Vajont Dam
The Vajont Dam is a disused dam
A dam is a barrier that impounds water or underground streams. Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water, while other structures such as floodgates or levees are used to manage or prevent water flow into specific land regions. Hydropower and pumped-storage hydroelectricity are...

, completed in 1959 in the valley
In geology, a valley or dale is a depression with predominant extent in one direction. A very deep river valley may be called a canyon or gorge.The terms U-shaped and V-shaped are descriptive terms of geography to characterize the form of valleys...

 of the Vajont river under Monte Toc
Monte Toc
Monte Toc is a mountain on the border between Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Northern Italy best known for the Vajont Dam, which was built at the mountain's base in 1960....

, 100 km north of Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. A 1963 landslide caused the overtopping of the dam and around 2,000 deaths.

One of the tallest dams in the world, it is 262 m (860 ft) high, 27 m (89 ft) thick at the base and 3.4 m (11 ft) at the top. Its 1963 over-topping was caused when the designers ignored the geological instability of Monte Toc
Monte Toc
Monte Toc is a mountain on the border between Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Northern Italy best known for the Vajont Dam, which was built at the mountain's base in 1960....

 on the southern side of the basin. Warning signs and negative appraisals during the early stages of filling were disregarded, and the attempt to complete the filling led to a landslide, which created a wave that brought massive flooding and destruction to the Piave valley below, wiping out several villages completely.

On 12 February 2008, while launching the International Year of Planet Earth
International Year of Planet Earth
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2008 as the International Year of Planet Earth to increase awareness of the importance of Earth sciences for the achievement of sustainable development. UNESCO was designated as the lead agency...

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 cited the Vajont Dam tragedy
Tragedy (event)
A tragedy is an event in which one or more losses, usually of human life, occurs that is viewed as mournful. Such an event is said to be tragic....

 as one of five "cautionary tales", caused by "the failure of engineers and geologists".


The dam was built by SADE (Società Adriatica di Elettricità, English: Adriatic Energy Corporation), the electricity supply and distribution monopolist in North-Eastern Italy. The owner, Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, had been Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

's Minister of Finances for several years. The 'tallest dam in the world', across the Vajont gorge, was conceived in the 1920s to meet the growing demands for industrialization, but not until the confusion after Mussolini's fall during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 was the project authorized on 15 October 1943.

The dam and basin were intended to be at the centre of a complex system of water management in which water would have been channeled from nearby valleys and artificial basins located at higher levels. Tens of kilometres of concrete pipes and pipe-bridges across valleys were planned. Because of the 1963 disaster and to smaller scale landslides in other basins in the zone, the system was never actually operated.

In the 1950s, SADE's monopoly was confirmed by post-fascist governments and it purchased the land despite opposition by the communities of Erto and Casso
Erto e Casso
Erto e Casso is a municipality in the Province of Pordenone in the Italian region Friuli-Venezia Giulia, located about 130 km northwest of Trieste and about 40 km northwest of Pordenone.-Geography:...

 in the valley, which was overcome with government and police support. SADE stated that the geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 of the gorge had been studied, including analysis of ancient landslides, and that the mountain was believed to be sufficiently stable.

Construction work started in 1957, but by 1959 shifts and fractures were noticed while building a new road on the side of Monte Toc. This led to new studies in which three different experts separately told SADE that the entire side of Monte Toc was unstable and would likely collapse into the basin if the filling were completed. All three were ignored by SADE. In October 1959 construction was completed and in February 1960 SADE was authorised to start filling the basin.

Early signs of disaster

Throughout the summer of 1960, minor landslides and earth movements were noticed; however instead of heeding these warning signs, the Italian government chose to sue the handful of journalists reporting the problems for "undermining the social order."

On 4 November 1960, with the level of the basin at about 190 m of the planned 262, a landslide of about 800,000 m³ collapsed into the lake. SADE stopped the filling, lowered the level by about 50 m and started to build an artificial gallery in the basin in front of Monte Toc, to keep the basin usable even when the expected further landslides divided it into two parts.

In October 1961, after the completion of the gallery, SADE restarted the filling under controlled monitoring. In April and May 1962, with the basin at 215 m, the people of Erto
Erto e Casso
Erto e Casso is a municipality in the Province of Pordenone in the Italian region Friuli-Venezia Giulia, located about 130 km northwest of Trieste and about 40 km northwest of Pordenone.-Geography:...

 e Casso
Casso is an Italian village, frazione of Erto e Casso, in the Province of Pordenone. Its population is 35. Together with Erto, its administrative seat, it forms the municipality of Erto-Casso.-Geography:...

 reported five earthquakes of 'grade five' on the Mercalli scale, though SADE downplayed their importance. SADE was then authorized to complete the filling up to the maximum level.

