All about the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755

It was All Saints Day in one of the most Catholic cities of the world. Most of the people, both nobles and commoners, were gathering in the churches of the cities, lighting candles and praying. At around 9.30 am, the earth started shaking. It shook so hard that almost 85% of the buildings of Lisbon were damaged. Some of the survivors that were in the port area when the 1755 earthquake happened, watched astonished the water of the sea retreat and then a few minutes later, ten meters tall waves invaded the Baixa area of Lisbon. Then, a great fire, that lasted for five days, also devastated other parts of the city.

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In this article, I will tell you all about the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755! The natural disaster that marked the history of Portugal, changed its course and allowed the city to be reborn!

What happened then?

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“We bury the dead and take care of the living” was the famous sentence Marquês de Pombal said after the 1755 earthquake happened. Marquês de Pombal was the Secretary of the State of Internal Affairs of the Kingdom, which is the equivalent of a Prime Minister, during the reign of Joseph I of Portugal, the King José I de Portugal.

Marquês de Pombal was the great responsible for the reconstruction of Lisbon as we know it today.

There are no exact numbers of the casualties, but it is believed that around thirty thousand people died during the Lisbon 1755 earthquake. The Royal Family was not in the city when it happened, but the King got so afraid of living inside buildings that he decided to go live with his family in luxurious tents in the Alto da Ajuda in Lisbon. Later, the Palácio Nacional d’Ajuda was built there.

The situation was heartbreaking. Many things needed to be done! To start, Marquês de Pombal organized a schedule for the fast recovery of the city. First, the fire needed to be extinguished and the dead bodies had to be picked up.

About the reconstruction plans

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Marquês de Pombal hired architects and engineers for the reconstruction of the Baixa neighborhood of the city. Him and the King decided that the best idea was to completely demolish the existing structures. On the new construction plans, the streets were straight and wide, squares were also to be built – the Praça do Comércio and the Praça do Rossio -, the port was also to be reconstructed. In one year, the city of Lisbon was reborn!

His plans for the reconstruction of the city were brilliant, because he was really concerned about the resistance of the structures to be built, they needed to be strong enough to resist another earthquake. So all the buildings were designed by architects and engineers making sure they would stand through another natural disaster.

How has the Lisbon 1755 earthquake impacted the world?

The Lisbon 1755 earthquake not only changed the world, it also had an impact on the world overall. For instance, people were able to better understand earthquake.

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At first, the Portuguese thought they were being punished by God, that the earthquake was God’s will. But during the eighteenth century, Lumières theories started to emerge, which led to the first scientific studies about the origins of the quakes. These were the studies that gave birth to the development of modern seismology.

Marquês de Pombal asked the earthquake survivors to answer surveys about what happened. In the surveys, the purpose was to discover the duration time of the earthquake, the types of damages, among other things. If you go to the Torre do Tombo in Lisbon, you can actually see these surveys.

The Lisbon 1755 earthquake had a huge impact on the world. The Lumières philosophers, the Enlighteners, were inspired and many analysis and studies about the case were written.

One of the first international aids also took place, due to the earthquake. Several European kingdoms sent supplies and money to contribute to the reconstruction of the city.

Places to visit to learn more about the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755

If you want to learn even more details about the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, I highly recommend you to visit the Lisbon Story Centre, where you will be able to watch a movie that explains in more detail what happened in Lisbon during the earthquake and to visit the exhibitions rooms about the reconstruction of the city.

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If you want to enjoy an amazing panoramic view over the Baixa neighborhood, go up the Arco da Rua Augusta. You won’t regret it! It is truly magical!

Then, I also advise you to walk the Chiado and get to the Convento do Carmo. The convent used to be a monumental church which was built during the fourteenth century but it was completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and the monks didn’t have enough money to order the renovation of the church. The ruins of the Convento do Carmo are very impressive. You will especially enjoy this place on a sunny day!

My article is over! I’ve now told you almost all about the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755! But the best way to truly understand the city’s history is to walk through its different areas, visit the museums and talk to the locals that will be more than glad to share with you their history and culture! I hope you’ve enjoyed my article and that it has inspired you. If you need further information about anything, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. At Discover Walks, we always make sure you experience the best of the city. You can count on us! See you soon in Lisbon!

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