"Vajont an anticipated landslide",

- [translated for Vajont.org by Roberto Caputo] - by the script of Francesco Niccolini, here in the version used to set up the theatrical monologue by Marco Paolini (in the photo)

"No sliding takes place from one minute to the other. This behavior is impossible for a mountain. Each sliding begins extremely slowly. Gravity sets the phenomenon on. The larger the mass about to slide longer is the time this slide will need to start. For large slidings, the preparations can take century.
First an equilibrium must be reached between those gravity forces directed downwards on one side, and resisting forces on the other, but even so, many 'strings' must still be pulled in order for gravity to overcome. And all this could stretch for a certain period of time and for a certain number of days; the 'strings' left sill break one after the other until said mass does not fall at a certain minute, with a great acceleration towards the valley below.

Prof. Albert Heim, 1932....

[Albert who? Telegraphic notes on the Geologist Albert Heim]

Reference sources and their abbreviation in the text:

0CM = Ministerial Commission: Ministry of Public Works, Inquiring Commission for the Vajont tragedy, relation to the Ministry of Public Works dated January 15th, 1964

CP = Parliamentary Commission: Senate of the Republic, IV Government Session, Inquiring Parliamentary Commission on the Vajont disaster (Law #370 of 22.05.64).
Final relation made in Rome on July 15th, 1965

CPA1 = same as above, enclosure #1: Minority report by the Honorables Busetto, Vianello, Gaiani, Lizzero, Scoccimarro, Gianquinto, Vidali and Alicata (Italian Communist party, members of Inquiring Parliamentary Commission)

SGI = Inquiring Judge's Mario Fabbri ruling, Belluno Court House, N. 85-64 G.I., 20.2.1968

PAS = Mario Passi, "Morire sul Vajont. Storia di una tragedia italiana", Padua, ed. Marsilio, 1968

MERL = Tina Merlin, "Vajont 1963. La costruzione di una catastrofe", Venice, ed. Il Cardo, 1993, second edition
of "Sulla pelle viva. Come si costruisce una catastrofe. Il caso Vajont", Ed. La Pietra, Milan, 1983

ASC = Odoardo Ascari, "Una arringa per Longarone", Feltre(BL), Tip. Castaldi, 1973 - (Download this PDF)


the years between 1928 and 1960

August 4th - - First relation by Prof. Giorgio Dal Piaz for the planning of an artificial basin: «the internal structural conditions of the Vajont basin, contrarily to the appearance, are basically worst than those found in the majority of mountain basin in the entire Venetian region» (CM 42)

January 30th - - the company Società Idroelettrica Veneta headed by Giuseppe Volpi asks for clearance to reroute the river Vajont for the production of electrical energy, on the basis of a project signed by the Engineer Carlo Semenza

August 9th - - relation by the geologist Dal Piaz

June 5th - - relation by the geologist Dal Piaz

June 22nd - - the Company Società Adriatica di Elettricità (SADE) headed by Giuseppe Volpi (former Libyan campaign governor, fascist Minister of Industries and chief of Fascist Industries Confederation) asks the Ministry of Public Works clearance to exploit the excess flows of the rivers Piave, Boite, Vajont and other minor ones as well, for the construction of a tank of approx. 50 million cubic meters by building a 200 meter tall dam in the Vajont basin, at the Colomber bridge.

October 15th - - the 'loaned to politic' tycoon-entrepreneur Giuseppe Volpi - in his capacity of Minister of Industry - thanks to favorable conditions, obtains for his SADE the favorable vote of the Higher Council for Public works: present at the meeting are 13 out of 34 voters, thus not reaching the legal quorum (CP A1 7)

March 24th - - Concession by decree signed by the Head of State

March 25th - - relation by Dal Piaz: «the many on site checks, probing and digging confirmed that the dam, in the chosen site, settled for its entire height, that is the new highest level assigned it [202 m, r.n.], where the rock, generally optimal, can be considered, as a whole, most compact » (CM 48)

May 15th - - SADE files a variation for the exploit of the rivers Piave, Boite and Vajont by creating a 58 million cubic meter basin.

October 11th - - letter by Semenza to Dal Piaz: «now would be the time to examine the possibility of raising the level of the basin over the height presently set (677) eventually up to around 730. [...] I would like to know your opinion » (SGI 76)

October 15th - - letter by Dal Piaz to Semenza: «I must confess that the new problems raised make my veins and my wrists shake» (SGI 76)

December 21st - - relation by the geologist Dal Piaz: "geological structure of the Vajont valley in light of the movements of the flanks that could originate from a basin project and by the lake's movements".
Attention is placed in particular on the Erto and Pineda areas which feature weathering wastes of dubious stability. Dal Piaz believes that, not ruling out slidings, it could mean landslides apparently smaller than real (CM 42-3).

