The aim of this article is to investigate the relationship between earthquakes and human experience through the study of an affected population's memory regarding both the event and the resulting changes in the local environment. More specifically, the author deals with the earthquake of 23 November 1980 in Irpinia (Campania Region, southern Italy), focusing on the specific cases of two towns, among those most severely affected by the earthquake, which took opposite paths to reconstruction. Sant'Angelo dei Lombardi (eighty per cent of buildings destroyed) opted for a philological reconstruction of the old town centre, whereas Conza della Campania (95 per cent of buildings destroyed) was rebuilt ex novo next to the ancient town, which today has become an archaeological site. Combining oral history sources and archival records, the author retraces the changes brought on by the earthquake and brings out the point of view of the inhabitants, who were forced to rethink their relationship with their environment. Almost forty years after the earthquake, what path did these two towns follow? Where can we observe signs of catastrophe and reconstruction? To what extent have the future-oriented decisions made after the earthquake been implemented and respected? Above all, how do the direct protagonists of this story interpret and recount all the changes they have been through? What meaning do the locals give to all this? Answering these questions can help us to understand the process whereby important decisions are made, decisions having an impact on the material circumstances and the lives of local populations. It can also shed light on how people reformulate their relationship with the environment.