The most brutal day in Portuguese history


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The tragedy in Turkey and Syria forces us to reflect. Is the country prepared?

The history of our country has several dark moments. Few are as dark as the most brutal day in Portugal’s history, when an earthquake devastated Lisbon!

Throughout Portugal’s history, which spans almost 900 years, there have been glorious moments. Events that will forever be remembered for their importance in the development of the nation, such as the Age of Discovery.

However, there are also extremely negative moments that have left another kind of mark. The history of our country has several dark moments. Few are as dark as the day of the earthquake.

The most brutal day in Portuguese history

The Day

It was 267 years ago that the most devastating earthquake in the history of our country left its mark on the city of Lisbon. The earthquake that devastated the Portuguese capital occurred on November 1, 1755.

The numbers

This earthquake had a profound impact on the city of Lisbon. The numbers that are associated with the earthquake are quite expressive and reveal the devastating effects of the earthquake.

This event had the ability to collapse about 10,000 buildings. In addition, this earthquake was responsible for the deaths of 90,000 people. Adding to these numbers is the number of injured and the investment needed to rebuild the city.

Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 - The most brutal day in the history of Portugal
Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 – The most brutal day in the history of Portugal

The historical context

Lisbon is one of several cities in the world that celebrates All Saints’ Day. On that day, the churches were filled to overflowing. Countless candles were set alight, a common procedure that aims to honor saints and martyrs, whether known or unknown.

Previous Moments

The capital was experiencing the day in relative calm. In the early hours of the morning of this day, no one suspected the tragedy that lay ahead. The city of Lisbon was about to be shaken by an event that left its mark on the country’s history. It was one of the most destructive earthquakes in the history of the planet and the most destructive in our country.

The precise moment

According to experts, the earthquake that shook the city of Lisbon occurred between 9:30 and 9:40 in the morning. On that day, the Portuguese capital shook in an almost uncontrolled way.

The effects were devastating. Solid, compact structures crumbled like castles of cards. A vast number of buildings (churches, palaces, houses) collapsed with incredible ease and speed.

The epicenter

Currently, the Lisbon earthquake is still being studied, with several experts wanting to present new conclusions about this harmful event. O

epicenter of this earthquake is the subject of discussion.

Many academics who have studied the phenomenon that shook the country can come to one conclusion. They converge that the epicenter of the earthquake will have been at sea. The magnitude of the earthquake would have been 9 on the Richter scale, which represents that this earthquake has reached the top of the table, practically.

The Lisbon Earthquake in 1755

O vídeo

This black event that went down in the country’s history had great international impact at the time. Even today, the event is often referred to and there is interest in learning more about it.

In a production carried out by the Smithsonian Channel, a reconstruction of what happened was made. In this video, it is possible to see what the earthquake must have looked like, where it originated, and the devastating effects it had.


According to some reports from the same time, it is possible to advance that the seismic tremors would have had a frightening duration. According to some reports from people of that time, the effects of the earthquake lasted 9 minutes.

In the course of those endless minutes, there was time to generate an unprecedented catastrophe in our country. Those 9 minutes were an eternity that allowed huge fissures to open. All over the city it caused buildings to collapse and led to the death of countless people.

Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 - The most brutal day in the history of Portugal
Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 – The most brutal day in the history of Portugal

Impact felt

The so-called Lisbon earthquake was centered in the capital. However, its effects were felt in other parts of the country. For example, the earthquake also hit the entire Algarve region quite severely. The Lisbon earthquake started at sea and its effects spread, so much so that it also did major damage in Morocco!

The cemetery

It was in the Portuguese capital that the earthquake proved most brutal. The tsunami completely swept away the lower areas of the city.

If we take into account that the Portuguese capital had 300,000 inhabitants at the time, we can see the devastating effects of the event. If 90,000 people died due to the earthquake, it means that almost a third of the people living in the city died!

The tsunami

The event has a lot to live up to, as the event had several consequences. The earthquake generated several outbreaks of fire. The countless burning candles, the result of religious devotion on All Saints’ Day, enhanced these fires. The flames were burning for days on end. Medieval Lisbon remained lit for the worst reasons.

The formation of a tsunami represented another negative consequence of the earthquake. On that day, the waves reached incredible heights, between 15 and 20 meters high. It is as if the Nazaré Cannon pointed at the capital and fired a set of waves that entered and spread throughout Lisbon, leaving a trail of destruction and death.

Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 - The most brutal day in the history of Portugal
Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 – The most brutal day in the history of Portugal

Searching for shelter

There is little information that has survived to the present day. From that time, the few accounts that have come down to us reveal that the several landslides that occurred all over the city caused the survivors to seek shelter near the port area. This was a more open area, and so the people of Lisbon mistakenly thought that this was a safer solution.

