Exactly half a millennium ago today, Florence suffered two earthquakes in the morning, and another in the afternoon; two more came the next day. Indeed, 1510 was a bad year for the town, with thunderbolts, fever, fires and murders. We know all this thanks to Luca Landucci, a chemist but, more importantly, a diarist - one of Europe’s earliest.
Not much is known, though, about Landucci personally, other than that he lived in Florence, was trained as a bookkeeper and ran a small chemist’s shop. His diary, which begins in 1450, focuses on the cycle of daily events, which seem to have been much affected not only by plague but by raids and sieges on Florence.
Landucci’s diary entries cease on his death in 1516, but the published version of the diary also contains additional diary entries to 1542 made by an anonymous writer. It was translated into English in 1927 by Alice de Rosen and published by J M Dent as A Florentine Diary from 1450-1516.
Wikipedia has a little more information, and The Diary Junction has a few links to websites with extracts from the diary, including The Society for Medieval Military History and Uppsala University. Here are a series of entries, not hitherto available online, from the year 1510, including one from 500 years ago today (give or take calendar differences!)
11 June 1510
‘A thunderbolt fell at San Donnino, killing a father and son, and two other children of his were frightened out of their wits and had fallen ill.
At this time a girl was found drowned in a well, and it was never discovered who she was, no one seeming to know her; and there seemed no one in all the country round who had lost anyone.’
19 June 1510
‘The festaiuoli of San Giovanni (directors of the festivities) published a proclamation that no shops were to be opened from the 20th June till San Giovanni was over, without their permission, on pain of a fine of 25 lire; and those who received permission had to pay, some two grossi and some three or four. This was very hard upon the poor, because the proclamation said that it was not meant for the wool mercers, nor the silk mercers, nor the bankers; therefore it was considered an injustice and a mean and infamous thing to force the artisans to be idle.
At this time there was an epidemic of influenza, with a cough and fever, in Florence and all through Italy. Almost everyone suffered from it; the fever lasted four or five days, and was called in Florence the male del tiro (shooting complaint). The reason of this was that amongst all sorts of celebrations on the day of San Giovanni, the first consisted in jousting in the Piazza, that is to say, a number of men-at-arms, fully armed with lances as if they were on a field of battle, were made to perform feats of arms; then a man walked on a tight-rope; and lastly they hunted a bull. It was extremely hot that day, and then it poured with rain, which soaked everyone who was out of doors. A great number of raised seats had been made, and the whole of Florence was there, and many foreigner besides; and people having got wet when they were so heated is supposed to have caused the influenza.’
7 August 1510
‘There were two earthquakes at 6 in the morning, and at 7 came a third; and the next night there were two more at the same hour of the night. We heard that in the country round Bologna there had been such a severe storm of wind that it destroyed many houses. Think of the consequences to the fruit! At this time the foundations and pavement of the Ponte a Rubiconte were renewed.’
24 September 1510
‘The Pope reached Bologna.’
26 September 1510
‘Two cardinals came to Florence - no, three cardinals - who were going to Bologna to the Pope. They lodged at Santa Croce.’
30 September 1510
‘Two more cardinals came, on their way to Bologna. They lodged at the Servi.’
17 October 1510
‘They left here, and went in the direction of Pisa and Lucca, to cross into France and not to go to the Pope, being French and somewhat in fear of the Pope, besides not wishing to insult the king.
During these days it was said that the King of France was coming to Bologna with two armies, to besiege the Pope, so that the Pope was supposed to have misgivings. It was also said that he thought of living in Florence.
And then the King of France came, and advanced as far as Bologna, escorted by the sons of Messer Giovanni, who believed that the people would rise at their instigation; but there was not a movement, so that if the Pope had wished, he might have defeated the king when he first began to retire, before he withdrew to a considerable distance. Thus the Holy Father had no longer any misgivings, and expected to have Ferrara without delay.’
2 November 1510
‘The following accident occurred at the Ponte Rubiconte: They were rebuilding the wall between the Porticciuola and the bridge, and as there was plenty of water, about 12 braccia, the gravel and lime were brought by river in certain little boats. On these boats they had made a platform, and whilst some 25 men were carrying the gravel on to the little platform by the side of the wall, and were approaching it, the said boats filled with water, from the great weight, and drew down the platform and the men, so that three or four men were drowned. They afterwards used a large vessel with a platform. I saw some of the men drawn out of the water.’
4 December 1510
‘The apothecary’s shop at Canto de’ Tornaquinci, kept by the sons of Gampiero, apothecary at San Felice, was burnt down; the site belonged to Cardinal Rucellai. It was completely destroyed, nothing being left except a few copper utensils, which were found under the ashes quite spoilt; the walls were razed to the ground.’
22 December 1510
‘A plot was discovered against the Gonfaloniere, a certain man called Prinzivalle having intended to murder him. He was the son of Luigi della Stuffa, of Bologna, and it was said that he had proposed three ways of killing Soderini; first, to murder him in the Council-chamber; secondly, in his own room; and, thirdly, when he went out. A woman discovered this, and it was imparted to Filippo Strozzi, who as soon as he heard of it, went immediately to warn the Signoria; and they sent for Luigi della Stufa, the man’s father, and detained him in the Palagio.’