The small Lisbon and the big earthquake

The small Lisbon and the big earthquake, View from above

Picasso once said: ¨The urge to destroy is also a creative urge¨. At times you really need to demolish something good in order to create something great. That is the case with one of the most astonishing European capitals – Lisbon.  The small Lisbon and the big earthquake, Praça do Comércio

Brightness and Saturation adjustments

It is also known as “the Sunny city” because of the bright Sun that you can enjoy here. The town was first founded by the Phoenicians. It was later conquered by the Romans who left a rich historical legacy – their religion, language, and architecture. In the 13th century, the Moors initiated a new stage in the development of Lisbon: the look of the streets is completely transformed when all facades are panelled with colourful tiles.

On the morning of November 1st, 1755 everything changes in a way no one could ever imagine. On the day of All Saints, the pious citizens of Lisbon lit up candles to honour the dead. Everyone gathers in the cathedrals for the daily mass. When an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale reaches the city, most of its population is in the temples. The rooftops of the catholic places of prayer start to collapse, burying multitudes of people under their remains.

The olive oil in the street lamps and the dozens of candles were the cause of a massive fire that burned down over 12 000 wooden buildings. The surviving citizens of Lisbon headed towards the main square Praça do Comércio. They saw that the river Tejo has withdrawn and entered its bed in seek of rescue. Later came a tsunami and it made the final blow on the city. 

It is fair to say that on that day All Saints were not watching over Lisbon. On top of all the king Jose I decided to flee, saying that one cannot do anything against divine intervention.

This earthquake is known as the most devastating one in the history of the Old continent. Nowadays the information about the consequences of it is quite contradictory. Some claim that 80% of all buildings were destroyed and 75% of Lisbon citizens died during the natural disaster or due to wounds of it. 

Fortunately, the prime minister Sebastião e Mello stays, determined to build a new, more fascinating Lisbon. He does not know a lot about construction, but he takes on the problem with logic. After the earthquake most dwellings are ruins, still, the arches of the cathedrals seem untouched. Well, the Romans knew how strong this structure is 2000 years earlier. Minister Mello, however, is 200 years ahead of his time when setting out to build a city resistant to seismic activity. To test his projects he uses a scaled model of Lisbon and asks his army to march alongside it, creating an effect similar to an earthquake. Using the trial-error method Mello creates a new Lisbon from the ruins of the Apocalipsis in less than a year.

The small Lisbon and the big earthquake, View from above

Our tour of the Portuguese capital started with this lovely story. Our guide, a recent graduate of Tourism who, despite the wise advice of the presided decided not to leave the country to lower the number of unemployed. He stayed to animate curious tourists like me with stories of his homeland. We were crossing a two-way street when Rafa stopped and asked:

– So, what do you think about this street?

I was not sure I understood his question – it was just an ordinary street. I looked at the pavement, the buildings, the parked cars – it was all regular.
– What do you think – he repeated – does this seem like a big boulevard?

Like I already said, it was just a two-way street. However, in the 18th century, it seemed more like an avenue. Lisbonians were appalled at the seemingly mad minister, who was wasting the plots for buildings to make streets. Today, Mello is considered a very forward-thinking individual with brilliant ideas.

The arches are not the only element of the Ancient Roman architecture that the Portuguese choose to revive. In 1842 a group of prisoners was punished with the laborious task to pave the entire royal courtyard with black and white cobblestones, placed in a zigzag motif. The artwork aroused great interest. A few years later the use of black basalt and white limestone became compulsory in the central part of Lisbon.

The small Lisbon and the big earthquake, Rossio square

Presently, you can enjoy various designs on the streets, courtyards, squares, and even the walkways of the city. The technology of it requires hand-carving each stone cube before placing it in a sand bed. The pieces are ordered so tightly that a square meter can fit as much as 400 of them! Nevertheless, this pavement allows rainwater to reach the soil beneath it, preventing the streets from floods. A gorgeous example of this art is the ¨wide sea¨ motif seen on Rossio square. It shows the unification between Portugal and the ocean. Thanks to their integrity this cobblestone artwork reaches faraway colonies like Brasil and Macao.

Lisbon is an impressive capital that still has the footprint of diverse cultures during various periods. It is often called the city of the seven hills, like Rome. In reality, the hills are a lot more and each of them reveals marvellous ¨pieces¨of the puzzle ¨view from above¨.

Get lost between the streets of Lisbon and look for some crevice between the sides of two buildings. Keep in mind one useful tip: wherever you are in the centre of the city, the cobblestones will guide you. And relax, thanks to Roman technology Lisbon is now safe from earthquakes and tsunamis.

If you have a few extra days, take a trip outside of the city. Evora is located just an hour and a half away and it’s a lovely trip back in time with excellent examples of Roman and Medieval architecture. If you are on a road trip across Europe, here’s a wonderful bucket list to follow.


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