Scientists blame Italy's tragic history of earth tremors on the fact that the country lies directly over the Eurasian and African fault lines, where the borders of two tectonic plates move together and apart.

This also accounts for Italy's relatively high number of active volcanoes - Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, Vulcano, Stromboli and Vesuvius, the only active volcano on the mainland of Europe.

Here is a brief timeline of Italy's experience with earthquakes.

1857 Several towns destroyed and 12,000 people killed in the Basilicata region south of Naples by tremors estimated at around 6.9 on the Richter scale - dubbed the Great Neapolitan Earthquake.

1905 Around 5,000 die when tremors wipe out 25 villages in Calabria.

1908 Europe's most powerful earthquake leaves more than 82,000 people dead as tremors measured at up to 7.5 on the Richter scale hit the Messina Strait between Sicily and the Italian mainland, causing a tsunami.

1915 The town of Avezzano in southern Italy is destroyed by an earthquake, with the loss of about 32,600 lives.

1930 Around 1,400 people die in the Irpinia region of southern Italy in a quake measured at 6.5.

1976 A total of 976 die and 70,000 people are left homeless when a tremor measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale strikes Friuli in north-eastern Italy.

1980 A quake strikes the town of Eboli, south of Naples, killing 2,735 people and injuring 7,500.

1997 Two earthquakes in Umbria in September leave 13 dead and more than 40,000 people homeless. Four of the victims were killed when the roof of the Basilica of St Francis collapsed in Assisi, damaging priceless frescoes.

2001 One woman dies in the northern Italian region of Alto Adige, during a quake measuring 5.2.

2002 Thirty people, most of them children crushed in their collapsed school, die in San Giuliano di Puglia in southern Italy during an earthquake in October measured at 5.9 on the Richter scale.

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