khaladiyye manuscript of the dhail gives 13 Dhu’l-Qa’da, that is, three days after the main shock. For the third shock in Mujir’s sequel, Wednesday afternoon 12 Rabi I 953 corresponds to 13 May, which was a Thursday. There can thus be little doubt that the details in Mujir’s chronicle refer to the earthquake sequence of 1546, and that the dhail must have been added by a later scribe or by a copyist. Indeed, Mayer himself says that in the copy of the dhail kept in the Khaladiyye Library, which has not been viewed, the earthquakes are described in an additional note on the last page.

Archaeoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Jerusalem - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Baydha possible ≥ 8 Late Islamic (Mamluk/Ottoman) earthquake - Sinibaldi (2018:75) reports that Mosque 2 (aka the Western Mosque) which Sinibaldi (2016:95) dates to not earlier than the 13th-14th century CE (Mamluk period) was probably destroyed by an earthquake.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Jerusalem - Introduction



Baydha



Landslide Evidence

Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Bet Zayda possible ≥ 7 Marco et al (2005) dated Event E.H. 2 to after 1415 CE and suggested that it was was caused by the 1759 CE Safed Quake but considered other possibilities such as the 1546 CE and 1837 CE earthquakes. Marco et al (2005) estimated a Magnitude between 6.6. and 6.9 for Event E.H. 2 based on 0.5 m of offset.
Jordan Valley - Tell Saidiyeh and Ghor Kabed Trenches possible ≥ 7 Ferry et al (2011) detected 12 surface rupturing seismic events in 4 trenches (T1-T4) in Tell Saidiyeh and Ghor Kabed; 10 of which were prehistoric. The tightest chronology came from the Ghor Kabed trenches (T1 and T2) where Events Y and Z were constrained to between 560 and 1800 CE.
Dead Sea - Seismite Types n/a n/a n/a
Dead Sea - En Feshka no evidence The top of Kagan et. al. (2011)'s section in En Feshka began around 1300 CE.
Dead Sea - Nahal Darga possible ≥ 7 Enzel et. al. (2000) identified a 25-50 cm. thick seismite in coarse grained lithology in Deformed Unit 10 at the base of Stratigraphic Unit 13 which dated to 1450-1550 CE (~ 400-500 yrs BP).
Dead Sea - En Gedi possible 8.0 - 8.8 Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 1546 CE date to a 3 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 56 cm. (0.56 m).
Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim possible 8.2 - 9.0 At site ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) encountered a 10 cm. thick Type 4 seismite which was dated to ~1525 CE ± 125. The date was not within their Bayesian modeled range and was extrapolated. Kagan et. al. (2011) suggested that this particular seismite formed during an earthquake in 1458 CE.
Araba - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Araba - Qasr Tilah possible ≥ 7 Haynes et al. (2006) dated Event I to 1515-1918 CE and suggested it was most likely a result of the 1546 CE earthquake.
Araba - Taybeh Trench possible LeFevre et al. (2018) assigned a 1458 CE date to a seismite labeled as E2 which was age modeled to 1581 CE ± 133.
Araba - Qatar Trench possible ≥ 7 Klinger et. al. (2015) identified one seismic event which fits the 1458 CE Quake.
Event Mean Date Age Range Quake Assignment (Klinger) Quake Assignment (Williams)
E1 1447 CE ± 13 1434-1459 CE 1458 CE Quake not assigned
Araba - Taba Sabhka Trench possible ≥ 7 Allison (2013) assigned a 1068 CE date to a seismic event which they dated to between 1045 and 1661 CE and Allison (2013) assigned a 1212 CE date to a seismic event which they dated to between the mid 11th century CE and the 16-17th centuries CE.
Araba - Elat Sabhka Trenches possible Kanari et al (2020) dated Event E2 in Trench T3 to after 1294 CE and assigned it to earthquakes in 1458 or 1588 CE. Kanari et al (2020) dated sand blows SB1 and SB2 in Trench T3 to between 1287 and 1635 CE and suggested they may have formed during an earthquake in 1458 CE.
Araba - Trenches in Aqaba possible ≥ 7 Niemi (2011:153) noted that the most recent scarp-forming event fault [in Trench AQ-1] occurred after A.D. 1045-1278 based on a corrected, calibrated radiocarbon age from charcoal collected from a buried campfire at the base of the scarp in Trench T-1. This likely represents fault motion in one of the historical earthquakes affecting southern Jordan (e.g. 1068, 1212, 1458, or 1588).
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Bet Zayda (aka Beteiha)

Marco et al (2005) dated Event E.H. 2 to after 1415 CE and suggested that it was was caused by the 1759 CE Safed Quake but considered other possibilities such as the 1546 CE and 1837 CE earthquakes. Marco et al (2005) estimated a Magnitude between 6.6. and 6.9 for Event E.H. 2 based on 0.5 m of offset.



Tell Saidiyeh and Ghor Kabed Trenches

Ferry et al (2011) detected 12 surface rupturing seismic events in 4 trenches (T1-T4) in Tell Saidiyeh and Ghor Kabed; 10 of which were prehistoric. The tightest chronology came from the Ghor Kabed trenches (T1 and T2) where Events Y and Z were constrained to between 560 and 1800 CE.

Note: Although Ferry et al (2011) combined archaeoseismic interpretations, their paleoseismic evidence, and entries from earthquake catalogs to produce earthquake dates and some overly optimistic probabilities, only the paleoseismic data is presented here. Ferry et al (2011)'s archaeoseismic data was researched and is treated separately.



Dead Sea - Seismite Types



Dead Sea - En Feshka

The top of Kagan et. al. (2011)'s section in En Feshka began around 1300 CE.



Dead Sea - Nahal Darga

Enzel et. al. (2000) identified a 25-50 cm. thick seismite in coarse grained lithology in Deformed Unit 10 at the base of Stratigraphic Unit 13 which dated to 1450-1550 CE (~ 400-500 yrs BP).



Dead Sea - En Gedi

Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 1546 CE date to a 3 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 56 cm. (0.56 m).



Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim

At site ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) encountered a 10 cm. thick Type 4 seismite which was dated to ~1525 CE ± 125. The date was not within their Bayesian modeled range and was extrapolated. Kagan et. al. (2011) suggested that this particular seismite formed during an earthquake in 1458 CE.



Araba - Introduction



Araba - Qasr Tilah

Haynes et al. (2006) dated Event I to 1515-1918 CE and suggested it was most likely a result of the 1546 CE earthquake.