In July 1962, SADE's own engineers reported the results of model-based experiments on the effects of further landslides into the lake, which predicted a devastating disaster if they happened when the basin was full. The management ignored these results as well.

In November 1962, SADE was taken into the public ownership of ENEL.

In March 1963, the dam was transferred to the newly constituted public company for electricity, ENEL
Enel may refer to:*Enel SpA, an Italian electricity company*Enel , a fictional villain in the One Piece manga and anime series*Enel, meaning third in the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, cf. Awakening of the Elves...

, but the management remained the same. In the following summer, with the basin almost completely filled, slides, shakes and movements of the ground were continuously reported by the alarmed population. On 15 September the entire side of the mountain moved down by 22 cm. On 26 September, ENEL decided to slowly empty the basin down to the level of 240 m, but in early October the collapse of the mountain looked unavoidable: one day it moved almost 1 m. There is no known record of any warning or displacement order being issued to the populace.

Landslide and wave

On 9 October 1963 at 10:39 pm, the combination of 'drawing-down the reservoir' and heavy rains triggered a landslide
A landslide or landslip is a geological phenomenon which includes a wide range of ground movement, such as rockfalls, deep failure of slopes and shallow debris flows, which can occur in offshore, coastal and onshore environments...

 of about 260 million m³ of forest, earth, and rock, which fell into the reservoir at up to 110 km per hour (68 mph). The resulting displacement of water caused 50 million m³ of water to over-top the dam in a 250 meter (820 foot) high wave. Despite this, the dam's structure was largely undamaged — the top meter or so of masonry was washed away, but the basic structure remained intact.

The flooding in the Piave valley destroyed the villages of Longarone
Longarone is a town and comune on the banks of the Piave in the province of Belluno, in North-East Italy. It is situated 35 kilometers from Belluno....

, Pirago, Rivalta, Villanova and Faè
The acronym FAE may refer to:In the arts:* The 'F-A-E' Sonata, jointly written by Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Albert Dietrich* First Among Equals , a 1984 novel by Jeffrey Archer...

, killing around 2000 people and turning the land below into a flat plain of mud. Many small villages in the territory of Erto e Casso
Erto e Casso
Erto e Casso is a municipality in the Province of Pordenone in the Italian region Friuli-Venezia Giulia, located about 130 km northwest of Trieste and about 40 km northwest of Pordenone.-Geography:...

 and the village of Codissago, near Castellavazzo
Castellavazzo is a comune in the Province of Belluno in the Italian region Veneto, located about 90 km north of Venice and about 20 km northeast of Belluno...

, were largely wrecked. Estimates of the dead range from 1900 to 2500 people, and about 350 families lost all members. Most of the survivors had lost relatives and friends along with their homes and belongings.

The villages near the landslide also suffered damage from the air displacement caused by the impact.

Causes and responsibilities

Immediately after the disaster, the government (who now owned the dam), politicians and public authorities insisted on attributing the tragedy to an unexpected and unavoidable natural event.

The debate in the newspapers was heavily influenced by politics. The paper l'Unità
l'Unità is an Italian left-wing newspaper, originally founded as official newspaper of the Italian Communist Party.-History:L'Unità was founded by Antonio Gramsci on 12 February 1924, as the newspaper of workers and peasants, the official newspaper of Italian Communist Party : it was printed in...

, the Partito Comunista Italiano's mouthpiece, was the first to denounce the actions of the management and government, as it had previously carried a number of articles by Tina Merlin addressing the behaviour of the SADE management in the Vajont project and elsewhere. Indro Montanelli
Indro Montanelli
Indro Montanelli was an Italian journalist and historian, known for his new approach to writing history in books such as History of the Greeks and History of Rome....

, then the most influential Italian journalist and a vocal anti-communist, attacked l'Unità and denied any human responsibility: l'Unità and the PCI were dubbed "jackals, speculating on pain and on the dead" in many articles by the Domenica del Corriere
Domenica del Corriere
Domenica del Corriere was an Italian weekly newspaper which ran from 1899 to 1989.It came out every Sunday free with the Corriere della Sera, but was also sold separately.It was famous for its cover drawings, and its issues are still collected....

 and a national campaign poster paid for by Democrazia Cristiana (DC). The catastrophe was attributed only to natural causes and God's will.