The Death Trap

Reality showed that this was a wrong decision and proved to be a fatal trap. The sea waters first receded, presenting a bottom full of shipwrecks and lost cargo.

However, subsequently, the waters of the sea returned with a maximum, almost demonic force. At that moment, the sea waters carried everything away. By submerging the entire port and substantial part of downtown Lisbon, the effects were devastating.

An Unrecognizable City

The medieval Lisbon that we knew disappeared in a matter of minutes. What was then an emblematic and passionate city disappeared forever. Buildings that were of great value to the people of Lisbon collapsed.

The loss of mythical spaces was a painful reality. Among the nearly 10 thousand buildings that had been destroyed were irreplaceable monuments. Spaces such as the Duke of Cadaval’s Palace, the Opera House, the Royal Palace and the Torre do Tombo Archive (whose documents were safe) all collapsed.

Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 - The most brutal day in the history of Portugal
Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 – The most brutal day in the history of Portugal

Lisbon’s sunrise

The day after the earthquake, the Portuguese royal family was no longer in the capital. Led by King José I, the family was already in Santa Maria de Belém, on the outskirts of the capital. The princesses had expressed a desire to spend the holiday there.

D. José I was extremely shaken by the earthquake in Lisbon. The Portuguese king was deeply frightened by the effects of the event. The monarch even developed a phobia of enclosed spaces. From that moment on, Joseph I lived in a luxurious tented complex in Alto da Ajuda, and did so for the rest of his life!

The Marquis of Pombal

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo is the name of the central character who was in charge of rebuilding the Portuguese capital. All efforts to rebuild Lisbon passed through the hands of the Marquis of Pombal, as he became known.

It was to this person that was attributed the instruction that became very popular: “bury the dead, take care of the living”. Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo took the lead in the plans to rebuild Lisbon almost immediately.

City Security

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo took care of security within the urban perimeter of the city itself. The Marquis of Pombal made sure to show a very hard hand with the robberies and looting that occurred in those days. The offenders were tried and duly punished, almost with summary executions.

The reconstruction of the capital

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo intended to rebuild the city in a megalomaniacal way.

Therefore, specialists were secured, engineers and architects were hired, and many workers from other regions were brought into the city. People worked hard and set to work to build what is now called the Pombaline downtown.

Pioneer City

Many people are unaware, but this reconstruction in the capital made Lisbon one of the first cities in the world to feature earthquake-proof buildings.

At the time, the wooden models were tested using soldiers marching around them. This was to simulate the impact of a seismic tremor.

New lines in Lisbon

Lisbon had narrow medieval alleys before the earthquake. However, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo chose to give preference to the creation of wide avenues. The avenues were so wide that many people of the time questioned these dimensions. What good would such wide roads be?

The Marquis of Pombal answered these questions. Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo said that “one day they will still find these avenues narrow. Today we can see that the Marquis of Pombal was not far from the truth…

The radical change

The Portuguese capital has undergone a radical transformation. The Lisbon earthquake is at the origin of an abrupt change in the city’s appearance. Lisboners no longer had a medieval city, but a modern one. The Terreiro do Paço serves as an example of the great works carried out in Lisbon.

Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 - The most brutal day in the history of Portugal
Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 – The most brutal day in the history of Portugal

A New Earthquake

Could another earthquake like the one that happened in Lisbon 267 years ago happen again? This earthquake devastated the Portuguese capital and the fear that something so destructive will happen again has remained ever since.

It is a recurring discussion. Many scholars debate whether there is a possibility of such an event occurring. The answer is simple and sad. Yes, of course another earthquake could happen.

There are many people who maintain that it is inevitable, so the question is not about the possibility of it happening, but about when it will happen. Warnings of this reality have already appeared in the capital. In 1969 the city already felt a strong tremor. However, this event had no comparison with the effects of 1755.

Earthquake Prediction

Another earthquake may be inevitable, being a city near an area of high seismic activity. It is impossible to predict an earthquake accurately.

This task can be attempted, but the margin for error is enormous. It could be months, years or centuries from now. If a new earthquake comes, Lisbon must be prepared to minimize its effects.


The city has to be prepared for this reality. The specialists defend that there is no such preparation. There is a general lack of supervision in the city. Recent construction in the capital also ignores the anti-seismic procedures necessary to ensure the safety of buildings in the event of an earthquake.

Minimum services

Ironically, the only buildings that provide the greatest earthquake defenses are those that were built right after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and have remained unchanged ever since.

There needs to be legislation and there needs to be stricter supervision. This is the only way to guarantee safety in the event of an earthquake. This is the only way to minimize losses.

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