Araba - Taybeh Trench

LeFevre et al. (2018) assigned a 1458 CE date to a seismite labeled as E2 which was age modeled to 1581 CE ± 133.



Araba - Qatar Trench

Klinger et. al. (2015) identified one seismic event which fits the 1458 CE Quake.

Event Mean Date Age Range Quake Assignment (Klinger) Quake Assignment (Williams)
E1 1447 CE ± 13 1434-1459 CE 1458 CE Quake not assigned


Araba - Taba Sabhka Trench

Allison (2013) assigned a 1068 CE date to a seismic event which they dated to between 1045 and 1661 CE and Allison (2013) assigned a 1212 CE date to a seismic event which they dated to between the mid 11th century CE and the 16-17th centuries CE.



Araba - Elat Sabhka Trenches

Kanari et al (2020) dated Event E2 in Trench T3 to after 1294 CE and assigned it to earthquakes in 1458 or 1588 CE. Kanari et al (2020) dated sand blows SB1 and SB2 in Trench T3 to between 1287 and 1635 CE and suggested they may have formed during an earthquake in 1458 CE.



Araba - Trenches in Aqaba

Niemi (2011:153) noted that the most recent scarp-forming event fault [in Trench AQ-1] occurred after A.D. 1045-1278 based on a corrected, calibrated radiocarbon age from charcoal collected from a buried campfire at the base of the scarp in Trench T-1. This likely represents fault motion in one of the historical earthquakes affecting southern Jordan (e.g. 1068, 1212, 1458, or 1588).



Notes

Ambraseys (2009)

Location Map from Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)


Fig. 1. Location map of the earthquake of 14 January 1546. Solid circles show sites where the shock was reported felt or caused damage. Large open circles indicnte other localities mentioned in the text. Small open circles show some other places where reported damage my not be associated with the 1546 earthquake. Shading shows estimated extent of epicentral region. Arrows show extent of coast affected by the associated seismic sea-wave. Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)

AD 1546 Jan 14 The Holy Land

The earthquake of 1546 in the Holy Land is considered to be one of the most important shocks known to have occurred in the Middle East to which modern writers assign a magnitude ML 7.0 and an epicentral intensity of X-XI (Ben Menahem 1979). However, the available evidence suggests that this was not a major earthquake and it must be classed as one of those which excite widespread interest rather on account of the geographical location than because of their special violence.

This event is presented in some detail not only because it is imperfectly known and its effects are usually grossly exaggerated, but also because it occurred in what appears today to be a seismically quiescent region of a densely populated and fast-developing part of the Middle East.

Early catalogues ignore the 1546 earthquake. Bonito (1691) gives, without details, an earthquake in Judaea in 1541, and the event is mentioned briefly by Hoff (1840) on the authority of Bernherz (1616), whose primary source is Rivander Bachmann (1607), itself a secondary source. Perrey (1850) follows Hoff (1840) and Mallet (1852) quotes Rivander Bachmann. Schmidt (1879) notes the earthquake briefly and quotes Anonymous of Wittenberg (1546), a primary source. Arvanitakis (1903b), on the authority of Dositheos (1715), dates the event to 1543, and Willis (1928) copies the earthquakes of 1534 and 1546 from Arvanitakis (1903b) and Perrey (1849), respectively, thus duplicating the event. Sieberg (1932a; 1932b) and later authors, with the exception of Braslayski (1938), who should be given credit for using a number of original sources, add nothing but confusion. Finally, Ben Menahem (1979) and Rotstein (1987), who do not give their sources of primary information, regard this event, with little justification, as one of the most destructive in the Jordan rift zone.

The information on the effects of the earthquake of 1546 retrieved so far comes from both occidental and oriental sources. Among these is the account of an anonymous Venetian, who was probably an eye-witness. Other contemporary or near-contemporary sources include the continuator of Mujir al-Din’s history, as well as Hebrew, Greek and Turkish material and the accounts left by travellers. The event may be reconstructed using these accounts as the foundation. Other late -sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources that preserve information on the 1546 earthquake that are considered as original are also taken into account. The earthquake of 1546 occurred only 30 years after the Ottoman conquest of Syria and Egypt (1516–17), as a result of which Palestine became a province of the Ottoman Empire. This undoubtedly had an effect on the production of local dynastic chronicles in Arabic, both in Egypt and in Syria. The sources of local information for this period are, therefore, chiefly in Hebrew and Turkish, mainly private and state correspondence, as well as archival material from local Sharia courts and, to a lesser extent, the accounts left by travellers. The correspondence from Cyprus and Constantinople in the archives of Venice containing news from Palestine was also examined, as were Greek church sources originating from Jerusalem.

The earliest information about the 1546 earthquake comes from a letter written to a nobleman in Venice and published the same year in Wittenberg. The original letter was written in Italian, probably originating from a town on the coast of Palestine. It says that
About noon, on the 14th of January AD 1546 there was a terrific earthquake in Jerusalem. As a result the vault of the Holy Tomb sunk and the walls and tower of the Temple were damaged and parts of them collapsed. The same happened in Damascus and great damage was done to other towns and villages; many people perished at sea and on land. Four towns in particular, Rama, Joppe, ‘Zozilgip and Sichem were totally destroyed by this earthquake to the extent that, with the exception of Damascus and Joppe, one can no longer recognise that there had been towns on these sites. And there exist no other places in these regions that would not have been damaged. On the same day, blood was flowing out from a fountain, named after the Prophet Eliseo, from which always water was drawn off. And at the beginning of this, flames coming out from the fountain were seen, and this lasted for four days. On the day of the earthquake the river Jordan dried up for two days and so did all the streams around Joppe that fall into the sea, which stopped flowing for three days. And when they began to flow again, the water was red. The sea near Joppe retreated to a distance of a full days’ walk off shore (sic.), so that one could walk with dry feet on the sea bed. A great many people, about 10 000, who ventured on foot offshore were drowned when the sea came back. At the same time, unusually strong winds got up so that near Tripoli they brought up a lot of sand and clay from the south that drifted into mounts. At the same time, equally strong winds caused great damage to the city of Famagusta in Cyprus and ruined its vineyards, something that also happened at San Sergio’ (Anon. 1546).
Figure 3.20 News from Wittemberg about the earthquake of 14 January 1546 in Palestine


Figure 3.20 News from Wittemberg about the earthquake of 14 January 1546 in Palestine and strong winds that caused great damage to the city of Famagusta in Cyprus. JW: Original Image from Ambraseys (2009) has been replaced with an image from an online digital copy of the manuscript.