January 23rd - - The Erto and Casso City Council ratify the sale to SADE of community real estate in the Vajont valley for an amount of ITL 3,500,000 (Euros 1807.60), valuing the land ITL 3.94 (Euros 0.002) /sqm., to be paid in Timed Deposit Bonds of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, since this land is used for «civic purposes». Due to a cadastral mistake, the Town also sells private real estate.
When the afore mentioned Ministry requests reimbursement of the mentioned sum, the town has already spent it, including the money to be given to SADE for the sale of un-owned property. SADE anticipates the sum due for City Hall subtracting it from riverfront use rights for the torrent's water (MERL 32-33).
In the following months, SADE undertakes talks for the purchase of non community land.

March 18th - - SADE promises to build a walk to bridge communication with the left side of the valley that will be lost with the basin.

December 18th, - - Presidential Decree of 15.05.1948 authorizing the variation.


November 18th, - - appendix to the geological relation issued by Dal Piaz on 21.12.1948.

January - - SADE starts digging without the mandatory authorizations.
The actual building company is named Torno (established in 1929).

January 31st - - SADE sends a request to modify the dam project, raising it to 266 meters, enclosing the geological relation of Dal Piaz of 25.03.1948 and an appendix dated 31.01.1957.

February 6th, - - Letter from Dal Piaz to Semenza: «I have tried to draft the declaration for the High Vajont but I must confess that, sincerely, it does not satisfy me. Please be so kind as to send me the text that you've read to me, which sounded much better. Furthermore, please indicate if I should put today's date or a prior date. As soon as I have the document, I will have it typed and will forward it to you. Excuse my disturbance» SGI 82

February 7th - - reply from Semenza to Dal Piaz: «Enclosed you shall find copy of the text that you should, as a general rule, consider following. I underlined a phrase that, should you deem it fit, could illustrate the connection between layers. The appendix should bear the heading and the date mentioned in my note. Anyway, I give you full autonomy (...) to gain time, it would be appropriate if you could forward us the relation already signed» (SGI 82). The date Semenza mentions in his note is 31.01.1957.v April 1st - - Eng. Bertolissi is named Government Assistant by the Civil Engineer Corps for the Vajont Dam: his task is to continuously follow the work of the building plant, reporting to the Engineer Corps' and the Dam Service.

April 2nd - - SADE produces the final project, signed by Carlo Semenza, with the dam height increase from 202 to 266 meters and the subsequent increase in capacity of the tank to 150 million cubic meters: foreseen expense, ITL 15 billion, with a State participation of ITL 4,805 millions

April 17th - - the IV Section of the Higher Council for Public Works authorizes the start of those works that SADE already started in January

May 31st - - the dam Service requests a new geological relation according to the changed project

June 11th - - Dal Piaz sends Semenza the handwritten geological relation with a note: «I hope my writing complies with your wishes and that it will not require large modifications. I patiently await, at your earliest convenience, your consideration that I will not fail to bear in mind, as usual » (CPA1 8)

June 14th - - reply by Semenza to Dal Piaz: «I hereby return you the draft of the relation that, after one or two minor corrections, I have had retyped as draft, holding it as useful also in your regards, before the final version. » (CP A1 9)

June 15th - - acceptance vote by the Plenary Assembly of the Higher Council for Public Works with a prescription: «it is although necessary to fulfill them [geological inquiries] with regards to the safety of inhabitants and the public works that will be in the adjacency of the maximum water level » (CM 49). In other words, a project is authorized in light of the fact that in order to carry it out it is mandatory to carry out further inquiries. Carlo Semenza is present and bears on himnself the draft of Dal Piaz's geological relation

August 6th - - Geotechnical report by Leopold Müller (the second requested him by SADE): «...the land on the left shore, characterized by mach loose fibers, on whose green pastures are many houses, is in high risk of landslide, although it is a rock formation. The rock present is very broken up and degraded and could easily displace and made to move. » (ASC 57)

September 25th - SADE forwards the Ministry, the official version of the geological draft of 9.6.

February 12th - - SADE acknowledges the voting to the Dam Service and the request for further inquiries and ascertainments and makes observations regarding the measurements makes suggestions and recommendations. The text makes no reference to new investigation. Neither the Dam Service nor the Civil Engineers notice the lack thereof.

