Pope Blamed Jews for Medieval Quake That Moved River
Magnitude-5.8 quake put Po River where it is today
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 16, 2015 3:45 PM CDT
A rower sculls on Italy's Po River in 2008. New research shows an earthquake in 1570 caused miles-long shift in the country's major waterway.   (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca)

(Newser) – When an earthquake struck Italy in 1570, Pope Pius V blamed the destruction on God's supposed wrath against the Jews. Less predictably, the quake also shifted the course of Italy's longest river by 25 miles. The magnitude-5.8 quake struck near the northern city of Ferrara in 1570, killing dozens and causing thousands more to abandon their homes, American Geophysical Union reports. Now, researchers analyzing extensive historical records and using new modeling techniques say the temblor was the final step in the centuries-long shift of the Po River. "The 1570 earthquake marked the definitive diversion of the final part of the Po River away from Ferrara," they write in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.

Over the past 2,800 years the Po has moved north by about 12 miles between the towns of Ficarlo and Guastella, likely due to small shifts caused by temblors culminating in the 1570 earthquake, Live Science reports. That one caused the Po Valley to rise by 4 to 6 inches on the river's right side, creating a major shift in the river's flow and moving its delta north to its present location. Neat factoid: The 1570 quake was so destructive that it led Italian architect Pirro Ligorio to design the world's first earthquake-resistant buildings. As for the Jewish angle, Pope Pius V maintained that God was punishing Ferrara's duke for allowing Jews and Marranos to take refuge there from Spain. (See how 5,000 earthquakes hit Nevada in one year.)