The original letter in Italian seems to have been the basic source of information for a number of contemporary flysheets in Europe that spread the news of the earthquake in Jerusalem of Thursday noon, 14 January 1546, Anonymous (1546; 1693), Bonito (1691), Hellmann (1912), Perrey (1863) and Beinert (1955). Such a wide circulation reflects obviously the desire to draw theological morals from a natural disaster, particularly since the earthquake occurred in the Holy Land; Fincelius (1556) and Rivander Bachmann (1607). However, in the process of translation and printing of the original letter some of the details, particularly place names, were either omitted or suffered changes that today are difficult to rectify. Klein (1939) suggests that Zozilgip, one of the four destroyed towns mentioned in the German version of the Venetian letter Figure 3.20, stands for zoz ilgip, that is, so ist al-Gib, al-Gib being the early Giv’on, a township north of Jerusalem.

However, confirmation of this identification must await the retrieval of the original Italian version of the Venetian letter. The French version does not mention Zozilgip at all, and differs in some details from the German version. It attributes to a tempest the collapse of part of the walls of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem, of one third of the temple of Solomon, i.e. one of the mosques on Temple Mount, and of all the bell towers in Judea; in addition it implies that the coast was flooded by the sea all the way from Gaza to Jaffa (Techener 1861). The number of people drowned by the seismic sea wave is, obviously, grossly exaggerated.

More striking differences in location and on the date of damage have led to a controversy over the provenance of a sixteenth-century Spanish manuscript that describes the same event. This document, annotated as News of ‘46’, and obviously a contemporary copy from an unknown original, is indeed very similar in content to the Wittenberg version. However, it places the earthquake on 8 January 1546, does not mention Zozilgip and Sichem, and reports instead the destruction of Cifayde and Cigle. It also says that the whole province of Damascus was affected but that the city itself, and yet another city, did not suffer any damage. Beinert (1955 and personal communication 1991), who has read the manuscript, believes that these differences, as well as the phrasing, indicate that this is a first-hand account of the earthquake, experienced by a Spanish monk or pilgrim. He suggests that Cifayde stands for Safed in Galilee, a town not mentioned in the other versions. On the other hand, Braslavski (1956) and Shalem (1955) assume that this document is no more than a somewhat careless translation of the German or French versions, with errors in copying the transliteration of geographical names; Shalem argues that Cigle stands for Sichem, i.e. Nablus in Samaria, and Braslavski identifies Cifayde as Jaffa. An obviously independent contemporary account of the earthquake is found in the anonymous continuator of the chronicle by Mujir al-Din, in Mayer (1931). Though this sequel (dhail) covers events that took place between 1497 and 1509, that is before Mujir al-Din’s death in a.H. 927 (1521), it begins with the description of three earthquakes that followed one another during the period a.H. 952–953 (AD 1546). The part of this chronicle that refers to this sequence says that
On Thursday afternoon, 10th of Dhu’l-Qa’da 952, there occurred a great earthquake in Jerusalem, al-Khalil [Hebron], Gaza, al-Ramlah, alKarak, as-Salt, and Nablus which extended to Damascus. It lasted a short while and calmed down, and generally there was not a tall house in Jerusalem that was not left destroyed or fissured, and the same in al-Khalil [Hebron]. In Gaza the madrasa of Qayitbey was destroyed as well as the south part of his madrasa in Jerusalem, and its north and east sides; also, the top of the minaret over the Bab as-Silsila was destroyed. In Nablus the earthquake was stronger than elsewhere, and 500 lives were lost under the ruins.

Then, on Sunday night, 10th of Muharram, 953 [= 13 March 1546] there was another alarm, the noise of which was greater before it died out.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, 12th Rabi’ I of the year 953 [= 13 May 1546], there occurred another shock felt by some people more than others, apart from the continuous shocks of previous days, some of which occurred at night and some during the day . . .
Although many of the details in the sequel to Mujir al-Din’s chronicle resemble those in the Venetian letter, which refers quite clearly to the 1546 earthquake, their inclusion at the beginning of a historical account that describes events that belong to the period 902–914 (AD 1497–1509) raised some doubt regarding the actual year of these events. Mayer recognised that this complication might be due to a mere slip of the pen of a scribe, who, whilst turning marginal notes into the sequel of Mujir al-Din’s chronicle, copied later events first and a series of earlier events, running consecutively, later (Mayer 1931).

However, Mayer was more inclined to think that what he had in his hands was a faithful copy of the dhail as written by Mujir al-Din himself, and that the events described are in the right chronological order, that is, that there was an error in the years, which should read 902 and 903 rather than 952 and 953. However, another reason why Mayer was more inclined to think that there was an error in the years of these events was that he could find no evidence for an earthquake in either Syria or Palestine in the year a.H. 952 (1546). Obviously, he was not aware of the Venetian letter and of the other sources which we have retrieved that now remove any ambiguity about the actual date of the event. The incorrect year given by Mayer was thus propagated in later catalogues. Reading the years of the earthquake sequence in Mujir’s dhail as a.H. 952 and 953, the date of the main shock, Thursday 10 Dhu’l Qa’da 952, corresponds to 13 January 1546, which was a Wednesday. A discrepancy of one day is common in converting the Muslim calendar. For instance, a sigil in the Khaladiyye Library in Jerusalem (1856, vol. 17, 437), dated 21 Dhu’l-Qa’da a.H. 952, says briefly
the day before today, Thursday the 10th of the month, after the noon prayer, a disaster came from the sky and a great earthquake occurred in the name of God.
For the date of the second shock Mayer considers Mujir al-Din’s date to be the ‘night of 11 Muharram’, which would have been Sunday 14 March, although the Arabic text says ‘Sunday night 10 Muharram’ 953, which corresponds to Saturday 13 March 1546. This is correct since Sunday night in the Muslim calendar means the night starting on Saturday, since the Muslim day starts at sunset and day follows night. However, the Khaladiyye manuscript of the dhail gives 13 Dhu’l-Qa’da, that is, three days after the main shock. For the third shock in Mujir’s sequel, Wednesday afternoon 12 Rabi I 953 corresponds to 13 May, which was a Thursday. There can thus be little doubt that the details in Mujir’s chronicle refer to the earthquake sequence of 1546, and that the dhail must have been added by a later scribe or by a copyist. Indeed, Mayer himself says that in the copy of the dhail kept in the Khaladiyye Library, which has not been viewed, the earthquakes are described in an additional note on the last page.

