Around 8 o’clock on the evening of 5 August 1608, the anxious citizens of Nice, France, watched three luminous shapes racing across the sky over the Baie des Anges. Then the strange objects suddenly stopped and hovered about a meter above the water. The craft were of long oval shape, flattened, each topped with a sort of mast. The bay began to seethe underneath them, giving off a dense orange-yellow vapor, accompanied by an infernal noise. From one craft two vaguely human-looking creatures emerged, dressed in red with silvery scales, with huge heads and two luminous circular openings for eyes. The creatures, holding tubes attached to a kind of harness, plunged into the water and moved around their craft for about two hours. When the pair got back inside, all three flying objects rumbled away at speed, leaving the terrified people of Nice wondering what this portent from God could mean.
On 22 August the craft reappeared farther south, in Genoa, Italy, where 800 cannonballs were fired at the visitors. Although they did no damage, the attacks must have discouraged the occupants, for none emerged from the machines. But people still panicked, and several deaths were reported – some trampled by crowds, others overcome by fear, some allegedly as a result of radiation emitted by one vessel. Finally, the mysterious craft sped off.
Three days later, a single vessel appeared near Marseilles, above a fishing village of Martigues, and moved overhead for an hour and a half. Two beings got out and seemed to engage in an aerial duel. The following week there were heavy falls of red rain, said by the frightened locals to be blood. A more likely explanation is that the area’s soil, rich in bauxite, created a red dust that somehow became stirred up. But for 40 days churches along the coast were packed with crowds begging to be spared whatever disaster was coming.
Accounts of these events in local archives are sometimes ambiguously worded. Yet it is remarkable that so many people, in three separate locations, should have imagined these visitations at a time when no flying machines existed. There was, however, widespread belief in aerial visions, such as armies in the sky. In the same year, 12,000 warriors were said to have been seen in combat over Angoumois, in western France.