Natural Disasters The Lisbon Earthquake Part 1

About the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal which caused massive amounts of death and destruction in 1755.



All Saints' Day, 1755 dawned bright and clear in the waterfront city of Lisbon. Throughout its hilly environs, Lisbonites breakfasted and made ready to attend worship services.

Six hundred parishioners gathered in the Basilica Sao Vincente de Fora, and the choir was just beginning to chant the words of the introit when the first earthquake struck. The huge marble edifice began to shake and roll like a small boat on a stormy sea. There was no time for panic or evacuation. Two more quakes, each more severe than the first, quickly followed. Worshipers were deafened by the noise of the collapsing building, then buried beneath its rubble. Simultaneously, other churches, buildings, and homes were reduced to rubble.

When: All Saints' Day, Saturday, Nov. 1, 1755, at 9:30 A. M.

Where: Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, population 275,000.

The Loss: First reports of the disaster estimated loss of life at between 50,000 and 100,000. Later estimates reduced the death toll to less than 50,000. Material damage was in excess of $60 million plus the loss of 200 priceless paintings and the 70,000-book palace library.

The Disaster: Earthquakes were not unheard of in 18th-century Portugal, but neither were they commonplace. Lisbon, like other European cities, lived under the yoke of the Inquisition, and the thoughts and conversations of its people were dominated by superstition, even idolatry. Any kind of disaster was considered to be a sign of the wrath of God imposed upon heretics.

The hilly city of Lisbon was well known throughout the civilized world as an industrious commercial seaport that was excessively rich, self-indulgent, and overrun with superstition. On All Saints' Day, Nov. 1, 1755, its people were busy with their normal pursuits. Churches were crowded, and those people not in church were at home.

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