Contemporary Hebrew documents provide an additional, independent source of information about the earthquake. A Hebrew manuscript notice written by Sussman ben Rabbi Abraham Carit, who arrived in Jerusalem in 1545 two months before the earthquake, states that
in the month of Shvat the Almighty has shown us signs and wonders that none of our forefathers ever witnessed, and on the 11th of that month, on Thursday, about one in the afternoon . . . [because] of the quake many towers fell down, almost the third of their height, and the tower of “A. A.” was one of them. About ten gentiles were killed in Jerusalem but none of the Jews, and in the town of Nablus the earthquake was so strong that at least three hundred gentiles, and three or four Jews were killed. There were also further shocks after that, but not so strong, and to this day we are in constant fear of an earthquake all day and night (Braslavski 1938).
The 11th of Shvat corresponds to 14 January 1546, which was a Thursday. Klein (1939) suggests that ‘A. A.’ stands for ‘Avraham Avinu’, i.e. our Father Abraham, and refers to the tower over Abraham’s Tomb in Hebron. This locality is mentioned in Mujir al-Din’s sequel as al-Khalil, the Arabic name used for Hebron because of Abraham’s sanctuary, the Friend of Allah. The disagreement as to when the copy of this document was made and by whom (Braslavski 1938; Turnianski 1984) does not detract from the authenticity of its contents. Sussman died about 20 years after the earthquake, and the phrasing suggests that he wrote the note shortly after the event.

A more detailed description of the effects of the earthquake, about 18 lines long, is found in a copy of another Hebrew document, appended to a booklet called Ot nafshi, in 1625, or in 1562, according to Klein (1939), belonging to one Isaac Levy, and apparently copied by him from an unknown source. According to this document,
On Thursday 11th, of the month Shevat, year Hashav [14 January 1541], at one in the afternoon, there was a great earthquake and there was almost total destruction of Jerusalem, there is no house that was not destroyed or cracked, and even from the new city wall there fell a scythe in height, such as at the Gate of Mercy. And also fell the Ishmaelite mosques as well as the cupola of alAqsa, and so did the Holy Sepulchre, a building full of windows, that some say was built by Nabuchadnezar king of Babylon and even the Ishmaelites are wondering since it was a very strong building. And the gentiles say that there never was such an earthquake in Jerusalem . . . and in contrast, praise be to God, our synagogue was left undamaged. About 12 Ishmaelites perished, and none of the Jews. But in Nablus about 560 Ishmaelites perished of the townfolk, but nobody knows of the villagers, since they still may be buried under the rubble; three Jews died in Nablus. And in Hebron, 16 Ishmaelites perished and 70 were injured with broken arms and legs. And the gentiles report that the river Jordan is dry and they crossed it on dry land and that this lasted three days. Worse than the fall of their houses, they lamented their [loss of] water, . . . which turned into blood for three or four days. And . . . the Jordan was dry and desolate because two big hills fell into the river, and others say that the earth cracked and swallowed up the waters of the Jordan. It is also said that the gentiles in Jerusalem offered monies to the Ishmaelites to allow them to rebuild a church, but to no avail, and what fell, remained fallen. There is no house in Jerusalem that did not crack in the earthquake, and also, many mosques have collapsed . . . (Braslavski 1939).
The words but nobody knows how many of the villagers [perished] since they still may be buried suggest that this document was written immediately after the event. However, the penultimate sentence, regarding the refusal of the Ottoman authorities to approve the reconstruction of churches, implies that this document was not composed so soon after the earthquake. Internal evidence suggests that this notice was written sometime after the event.

A contemporary Hebrew ode, ‘piut’, composed by a certain Moshe Meali, and found in the Cairo Geniza by Razabi (1982), describes a plague, earthquake, famine and locust infestation that befell Jerusalem. The earthquake, it says, caused houses and shops to collapse. Two synagogues fell apart and so did two churches that adjoined each other. Severe damage was caused to the Holy Sepulchre and to the Dome of the Rock. The people left their houses and stayed in the city cemeteries.

This poem, which was composed some time after these calamities, extends their occurrence over several years, starting with AD 1542/3 (‘hashab’). The earthquake is placed in the midst of a Passover feast of the following year, that is, sometime in the spring of 1543 or 1544. It would appear that the poet, who was writing some time after these events, erred in the year, and that the association of the earthquake with the Passover is purely decorative.

Additional information about the effects of the earthquake can be gleaned from the narrative of European travellers who happened to be in the Holy Land shortly after the 1546 earthquake. Anonymous of Douai (1714), most probably a Franciscan friar, left France in October 1545. The copy of his narrative made in 1714 is incomplete and starts in the middle of a phrase describing the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, concerning which he does not mention any earthquake damage. From Jerusalem he proceeds to Bethlehem, then Ramla, and he is in Jaffa on 7 June 1546, from where he sails off to Cyprus and Venice, where he arrives on 29 August. Therefore, he should have arrived in the Holy Land a few months after the earthquake and probably would have experienced the aftershock of 13 May 1546. However, nowhere in the extant part of his narrative is there any explicit mention of the effects of the 1546 earthquake. His truncated account contains nothing about the effects of the earthquake in Jerusalem. He travels to the Jordan river and the Dead Sea, and it is after leaving the monastery of St Joachim that he describes (fol. 14r) a site called ‘Donny’, previously a natural arch cut through rock forming a bridge, which had been destroyed by earthquakes. From there he proceeds to the site of the ‘trois montagnes’, which were dangerous on account of the rocks that earthquakes cause to roll down from the summit, and arrives in Jericho, which he finds in ruins.
Figure 3.21 Voldrich's Jerusalem, drawn by Dominik de la Greche in the summer of 1546


Figure 3.21 Voldrich's Jerusalem, drawn by Dominik de la Greche in the summer of 1546, seen from the east. It shows the bell tower of the Holy Sepulchre with its top part missing, with no other recognisable destruction caused by the 1546 earthquake (Vit Karnik). Red arrow (added by Williams) points to the broken bell tower of the Holy Sepulchre

Figure 3.22 Drawing of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before and after the earthquake of 1546

Church of the Holy Sepulchre before Church of the Holy Sepulchre after
(left) A drawing by de la Greche apparently of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before the earthquake when the Bell Tower to the left was still intact - from The Met - NYC (right) Figure 3.22 from Ambraseys (2009) - A view of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its square seen from the south side, drawn by Dominik de la Greche a few months after the earthquake of 1546. Notice the missing top part of the bell tower (Vit Karnik).