April 1st - - the IV Section of the Higher Council for Public Works establishes the Testing Committee, whose task will be to ascertain the dam is built according to the standards that the fillings give satisfactory results, and the plant is fully efficient. It is made up by:

Francesco Penta, geologist;
Francesco Sensidoni, engineer of the Dam Service;
Pietro Frosini, engineer, Head of the IV Section of the Higher Council for Public Works, that submitted the higher Council, the project for the authorization;
Luigi Greco, President of the IV Section of the Higher Council for Public Works, that authorized the project.
The Regulation on works under the competence of the Public works Ministry (art. 92, last Comma, 25.5.1895 and art. 122 of 23.5.1924) expressly «prohibits whoever took part in the drafting of the project to be named tester or to be member of a testing committee for the testing of the project». To be precise, P. Frosini and L. Greco did not draft the Vajont Dam project but have merely "approved it".
Nonetheless, it is clear that two persons named testers have had an active role in the project being evaluated. Furthermore, Francesco Penta is private consultant of SADE for the Pontesei a Forno di Zoldo project (MERLIN 59).

April 22nd - - interim authorization by the Belluno's Civil Engineer Corps to SADE to start purring concrete.

April 24th - - SADE signs the conditions set forth by the 15.6.1957 voting, thus complying with extra geological studies to be carried out

August 25th - - settlement of the first payment by the Ministry of Public works to SADE

October 3rd - - SADE is allow to substitute the walk on the basin foreseen in 1952 with a perimetral road along the entire left shore of the same: against the complaints of the people of Erto and Casso preferring the walk, « SADE replies that it cannot be done due since the nature of the land does not allow the realization of a such project » (MERL 49)

October 29th - - New relation by Dal Piaz on the perimetral road on the left shore of the Vajont basin. It contains an observation regarding the existence, in the Pozza region, of fractured rock indicating possible deep fractures parallel to the valley. Nonetheless, Dal Piaz concludes stating that «there are no superficial signs pointing to past movements » (CM 58)

March 7th - - settlement of the second payment by the Ministry of Public works to SADE

March 22nd - - Pontesei landslide: 3,5 million cubic meters of rock fall in the basin create by SADE. Arcangelo Tiziani, the guardian, dies (and vanish). Geological advisor of the plant is Francesco Penta, who is also part of the testing committee for the Vajont dam.

March 23rd - - letter by the geologist Pietro Caloi (who is studying the dam area since 1953) to the engineer Tonini regarding the Pontesei landslide: «... I urge you to review the report I have sent you at the beginning of July of 1958, what took place was predicted in the most perplexing precision » (ASC 33)

March 27th - - Caloi, always regarding the Pontesei landslide and its predictability, writes to engineer Rossi-Leidi: «Please ensure Eng. Biadene: I am a most discreet person. Moreover, if I may, I would suggest gathering the natural consequences from this fact. » (ASC 33)

May 3rd - - establishment of the "Civil consortium for the rebirth of the Erto valley" by the 126 citizens of Erto and Casso

May 5th - - the newspaper "l'Unità" prints an article by Tina Merlin titled "SADE acts as owner but the mountaineers fight back". In it, Merlin denounces SADE's responsibilities and reports on the dangers that building such a basin will bring to the Erto people. This article brings both Merlin and the Director of "l'Unità" before the judge for «disclosure of false, exaggerated and biased information aimed at disturbing public order ». (CP A1 16)

May 30th - - authorization decree relative to the 1957 project

July 19th - 21st - first visit by the Testing Committee, which is brought also to Cortina d'Ampezzo and Venice, dining on the "Europa" hotel's terrace. Of the visit, Eng. Sensidoni must produce a relation to the Higher Council for Public Works: «but of the Vajont, besides the landscape, lunches and dinners, does not remember much. To be on the safer side, he asks for one to SADE, which promptly supplies it through Dino Tonini, Head of the Studies division (MERL 61)

July 23rd - - the Head of the Belluno's Civil engineer, Eng. Desidera, that just ordered SADE to halt the works on the perimetral road on the left of the Vajont (since the company has not produced the relative project to his Unit), is redeployed by a most urgent letter signed by the Minister of Public Works to other destination.

September - - the dam is finished: 261,60 meters tall; 190,15 meters long at its top; 725,50 meters above sea level at its top; 22,11 meters thick at its base; 3,40 thick at its top; 168 meters of walk at the top; 360.000 cubic meters of concrete and 400.000 cubic meters of rock removed.

October - - SADE tasks Prof. Caloi to run a geophysical campaign on the left side of the valley, before the dam.

October 10th - - sixth relation by Leopold Müller: his doubts on the stability of the left shore are such to propose SADE to test the stability of the flanks of the future basin through ten different investigations.

October 22nd - - second visit by the Testing committee.

October 28th - - SADE makes a request for an experimental filling of the basin up to 600 meters.

December - - a "world-wide one-of-a-kind" seismographic station, according to Caloi, is set up at the central command unit of the Dam (CM 64).

December 2nd - - the french Alp's "Frejus" dam falls. Semenza writes to Dal Piaz: «I hope to be able to meet you as soon as possible to discuss over the Vajont that the Frejus disaster makes, now more than ever, utmost actual » (MERL 63).

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