Will the final fall of Rome occur on May 11, 2011? The entire Italian Twitterverse (Il Twitterverso, I presume) is abuzz about a decades-old prediction saying that a powerful earthquake will hit central Italy and finish the job that that the Goths started millenia before.

Raffaele Bendandi was a self-taught astronomer born in 1893. While still a teen he predicted, a year in advance, a devasting quake that hit Italy before the First World War. This became a life-long obsession for him.

As a young soldier, while out walking by the seaside, he came up with the theory that the movements and gravitational forces of the planets could cause the earth’s crust to swell up and settle in the same way it affects the tides and waves. He created a system using the planets’ masses and trajectories to predict the time and location of earthquakes with quite a lot of success. His most famous prophecy is of the earthquake that hit the Marche in January 1924. To prove his theory, he had his prediction notarized in advance. Over the course of his life, he forecast many other earthquakes.

When he died, most of his papers containing his predictions for the future had been mysteriously burned, although a few pages had been pulled from the embers with the dates 2011 and 2012 on them…

And so we arrive at the current hysteria that is gripping the Italian internet at the moment. Will the eternal city survive the next month?

According to the archivist of Bendandi’s papers, predictions of terrible earthquakes do exist for the years 2011 and 2012, but there is nothing in his collection that gives a precise date or place. So it turns out this is just an internet (half) hoax.

As for Bendandi’s theory, however, the Japanese quake is one of the worst on record…so what awaits us in 2012? And where?