The narrative of Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova, an educated Czech pilgrim, contains more information about the effects of the earthquake (Voldrich 1563). He arrived in Jaffa via Corfu, Crete and Cyprus on 13 August 1546. In Jerusalem, the only damage he attributes to the earthquake is that caused to the Holy Sepulchre, which he describes as follows:
On the left side of the square, as you face the door of the church, on the eastern side, there is a tall square tower attached to the church built of hewn stone, with many windows. As we were told, the upper part of the tower collapsed during a strong earthquake that took place in Jerusalem just before the feast of the Three Kings [Epiphany: 14 January]. The truss was all vaulted up to the top and it was covered with sheets of lead. However, it all collapsed together with a good piece of the tower and still lies in ruins; nobody is repairing it.
In his detailed description of the Holy Sepulchre and of its interior, Voldrich does not mention any other earthquake damage. He appends a view of the church, drawn by Dominik de la Greche shortly after the earthquake (see Figures 3.21–3.24) with the following caption:
This is the correct and true picture of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, with its square, seen from the south side, as it was in the year 1546, drawn by Master Dominik de le Greche, Venetian painter, in the year 46, and now printed under the care of Woldrich Prefat.
He also mentions the damage caused by the earthquake in Bethlehem. After describing the basilica, he says that
in the same premises there used to be another vaulted and relatively large church, but the earthquake, we were told, destroyed it, so that its vault and base collapsed completely. There are still a few pillars, pieces of the vault and walls still to be seen, covered with debris. This was the church of St Jeronymus. Several other adjoining buildings, cells, a part of the refectory and the cloister were also badly damaged
He continues with the description of the monastery and of other buildings in Bethlehem that survived the earthquake without damage.

He notices other ruined buildings for which, however, he does not give the cause of their destruction. In Ramla he notices several small chapels badly damaged and says that parts of the town walls were always ruined. On the way from Ramla to Jaffa he saw a church with the upper part of its belfry destroyed. Near Ramla he found the remains of a monastery that had also been destroyed. On the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, on a hill, there was a tower, the upper part of which was heavily damaged. Near Bethlehem he saw a chapel that had collapsed completely; however, a church in a nearby field was not damaged. Between Bethlehem and Bet Jala he found another church that had collapsed, but its tower was still standing. Near Battir, a small half-ruined town, he found a chapel near a cave that had collapsed. On his return from Bethlehem, near the place where John the Baptist was born, he saw a church that was partly ruined, as well as another church and a monastery nearby that had suffered considerable damage. Also a square tower and a few houses in Bethany were heavily damaged. On the Olivet Mount he found the remains of a church and a monastery, with some walls still standing. Jericho was in ruins and the church, allegedly built by St Helen, damaged. On the way from the Dead Sea to Jericho, on a hill on the left-hand side of the road, he saw another church, which he says was that of St John the Baptist, which was damaged. On travelling from Bethlehem to Hebron he noticed another small church, a part of which had collapsed. Hebron and Jaffa, he says, were in ruins, but this he attributes to the Egyptians and to the recent wars.

Figure 3.23 A view of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its square in the early part of the nineteenth century


Figure 3.23 A view of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its square in the early part of the nineteenth century. JW: Ambraseys (2009) original image was replaced for a clearer image of the same artwork. Info about the drawing is available here.

Fig. 3.24 - Photos of damage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre due to a Dead Sea earthquake in 2004

Ext. Cracks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Ext. Cracks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Ext. Cracks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Figure 3.24 Pre-existing cracks in the masonry of the wall of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre enlarged by the earthquake of 11 February 2004 in the northeast of the Dead Sea (Ms 5.0) (A. Salamon) - from Ambraseys (2009) with photos replaced with originals courtesy of A. Salamon

Some details of the restoration of the Holy Sepulchre after the earthquake are given by Dositheos (1715), Patriarch of Jerusalem (1641–1707), on the authority of a contemporary Greek account written by Patriarch Germanos II (1534–79). He says that
as a result of the earthquake in the time of Germanos, the cupola of the copper tower of the belfry of the Holy Sepulchre fell on the nearby church of the Resurrection and caused the collapse of its dome that remains in ruins to the present day. The same earthquake destroyed the bell-tower of the Saint Bethlehem, its ruins left as seen today . . . these were the only two belfries left standing by the Arabs that fell in this earthquake.
The date of the event is not mentioned, but the description of the damage sustained by the church of the Resurrection bears a strong resemblance to that given for the damage of the two churches adjoined to each other as given in the Hebrew ‘piut’.

A very similar description is found in Papadopulos-Kerameus (1898), who cites an anonymous Greek document, written in Jerusalem in the early nineteenth century and deriving from earlier sources. It says that
in the year 1545 (sic.) 14 January there was a frightful earthquake in the Holy City and throughout Palestine which caused the top of the beautiful bell-tower of the church situated between those of Adelphotheou and of St Tessarakonta to fall and destroy the dome of the church; also in Bethlehem the earthquake destroyed the bell-tower, the only one left standing by the Agarini [i.e. the Arabs] (Papadopoulos-Kerameus 1898, iv. 40)
The churches of Adelphotheou or Adelphopoeitou and of St Tessarakonta were chapels in the compound of the Holy Sepulchre next to the bell tower.

These accounts seem to be the source of information about the damage to the mediaeval bell towers of the Holy Sepulchre and to the basilica in Bethlehem mentioned by Vincent and Abel (1922) and Harvey and Harvey (1938), who wrongly date the event to 1545.

Evidence for the repair of the damage caused by the earthquake to various buildings can be found in Ottoman archival sources. Some of those that have been retrieved refer to repairs of public buildings, chiefly Christian places of worship in Jerusalem. Although at first the attitude of the local authorities was negative, some repairs were eventually allowed, and gradually more substantial construction work was permitted.

Thus, following a petition dated June 1548 made by the Franciscans of Mt Zion in Jerusalem, permission was granted first to restore several rooms and the damaged northern and eastern halls, and four months later to repair six small rooms in the southern part of the monastery (Cohen 1982).

The archives of the Custodia Terra Sancta in Jerusalem contain numerous contemporary Ottoman documents granting permission for the repair or strengthening of churches and convent property across the land (Castellani 1922; Hussein et al. 1986). However, it is not possible to say whether the damage that required repair was due to the 1546 earthquake or to the war and natural ageing of these structures. These documents refer, for example, to repairs of the walls of the convent in al-Ramla, of the Church in Nazareth, on Mount Zion, restoration of the cupolas and chapels of the Holy Sepulchre, and repairs of the terraces and cupola of the church in Bethlehem. The decision to abandon a convent in Nazareth in 1548 (Cirelli 1918) may have also been the result of the 1546 earthquake.

