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Monday, August 24, 2015


I cannot believe I haven't told you about this yet: the earthquake of 1755. An earthquake so large that it not only chook Portugal's capital, but the entire country and was felt throughout Spain and further. And the following Tsunami hit the coast of Africa even. News of this event went as far as Russia.

 Dutch and German (this one showing the before and after) news articles on the accounts of November 1st, 1755 (Torre do Tombo).

And why do I choose to speak about something that happened almost 60 years earlier then the 1st French Invasion? Because when the French, and then the Brits, arrived, Lisbon was a new city; Portugal was a transformed country. The city's layout that the French saw and got to knew, and as we know it today, only was built after this earthquake.

But how can an earthquake have such importance? They happen all the time, right?

Well, 1st, back then they didn't had the measuring technology as we have today, nor the knowledge, and it was the biggest earthquake ever to happen in human memory.

There is a good documentary about it and which you can follow on the links below The full episode you can find above, while the other 2 links are bits and pieces of the former one and in German and in Portuguese.


This is to put in short of what happened that day: 

1) The earthquake, of an estimated magnitude of 9 in the Richter scale, started early n the morning of November, 1st of 1755, All Saints day. I have reported earlier how religious Portugal was, so, people were already in, or preparing themselves to go to church.
People were trapped underneath the ruble, small fires started, because houses were lit by candles and oil lamps and because of the holy day, there were more candles lit than usual.

2) When people started to get out of the ruble and gather in open spaces, a big Tsunami ("Maremoto" in Portuguese, or "Maramoto") struck the city and the waters reached as high as Campo de Ourique (still trying to find which altitude this part of Lisbon has) And one would think that this would end the fires, but no.

3) A big fire consumed what was left. People lit candles, made small fires to survive and somehow, an effect explained by science (see documentary), it spread all over the city.

4) And last but not least: The human factor. Prisons were affected as well, releasing murderers and criminals; people starving committed the most desperate acts; disease; theft; rape; murder; etc.
This is put very simply of what happened that day and weeks after. The horror must have been immense.

                                     Lisbon before the earthquake. Painting 1st above from Dutch painter Dirk Stoop, 1650.

People turned to religion for an explanation, which was that punishment had been sent and the proof was that the earthquake was on All Saints day. Another factor contributed to this theory: the richness that entered the center of the European merchant empire and with it all the liberties and luxury.
People paid for church services and even for paintings to be put under altars. I have seen a few in the Museu da Cidade, in Lisbon, showing what happened to a loved one and with a few rimes begging for help. Probably the largest tent city emerged back then.
Even the King, Joseph 1st, who's palace had also been affected, wanted to live there no more, or in any stone building, afraid that the aftermaths could make the masonry fall on him. He moved to a his own tent city, which then burned down.
As you can see on the doco, the rift line passes right next Azores. Not a lot is told of what happened there, unfortunately. There are accounts of huge floods and how bodies were found days after or never to be found again.

Even the castle at Almeida (important town during the 2nd French Invasion) was affected.

It is at this moment that a new man emerges in the national historic scene: the Marquês de Pombal, later Conde de Oeiras (yep, where I live!). This man was a Portuguese diplomat representing this country in Austria and became a very controversial figure. Some call him a visionary, others a cold blooded murderer. Anyway, to this post's extent, let's focus what he did after the earthquake to rebuild the city.

The Marquis took the best of the best, including a foreign engineer Charles Mardel, to rebuild downtown Lisbon as it sits today. The most interesting fact of this rebuild, and it cannot ever been forgotten, is that a "futuristic" city was planned, one that still works today: a square grid city with broad cobbled streets and sidewalks leading to several open squares. Sidewalks in the 18th century! The streets build then were done so wide (in a past concept) that today the same have 2 or 3 lanes. Downtown Lisbon is now called "Baixa Pombalina" (translated roughly into Pombal's downtown).

Today's downtown Lisbon as an aereal view, built after the earthquake. Image taken from blog.rumbo.pt

Of course, that all this good deed came with a negative side. The Marquês de Pombal, being a studied man who was able to separate religion from science, had the audacity to agree with some period theories explaining that earthquakes happen because of the shifting of the soil. Little did they knew back then, that these theories were pretty close to accurate.

And it was in this "new" city that Junot, the French comander watched his troops at the Praça do Comércio and the French flag being hoisted at the Castle of S. Jorge.

Period drawing from a news article tellig about the French at Terreiro do Paço and the hoisting of the French flag at the castle of S. Jorge.

For more period images, go to:

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