The campaign accused the PCI of sending agitprop
Agitprop is derived from agitation and propaganda, and describes stage plays, pamphlets, motion pictures and other art forms with an explicitly political message....

s into the refugee communities, as relief personnel: most of them were partisans
Italian resistance movement
The Italian resistance is the umbrella term for the various partisan forces formed by pro-Allied Italians during World War II...

 from Emilia Romagna who fought on Mount Toc in the Second World War and often had friends in the stricken area.

Democrazia Cristiana, the party of prime minister Giovanni Leone
Giovanni Leone
Giovanni Leone was an Italian politician. He was the 38th Prime Minister of Italy from 21 June 1963 to 4 December 1963 and again from 24 June 1968 to 12 December 1968. He also served as the sixth President of the Republic from 1971 to 1978.-Biography:...

, accused the Communist Party of 'political profiteering' from the tragedy. Leone promised to bring justice to the people killed in the disaster. A few months after he lost the premiership, he became the head of SADE's team of lawyers, who significantly reduced the amount of compensation for the survivors and ruled out payment for at least 600 victims.

The DC's newspaper, La Discussione, called the disaster "a mysterious act of God's love", in an article that drew sharp criticism from l'Unità.

Apart from journalistic attacks and the attempted cover-up from news sources aligned with the government, there had been proven flaws in the geological assessments, and disregard of warnings about the likelihood of a disaster by SADE, ENEL and the government.

The trial was moved to L'Aquila
L'Aquila is a city and comune in central Italy, both the capital city of the Abruzzo region and of the Province of L'Aquila. , it has a population of 73,150 inhabitants, but has a daily presence in the territory of 100,000 people for study, tertiary activities, jobs and tourism...

, near Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, by the judges who heard the preliminary trial, thus preventing public participation, and resulted in lenient sentencing for a handful of the SADE and ENEL engineers. One SADE engineer (Mario Pancini) committed suicide in 1968. The government never sued SADE for damage compensation.

Subsequent engineering analysis has focused on the cause of the landslide, and there is ongoing debate about the contribution of rainfall, dam level changes and earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

s as triggers of the landslide, as well as differing views about whether it was an old landslide that slipped further or a completely new one.

There were a number of problems with the choice of site for the dam and reservoir: The canyon was steep sided, the river had undercut its banks, the limestone and clay-stone rocks that made up the walls of the canyon were inter-bedded with the slippery clay-like Lias
Lias may refer to:*In geology:**The Lias Group, a group in the stratigraphy of Great Britain, formed during the Late Triassic to Early Jurassic epochs. It includes the Blue Lias and White Lias...

 and Dogger Jurassic
The Jurassic is a geologic period and system that extends from about Mya to  Mya, that is, from the end of the Triassic to the beginning of the Cretaceous. The Jurassic constitutes the middle period of the Mesozoic era, also known as the age of reptiles. The start of the period is marked by...

 period horizons and the Cretaceous
The Cretaceous , derived from the Latin "creta" , usually abbreviated K for its German translation Kreide , is a geologic period and system from circa to million years ago. In the geologic timescale, the Cretaceous follows the Jurassic period and is followed by the Paleogene period of the...

 period Malm horizon, all of which were inclined towards the axis of the canyon. In addition, the limestone layers contained many solution caverns that became only more saturated because of rains in September.

Prior to the landslide that caused the over-topping flood, the creep of the regolith
Regolith is a layer of loose, heterogeneous material covering solid rock. It includes dust, soil, broken rock, and other related materials and is present on Earth, the Moon, some asteroids, and other terrestrial planets and moons.-Etymology:...

 had been 0.4 inches per week. In September, this creep reached 10.0 inches per day until finally, the day before the landslide, the creep was measured at 40.0 inches (1 m).


Most of the survivors were moved into a newly built village, Vajont
Vajont is a town and comune in the province of Pordenone, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, north-eastern Italy.-History:The municipality was founded in 1971 on the municipal territory of Maniago. It was built to host the people evacuated from Erto e Casso after the disaster of the Vajont Dam ....

, 50 km south east on the river Tagliamento plain. Those who insisted on returning to their mountain life in Erto e Casso
Erto e Casso
Erto e Casso is a municipality in the Province of Pordenone in the Italian region Friuli-Venezia Giulia, located about 130 km northwest of Trieste and about 40 km northwest of Pordenone.-Geography:...

 were strongly discouraged. Longarone
Longarone is a town and comune on the banks of the Piave in the province of Belluno, in North-East Italy. It is situated 35 kilometers from Belluno....

 and other villages in the Piave
Piave can refer to:* Francesco Maria Piave, Italian librettist and composer* Piave * Piave * Battle of the Piave River* 10 Motorised Division Piave An Italian division of World War II...

 valley were rebuilt with modern houses and factories.