The repair of buildings damaged by the earthquake apparently continued for almost a decade. An order detailing repair work, issued in Istanbul and addressed to the finance officer (defterdar) of Arabistan, dated 17 Rabi II 959 (12 April 1552), says
the tombs of Abraham the Friend (al-Khalil), Isaac and Jacob [at Hebron] are situated in a mosque which has fallen down in part and has become a ruin. Also the mosque that houses the tomb of the Prophet Moses (Nabi Musa) is in need of repair. And some parts of the wall which is situated on the east side of the Dome of the Rock have been destroyed by earthquakes so that a man can pass through; twice the mosque’s lead has been stolen . . . The repair of all these buildings is necessary and urgent (Heyd 1960).
Since this order was issued almost six years after the earthquake, it may be only a supposition that it refers to damage caused by the 1546 earthquake rather than, perhaps, by later shocks. However, this is unlikely, since delays in the Porte’s response to requests for repairs of this nature were long. Moreover, this order refers to the repair of structures that are known from other sources to have been damaged by the 1546 earthquake and no other shocks during the period 1547–52 have as yet been identified.

Archaeological evidence and contemporary documents presented by Burgoyne (1987) also give further indication of the damage to some of the Muslim buildings in Jerusalem, such as the Ribat of ‘Ala’al-Din and Qayitbey’s madrasa (the Ashrafiyya). There is also evidence of damage to the Aminiyya madrasa and the minaret of the Fakhriyya.

The area strongly affected by the 1546 earthquake was, therefore, confined within an area demarcated by Nablus, Ar-Ramla and some point north of Jerusalem, Nablus suffering more than the other sites, Figure 3.21. However, it is rather surprising that despite the alleged heavy damage caused in Nablus – the main centre of the Samaritan community – no reference to this or to any other sixteenth-century earthquake has been found, so far, in the Samaritan chronicles and in the collections of the AB Institute for Samaritan Studies.

Earthquake damage in Jaffa, except for the effects of the seismic sea wave, is difficult to assess because this and other coastal towns were, at that time, in ruins and almost totally deserted (Rauwolff 1738; Schurr 1990). Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova says that Jaffa ‘used to be a clean town but now everything is in ruins and no house can be seen; there are only two towers, repaired to house the seat of the Turkish commander’ (Voldrich 1563).

Damage in Jerusalem, chiefly to tall structures, was widespread but repairable and undoubtedly not as serious as some of the contemporary exaggerated accounts suggest. The description of Jerusalem left by the pilgrims who visited the city shortly after the earthquake does not give the impression of a destructive earthquake. This impression is, to some extent, confirmed by the detailed view of Jerusalem, drawn by Dominik de la Greche a few months after the earthquake (Figure 3.23) which shows no signs of destruction except for the top of the bell tower of the Holy Sepulchre, which is missing (Voldrich 1563).

In Bethlehem, the only structures that are known to have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair were the bell tower of the basilica, the church of St Jeronymous and a few appended structures.

In Hebron the shock caused some damage, mainly to tall buildings, and some casualties, but again here there is no evidence of destruction.

In Gaza, apart from the madrasa of Qayitbay, there is no evidence of serious damage. As-Salt and alKarak must have experienced strong shaking, but also here there is no evidence that the earthquake caused great concern.

There is no indication that the earthquake caused any damage in Nazareth, except that alluded to by Cirelli (1918). Avisar (1973), without quoting his source of information, maintains that the walls of the town of Tiberias, which had been built in 1540, as well as many houses, collapsed in the earthquake of 1546. No historical or archaeological evidence could be found for this.

For Safed, except for the tenuous identification of Cifayde with Safed by Beinert (1955), no reports of damage are available. Safed, at that time, was a prosperous community and a centre of learning and literary activity, so it is unlikely that, had there been earthquake damage, it could have passed unrecorded. Rabbi Yehuda Hallewa, in a text published in Safed a year before the earthquake in 1545(?), does mention the occurrence of earthquake shocks, which apparently caused no damage (Idel 1984), but there are no accounts for the 1546 event. Thus, there is no primary evidence that the shock caused any damage or great concern in northern Israel. This is supported by Braslavski (1959), who does not include the 1546 earthquake in his detailed study of historical earthquakes in Galilee.

The shock was reported from Damascus and its district, a large urban centre, where apparently it caused some concern.

No evidence has been found that the shock was felt in Lebanon or Egypt, nor for that matter is there any indication that it was felt elsewhere.

Modern writers (Oberhummer 1902; Sieberg 1932a; 1932b; Christophides 1969) maintain that the 1546 earthquake was also felt in Cyprus, where it caused damage. Although there is no reason to suppose that the shock was not perceived in the island, contemporary correspondence from Cyprus and Istanbul in the State Archives of Venice does not mention the earthquake of 1546 (Archivio a and b). It is very likely that modern writers have confused the damage caused in Cyprus by strong winds in 1546 and by the earthquake of 10 September 1549, which probably originated on the Hellenic Arc, an event that modern writers erroneously dated to 1547 The discolouration of water and change in the yield of springs, as well as the temporary damming of the Jordan and of streams round Jaffa, most probably, as in other earthquakes in the region, resulted from slumping of the ground and landsliding triggered by the shock (Braslavski 1938). Since the Quaternary marls and fine clastics of the river banks are quite unstable, even a light shock during winter flooding would suffice to set off a landslide.

The seismic sea wave which flooded the coast between Gaza and Jaffa, allegedly causing additional loss of life, was possibly due to a subaqueous slide from the unstable continental margin of Palestine triggered by the shock. The whole of the coast is certainly prone to slumping because of the evaporites in the sedimentary section (Garfunkel et al. 1979). Seismic sea waves are more likely to occur due to the instability of the continental margin rather than as a consequence of the severity of shaking due to an earthquake.

Absolutely no evidence has been found to substantiate Ben Menahem’s assertion that the earthquake of 1546 was associated with surface faulting extending from Damye to the Dead Sea (Ben Menahem 1979).

