Lisbon Earthquake

views updated

Lisbon Earthquake

The Lisbon earthquake, a devastating disaster, occurred on the morning of November 1, 1755, the Feast of All Saints. It struck with extraordinary intensity in a series of violent shocks that left Lisbon's central commercial district and major public buildings, churches, and palaces in ruins. But the major cause of damage derived from the ensuing fire, which in the following six days razed most of the city's other neighborhoods. Although casualty figures vary enormously, at least 15,000—and perhaps as many as 30,000—people died from the quake and fire. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless, and extensive damage remained conspicuous into the nineteenth century.

The earthquake had an enormous effect on Portugal's economy and politics. It ruined many Lisbon merchants, and the enormous cost of rebuilding the city and its infrastructure consumed much of the country's and empire's revenues for years to come. The earthquake precipitated the political rise to power of Sebastião de Carvalho, the future marquês de Pombal, who used the emergency to assume vital dictatorial power, which he held until 1777. The rebuilt city owed much to Pombal's energy and vision. From the ashes of medieval Lisbon arose a symmetrical city whose wide streets, open squares, and central grid reflected Enlightenment ideas of harmonious architecture and rational city planning.

See alsoEarthquakes; Pombal, Marquês de (Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo).


Kendrick, Thomas Downing. The Lisbon Earthquake. London: Methuen, 1956.

Sousa, Maria Leonor Machado de. The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: British Accounts. Translated by Judith Nozes. Lisbon: British Historical Society of Portugal, 1990.

                                          William Donovan