Lisbon 1755 Earthquake: Event That Changed the Course of European and World History
Lisbon (Portugal) Earthquake 1755 Facts
The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is often called the “big” or “great” one of the most devastating earthquakes in the history of mankind. It is not so much about the number of victims – it is inferior to many other similar catastrophes in human history – as about the fact that the disaster caused huge damage to Portuguese culture, statehood, and may even have changed the course of European and world history.
Paradoxically, “God’s punishment,” as natural disasters were called, struck the country on the day of All Saints, which is celebrated on November 1, 1755. At 9:20 a.m. on the day the earthquake of Lisbon 1755 struck, almost the entire population of Lisbon was in churches attending a mass for the feast.
Contemporary scientists believe that the epicenter of the earthquake, which reached 8.7 on the Richter scale, was located in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the recollection of an eyewitness to the tragedy, a captain who was in port at the time of the first tremor, the stone buildings began to sway slowly from side to side, from west to east. The first tremor lasted six seconds, followed by a second and a third.
The 1755 Lisbon earthquake caused huge cracks of about six meters wide in the city’s ground. These cracks have separated the center of the city from the rest of the land. After the earthquake, the sea receded, exposing the bottom to shipwrecks. Then the water began to return, and a huge tsunami hit firstly the harbor and then the city center. The first and the biggest wave was followed by two others up to 20 meters high. They destroyed all the ships in the harbor and washed thousands of people into the ocean. Fires broke out in areas unreacted by the tsunami and lasted five days. The catastrophe took the lives of more than 100,000 people that was almost half of the Lisbon population (Lisbon had 275,000 citizens at the time), and another 10,000 died on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco. It is difficult to give an exact estimate of the number of victims of the Lisbon 1755 earthquake: many families were entirely missing.
The disaster destroyed the best examples of Portuguese architecture: the royal palace with a huge library and archives, the opera house, the city hospital. During the earthquake, King Jose I of Portugal was in the cathedral, which was far from the city center. The catastrophe frightened him so much that the king began to fear stone houses and for some time lived in a tent city outside Lisbon. Lisbon was not the only one affected. A three-meter tsunami struck the Moroccan coast, from Tangier to Agadir.
To say that the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was the greatest shock to Europe is not to say anything. In fact, this earthquake changed not only the course of history (which was reflected in particular in the weakening of the Catholic League of the world) but also the mentality of Europeans. Change, as is often the case, began with the thinking-prone part of society. In the Enlightenment, philosophers were that part. Of course, Portugal forever lost its economic power. But, perhaps, this is not the most important thing. Much more important is the fact that Christendom, along with the churches of Lisbon, has cracked. In fact, due to the Lisbon (Portugal) 1755 earthquake, atheism was born in the form in which we observe it now, in our post-Christian era.