The silence of travellers about widespread or serious damage caused by the 1546 earthquake in central Israel does bring out the element of exaggeration which is obvious in some of the contemporary accounts of the event. Although accounts left by travellers and pilgrims of that time are brief and of a stereotyped format, it is reasonable to expect that, had there been widespread destruction from a large-magnitude earthquake, some record of it should have been preserved. It is important, therefore, that, with the exception of Anonymous of Douai and Voldrich Prefat z Vlkanova, travellers and pilgrims who traversed the epicentral region or visited the affected area shortly after the earthquake do not mention earthquake damage. The ruins they notice they attribute to wars, or they do not explain their cause. Belon (1588), for instance, in November 1547, on his way from Bethlehem through Bira, Nablus and Nazareth to Damascus, did traverse the epicentral area, but he says nothing about the effects of the earthquake of the previous year. The same applies to Gorynski (1914) and Willart (1548), ´ who spent August of 1548 in this area, and to Chesneau (1887), who passed through the region in July 1549.

This confirms the impression that the damage caused by the earthquake could not have been widespread or great, and was probably quickly repaired; for, had there been serious and extensive damage due to a large-magnitude earthquake, it is unlikely that it could have escaped them, and they would have recorded it, as they did for other places on their travels. This and the fact that the main shock was not reported from epicentral distances greater than about 200 km suggest that the 1546 earthquake was an event in many respects similar to that of 1927 (Vered and Striem 1977), that is, an earthquake of medium magnitude, MS about 6.0, which would be consistent with the short sequence of relatively weak aftershocks reported from the epicentral region.

References

Ambraseys, N. N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900.

Ambraseys et al (1994)

1546 January 14 Thursday 10 Dhu 'l-Qa'da 952 Dead Sea

A series of shocks is reported from southern Palestine in 1546. The first occurred during the afternoon and strongly affected Jerusalem, al-Khalil (Hebron), Ghazza (Gaza), al-Ramla, al-Karak, al-Salt and Nablus and was felt as far as Damascus. It lasted a short while, but damaged or fissured most of the tall buildings in Jerusalem and al-Khalil. The madrasa of Qayitbey in Ghazza was destroyed and likewise southern, northern and eastern parts of his madrasa in Jerusalem. The top of the minaret at the Chain Gate was destroyed. Nablus was affected more than anywhere else and about 500 people were killed beneath the wreckage there.1

The Patriarch of Jerusalem reported the effects of the earthquake on the belfry of the Holy Sepulchre, which fell onto the Church of the Resurrection. The bell-tower of the church in Bethlehem also fell.2 Effects on the rivers flowing into the sea near Jaffa are reported in contemporary accounts, as well as the damming of the river Jordan. In addition, the sea withdrew from the coast of south Palestine and returned as a tsunami, which drowned many people.4

Another shock, stronger than the first, occurred on the night of Saturday-Sunday 10 Muharram 953/13 March 1546 and another on Wednesday morning 12 Rabi' I, 953/29 September 1546, which some people felt more than others. These aftershocks followed a series of tremors over the preceding days and nights.4

There is no indication that the shock affected Egypt, although this was probably the case, by analogy with the earthquake of 12 November 1458, with which there are several points in common (see above). Modern writers report effects in Tripoli in Syria and Famagusta in Cyprus, but this appears to be due to damaging storms that year, and an earthquake in Cyprus in 1547.5

Footnotes

1 Mujir al-Din, Dhail (ed. Mayer, 1931), pp. 86-90. Mayer fails to identify the correct date of the earthquake; see also Burgoyne and Richards (1987), p. 42, note 32. Duplications abound in Kallner-Amiran (1951), pp. 229-30. The earthquake is fully discussed by Ambraseys and Karcz (1992).

2 Dositheos (1715); Vincent and Abel (1922). The Muslim authorities apparently refused the Christians permission to rebuild these churches, according to a Hebrew source in Braslavskii (1938). For damage to Muslim monuments, see Burgoyne and Richards, pp. 119, 256, 272.

3 Anon. Wittenberg (1546), says 10,000 people perished in the tsunami, clearly an exaggeration. Further details of the drying up of the Jordan, and of losses sustained by the 'Ismaelites and the Gentiles', are provided by contemporary Hebrew sources, in Braslavskii (1938).

4 Mujir al-Din, l.c.

5 Sieberg (1932b), p. 193, under 14 January and 29 September. For Cyprus, see Enlart (1896), Ambraseys and Karcz (1992), p. 261.

Salamon et al (2011)

1546 01 14 afternoon: Sea withdrew and returned, southern Israel

Evaluation by Ambraseys and Karcz (1992), Ambraseys et al. (1994), and Ambraseys (2009) conclude that

... the sea withdrew from the coast of south Palestine and returned as a tsunami [...] flooded the coast between Gaza and Jaffa, allegedly causing additional loss of life....
This was also mentioned by Ambraseys (1962), Antonopoulos (1980d), and Amiran et al. (1994), who note that at Jaffa the sea receded the distance of a day's walk. Shalem (1956), however, suspects that the origin of the tsunami is not known and it certainly needs to be verified. In his opinion, it might have been duplicated from the tsunami of 1068 03 18.

The tsunami was apparently caused by a moderate magnitude earthquake, MS ~6.0, in the Jordan Valley, Israel (Ambraseys and Karcz, 1992; Ambraseys et al., 1994; Amiran et al., 1994; Ambraseys, 2009). This seems problematic in that the region of Jaffa to Gaza that was struck by the inferred tsunami is fairly far from the inferred earthquake source. Alternatively, if correct, why were there no reports of additional submarine sliding north of Jaffa? Furthermore, the relatively small size of the earthquake, as suggested, might not have been strong enough to trigger a tsunamigenic offshore slide. Or was the 1546 earthquake farther south, and larger? Interestingly, the recent study of Haynes et al. (2006) suggests the northern part of the Wadi Araba fault as the source of that earthquake. In any case, further investigation is needed.

References

Salamon, A., et al. (2011). "A critical evaluation of tsunami records reported for the Levant Coast from the second millennium bce to the present." Isr. J. Earth Sci. 58: 327-354.

