The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755
August 18, 2015 11:13 AM   Subscribe

The Museu do Azulejo in Lisbon has an amazing panorama (video) of the city painted shortly before the historic earthquake of 1755 (image, here are some sections). Azulejo is a traditional form of Portuguese painted tiles -- the "azul" does NOT come from the blue color, a fairly recent development, but from the much older Arabic word "zellige" meaning "polished stones". This panorama comes from an age before photography and provides a look at the old city in a characteristic Portuguese art form, providing a fascinating glimpse into the old city before it was virtually destroyed.

What happened to the city? The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 killed thousands of people (estimates range wildly from 10,000 to 50,000 or even 70,000) and had a profound effect on Portugal and much of Europe. While the devout population of of the city was at church to celebrate All Saints Day, the ground started to shake, setting off a massive blaze caused partially by unattended cooking fires. Much of the population fled to the Praça do Comércio, known at the time as the Terreiro do Paço, by the shore to escape the burning city only to be killed by a tsunami. The Red Light district was largely unaffected while the ceiling of the Convento do Carmo (pretty picture) fell in and, to this day, has not been replaced. The devastation was so massive, it is believed that Lisbon earthquake is what caused Voltaire to reject the idea that "everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds" and, after the earthquake, King Joseph I was so afraid of buildings he moved out of Lisbon; his claustrophobia was so severe he lived in tents for the rest of his life. Artists depicted the chaos of the city in the aftermath of the disaster.

The Marquis of Pombal was given the responsibility of rebuilding (PDF but totally worth reading, especially the "Towards an Iconographic Understanding" section) after the disaster, creating a the city with wide avenues and open spaces to minimize the destruction from any future earthquakes. Among other things, he attempted to develop earthquake-proof buildings by constructing scale models and having soldiers march around them to see if they collapsed. He also wrote to officials in towns around the country asking questions like:

  • At what time did the earthquake begin and how long did the earthquake last?
  • Did you perceive the shock to be greater from one direction than another? Example, from north to south? Did buildings seem to fall more to one side than the other?
  • How many people died and were any of them distinguished?
  • Did the sea rise or fall first, and how many hand did it rise above the normal?
  • If fire broke out, how long did it last and what damage did it cause?
(list via Wikipedia)

These questionnaires (which I can't find but there is an eyewitness account) led to the development of the modern science of seismology and, because the information collected is still available, scientists today can attempt to reconstruct (and argue about) the events of the disaster.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl (19 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
You said you were going to do this, and you did! Yay!
posted by hippybear at 11:18 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ugh, more art? Haven't we had enough for one day?

Srsly though, this is fantastic on so many fronts. Well done, thank you!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:22 AM on August 18, 2015


The difference between the rebuilt Baixa part of town and the older sections on either side (especially the Alfama) is really striking, even today. You go fairly quickly from broad wide streets that meet at right angles to a complicated labyrinth of streets that go nowhere and are impossible to navigate and which end abruptly in something that's halfway between a restaurant and a block party more traditional medieval pattern. Lisbon's a beautiful city and both parts are lovely, though.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:31 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]




escaping from the earthquake in ac rogue is very annoying, that is my valuable contribution to this thread.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:39 AM on August 18, 2015


I love panoramas in general, but this is the first tile one I've seen, and I'm totally enchanted.

This is a fascinating post from multiple points of view - I'm fascinated by the fact that the Marquis took such a scientific approach to documenting the earthquake, damage, effects. What a marvelous treasure trove of information!
posted by julen at 11:49 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


We stayed in the Alfama a few years ago and there was indeed a block party going on. Also a lady who would yell for her daughter every evening at precisely 9pm in a voice somewhat louder than a B-52 carpet bombing a field covered in drum kits.

"CATAREEEEEEEENNAA!!!!!!!!!!"

Good times. I totally recommend going there and eating lots of pastries.
posted by selfnoise at 11:53 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Great post! Here's a zoomable map of Lisbon from a century and a half earlier (late 16th-early 17th century). It's hard to overestimate how much this disaster shocked Europe and haunted its imagination for many years to come.
posted by languagehat at 1:16 PM on August 18, 2015


Awesome post. I always enjoy reading about moments like this in history, and seeing both how our response to disaster has changed (preparation, recovery) and how it hasn't:

200,000 homeless survivors now began to spread rumours and ask the inevitable question, "Why us?" The earthquake had been foreseen, some said...Most Portuguese believed that God's wrath had smitten their city, but there were conflicting opinions as to what had inspired His anger... The fact of the matter was that Lisbon had been in the way. The shock and sea wave would have assaulted with equal fury an uninhabited coast. However, the notion that the earth was indifferent to the concerns of the human race was (and is) unpopular.
posted by nubs at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is really cool, thanks for sharing!

Mods/OP, any chance we could get a fix on the links in the "(image, here are some sections)" bit? There's one link repeated twice.
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:37 PM on August 18, 2015


But what of the Deacon's Masterpiece? Have you heard of what I say?
posted by SPrintF at 1:39 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most Portuguese believed that God's wrath had smitten their city, but there were conflicting opinions as to what had inspired His anger...

The darkly humorous thing about this (mentioned in the FPP) is that the churches, where everyone was lighting candles and worshiping piously (in crowded buildings) got the worst of it, while the Alfama, where the red light district was, emerged relatively unscathed.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:40 PM on August 18, 2015


Mods/OP, any chance we could get a fix on the links in the "(image, here are some sections)" bit? There's one link repeated twice.

Rats, that second one was supposed to be to this.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:42 PM on August 18, 2015


[Fixed!]
posted by cortex at 1:44 PM on August 18, 2015


Thanks Cortex! It's nice to know that the mods, unlike the earth, are not indifferent to the concerns of the human race.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:47 PM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm in Lisbon right now. The Azulejo museum is definitely worth a visit if you're here. And I recall us spending a bit of time on that panorama, matching it up with the Lisbon we know today.

What is incredible is the enormous number of depictions of it. Just type 'Lisbon Earthquake' into Google images and you'll see that shortly after and much later it persisted in the popular European imagination. It still does.

Every Lisbon person (Lisboeta) knows about it too. It defines the shape of the city today, the earthquake being like Lisbon's Hausmann. Or I suppose Pombal was. If you follow the major avenues, many of them meet at Marquess of Pombal square, at its centre a towering statue of him.
posted by vacapinta at 2:31 PM on August 18, 2015


The darkly humorous thing about this (mentioned in the FPP) is that the churches, where everyone was lighting candles and worshiping piously (in crowded buildings) got the worst of it, while the Alfama, where the red light district was, emerged relatively unscathed.

I would love to see the response of the Pat Robertsons of today to a similar outcome in a natural disaster.
posted by nubs at 2:44 PM on August 18, 2015


I'm sad that I didn't know about the museum when I was in Lisbon a few years ago. Even having missed that, it was an amazing city to visit and I really want to go back.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:05 PM on August 18, 2015


Another similarity with San Francisco to add to the list - steep hills, cable cars, big red suspension bridge, and destructive historical earthquake.
posted by kersplunk at 8:49 AM on September 3, 2015


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