The government used the disaster to promote the industrialization of the North-East of Italy. Survivors were entitled to 'business start-up' loans, public subsidies and ten years tax exemption, all of which they could 'sell-on' to major companies from the Venice region. These concessions were then converted into millions of euros for plants elsewhere. Among the corporations were Zanussi
Zanussi is an Italian producer of home appliances that in 1984 was bought by Electrolux. Zanussi is a leading brand for domestic kitchen appliances in Europe. Products have been exported from Italy since 1946.-History:...

 (now owned by Electrolux
The Electrolux Group is a Swedish appliance maker.As of 2010 the 2nd largest home appliance manufacturer in the world after Whirlpool, its products sell under a variety of brand names including its own and are primarily major appliances and vacuum cleaners...

), Ceramica Dolomite (now owned by American Standard
American Standard
American Standard may refer to:* American Standard, a brand of plumbing fixtures made by American Standard Brands.* American Standard, a brand of HVAC equipment made by Trane....

), Confezioni SanRemo, and SAVIC
Savić, Savic , Savich or Savitch is a surname that can be found among Serbians, Russians, or Jews. It is related to the name Sava...

 (now owned by Italcementi
Italcementi is an Italian multinational company, quoted on the Borsa Italiana, which produces cement, ready-mix concrete and construction aggregates...


Compensation measures did not clearly differentiate between victims and people who lived nearby, thus much of the compensation went to people who had suffered little damage, creating a negative public image.

A pumping station was installed in the dam basin to keep the lake at a constant level, and the bypass gallery was lengthened beyond the dam to let the water flow down to the Piave valley. The dam wall is still in place and maintained, but there are no plans to exploit it. The dry basin, filled with landslip, has been open to visitors since 2002.

The memorial church in Longarone - although its construction was strongly opposed by the surviving parish priest - is a late masterpiece of the famous architect Giovanni Michelucci
Giovanni Michelucci
Giovanni Michelucci was an Italian architect, urban planner and engraver. He was one of the major Italian architects of the 20th century, known for notable projects such as the Firenze Santa Maria Novella railway station and the San Giovanni Battista church on the Autostrada del Sole....


In the media

After the initial world-wide reporting the tragedy became regarded as part of the 'price of economic growth' in the 1950s and 1960s.

Interest was rejuvenated by a 1997 television program by Marco Paolini
Marco Paolini
Marco Paolini is an Italian stage actor, theatre director, dramaturge and author.- Personal background :Paolini is the son of a railroad engineer from Belluno, Italy. In the 1970s, he moved to Treviso and started working in theatre....

 and Gabriele Vacis, "Il racconto del Vajont".

A 2001 movie "Vajont, La diga del disonore" ("Vajont, The dam of dishonour") or "la Folie des hommes" ("the Madness of men") (in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

) starred Michel Serrault
Michel Serrault
Michel Serrault was a celebrated French actor who appeared in over 150 films.-Biography :...

 and Daniel Auteuil
Daniel Auteuil
Daniel Auteuil is a French film, television and theatre actor.-Early life and education:He was born in Algiers, French Algeria.-Career:...


It was studied in the 2008 documentary series Disasters of the Century
Disasters of the Century
Disasters of the Century is a documentary television series that airs on History Television. The program is produced by Regina, Saskatchewan-based Partners in Motion....


Images at the Italian Wikipedia

  • Aerial view of the 'Valley-Vajont' shortly after the disaster of 9 October 1963. Available only on the Italian Wikipedia because of copyright restrictions. The image shows the landslide of 260 million m³ of rock and mud that has detached from Mount Toc, then filled and overflowed the reservoir. The 'over-top' rock flow on the right side shows the origin of the minor damage to the top 2 m of concrete that is still visible in 2009.

  • The 'bell tower' at Longarone shortly after the disaster of 9 October 1963. Available only on the Italian Wikipedia because of copyright restrictions. The Bell Tower that remained standing after the passage of the 'wave of death'. The Church at the base was completely swept away with the entire village.

External links

See also

  • List of natural disasters by death toll
  • List of reservoirs and dams
  • Seiche
    A seiche is a standing wave in an enclosed or partially enclosed body of water. Seiches and seiche-related phenomena have been observed on lakes, reservoirs, swimming pools, bays, harbors and seas...

  • St. Francis Dam
    St. Francis Dam
    The St. Francis Dam was a concrete gravity-arch dam, designed to create a reservoir as a storage point of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It was located 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, California, near the present city of Santa Clarita....

  • Tsunami
    A tsunami is a series of water waves caused by the displacement of a large volume of a body of water, typically an ocean or a large lake...

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