Dan Bahat

The 1546 AD quake cut like a knife along the eastern wall and destroyed a mosque on Temple Mount. The Cypress trees we see today were planted over this destroyed mosque. - Dan Bahat, interview - March 2018

Ambraseys and Karcz (1992)

Discussion

  1. it is rather surprising that despite the alleged heavy damage caused in Nablus - the main centre of the Samaritan community - no reference to this nor to any other 16th century earthquake has been found, so far, in the Samaritan chronicles and in the collections of the AB Institute for Samaritan Studies (B. Zadka, pers. comm.).
  2. Earthquake damage in Jaffa, except for the effects of the seismic sea wave, is difficult to assess as this and other coastal towns were, at that time, in ruins and almost totally deserted (Rauwolff, 1738; Schurr, 1990). Prefat says that Jaffa used to be a clean town but now everything is in ruins and no house can be seen; there are only two towers, repaired to house the seat of the Turkish commander (Prefat, 1563).
  3. Damage in Jerusalem, chiefly to tall structures, was widespread but repairable and undoubtedly not as serious as some of the contemporary exaggerated accounts want us to believe. The description of Jerusalem left by the pilgrims who visited the city shortly after the earthquake known to us, does not give the impression of a destructive earthquake. This impression is, to some extent, confirmed by the detailed view of Jerusalem, drawn by Dominik de la Greche a few months after the earthquake, which shows no signs of destruction except for the top of the bell-tower of the Holy Sepulchre which is missing (Prefat, 1563).
  4. In Bethlehem, the only structures that we know were destroyed or damaged beyond repair were the belltower of the basilica, the church of St Jeronymous and a few appended structures
  5. In Hebron the shock caused damage, mainly to tall buildings, and probably the collapse of a few houses with casualties, but again there is no evidence of widespread destruction here
  6. In Gaza, apart from the madrassa of Qayitbay, we have no evidence of serious damage.
  7. As-Salt and al-Karak must have experienced strong shaking but also here there is no evidence that the earthquake caused great concern. (JW: As-Salt was the location where the most fatalities were reported in Jordan due to the 1927 Jericho Quake indicating a possible site effect.)
  8. Avissar (1973), without quoting his source of information, maintains that the walls of the town of Tiberias, built in 1540, as well as many houses, collapsed in the earthquake of 1546. We could find no evidence for this so far
  9. For Safed, except for the tenuous identification of Cifayde with Safed by Beinart (1955), no reports of damage are available. Safed, at that time, was a prosperous community and a centre of learning and literary activity and it is unlikely that had there been earthquake damage it could have passed unrecorded. Rabbi Yehuda Hallewa, in a text published in Safed a year before the earthquake in 1545, does mention the occurrence of earthquake shocks in the years 1541- 1545 (5301-5305 Jewish Era), which apparently caused no damage .(Idel; 1984), but there are no accounts for the 1546 event. Thus, there is no evidence that the shock caused any damage or great concern in northern Israel and this is supported by Braslavski (1959) who does not include the 1546 earthquake in his paper of historical earthquakes in the Galilee.
  10. The discoloration of water and change in the yield of springs, as well as the temporary damming of the river Jordan and of streams round Jaffa, was most probably, as in other earthquakes in the region, the result of slumping of the ground and landsliding triggered by the shock (Braslavski, 1939). Since the Quaternary marls and fine clastics of the river banks are quite unstable, even a light shock during winter flooding would suffice to set off a landslip.
  11. The seismic sea-wave, which flooded the coast between Gaza and Jaffa, allegedly causing additional loss of life, was possibly due to a subaqueous slide from the unstable continental margin of Palestine, triggered by the shock. The whole of the coast is certainly prone to slumping because of the evaporites in the sedimentary section (Garfunkel et al., 1979). Seismic sea-waves are more likely to occur due to the instability of the continental margin rather than the severity of shaking due to an earthquake
  12. We could find absolutely no evidence to substantiate Ben Mehahem's assertion that the earthquake of 1546 was associated with surface faulting which extended from Damye to the Dead Sea (Ben Menahem, 1979), nor that the rupture extended to the northern part of the Jordan Valley (Rotstein, 1981).
  13. The silence of travellers about widespread or serious damage caused by the 1546 earthquake in central Israel does bring out the element of exaggeration which is obvious in some of the contemporary accounts of the event. Although accounts left by travellers and pilgrims of that time are brief and of a stereotyped format it is reasonable to expect that had there been widespread destruction from a large magnitude earthquake, some record of it should have been preserved. It is important, therefore, that with the exception of the Anonymous of Douai and Prefat, other travellers and pilgrims who traversed the epicentral region or visited the affected area shortly after the earthquake do not mention earthquake damage; the ruins they notice they attribute to wars, or they do not explain their cause. Belon (1588), for instance, in November 1547, on his way from Bethlehem, through Bira, Nablus, and Nazareth to Damascus, traversed the epicentral area but says nothing about the effects of the earthquake of the previous year. The same applies to Corynski (1914) who passed through the region sometime between 1546 and 1560, and to Willart (1548) who spent August of 1548 in this area as well as to Chesneau (1887) who visited the region in July 1549.

Paleoclimate - Droughts

References

References

Ambraseys, N. and I. Karcz (1992). "The earthquake of 1546 in the Holy Landz." Terra Nova 4(2): 254-263.

ANTONOPOULOS, J. (1980). "Data from investigation on seismic Sea-waves events in the Eastern Mediterranean from 1500 to 1800 A.D." Annals of Geophysics.

H. Beinart: The Earthquake in Eretz Israel of January 1546, BIES 19 (1954), pp. 29-34 (Hebrew)

Ben-Menahem, A., Aboodi, Ezra (1981). "Micro- and macroseismicity of the Dead Sea rift and off-coast eastern Mediterranean." Tectonophysics 80(1–4): 199-233.

Braslavski, J. (1938), 'The earthquake that blocked the Jordan in 1546', Zion, 3 (4), 323-336.

Braslavski, J. (1956), 'The earthquake of the year 1546', Eretz Israel, Bull. Isr. Explor. Soc.,19,230-235.

Braslavski, J. (1959), 'Earthquakes in the Galilee', Twva Vearetz, 2, 75-80.

Karcz, I. (2004). "Implications of some early Jewish sources for estimates of earthquake hazard in the Holy Land." Annals of Geophysics 47(2-3): 759–792.

Klein, S. (1939), 'Remarks on the article by J. Braslavski', Zion, N.S, 4, 90.

Mayer, L. A. (1931), 'A sequel to Mujir ad-Din's chronicle',J. Palest. Orient. Soc.,11, 85-97.

Razabi, Y. (1982), 'On happenings in Jerusalem in the year Tashab 1542/3', Shalem, 5, 255-272 (in Hebrew).

Shalem N (1955) Comments on the paper by Beinart: Earthquakes in Eretz Israel in 1456 Bulletin of the Israel Exploration Society 19:235-236

Taher, M. A. (1979). Corpus des textes arabes relatifs aux tremblements de terre et autres catastrophes naturelles de la conquête arabe au XII H./XVIII J.C. [S.l.], [s.n.].