1755 Lisbon earthquake

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1755 Lisbon earthquake
1755 Lisbon earthquake

Natural catastrophes are usually forgotten after 30-50 years, but there are tragedies that are remembered after 50-100 years. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which occurred almost two and a half centuries ago, is still remembered in Europe. According to a contemporary of this incident, the German writer Goethe, it was "a terrible world event." The earthquake not only turned the prosperous city of Portugal into ruins, but also affected all European countries, their culture, philosophy, politics and served as one of the impetuses for the development of a new science - seismology.

Chronology of the disaster. Beginning of the earthquake

Lisbon earthquake - timeline

The history of Lisbon spans over 20 centuries. Originating in the 1st millennium BC. e., by 1755 he became one of the largest and most influential cities in Europe. Its population at that time was, according to various estimates, from 250 to 500 thousand people, and Portugal itself was a treasury of material and artistic we alth, whichminutes were buried by the Lisbon earthquake.

November 1, 1755, at 9:50 a.m., local residents gathered for morning worship. The churches of the city were filled to capacity as it was All Saints' Day, a widely revered holiday in European countries. Suddenly, the earth's firmament began to fluctuate strongly, and after a few seconds the vibrations turned into powerful shocks, the amplitude of which increased each time over the next 6-8 minutes. The maximum magnitude of the earthquake, according to modern estimates, was 8.4-8.9 points. It's a lot. For comparison, the Spitak earthquake in 1988 in Armenia had an amplitude of 6.8-7.2 points.

According to one of the captains of the ships that were near the coast, the buildings of the city began to sway like ears of wheat in a field. The walls of the houses swayed in the direction from the sea to the east. In the very first seconds of the earthquake, many houses collapsed, and wide cracks of 5 meters appeared in the ground, separating the city center from the rest of it.

After that, according to some sources, the city embankment was lowered, and according to others, the sea first receded for several kilometers, and then surged again.


Crazed with fear, residents who managed to escape the fate of being buried under the rubble of houses rushed to the embankment. They hoped to find their salvation at sea and leave the city on ships. But here death from another element awaited them - after about 20 minutes, a huge tsunami wave flooded the shore, generated by an earthquake in the sea. Her heightestimate at 6-15 m.

After the collapsed water mountain, the Lisbon embankment collapsed and buried the people who had accumulated on it along with it. According to some evidence, after the second major tremor, a large landslide occurred in the coastal area. This happened around 10 am. Modern studies show that the Lisbon bay experienced major underwater collapses that day.


Lisbon earthquake - fires

The troubles that befell the inhabitants of the city were not limited to tremors and tsunamis. When the Lisbon earthquake hit, fires broke out in many places, which quickly grew into a big fire. The fire destroyed the remains of the city for 5 days, the ruins smoldered for the same amount.

Contemporaries of the event saw the cause of the fire in the fact that on All Saints Day a fire burned in churches and chapels, which spread throughout the city due to strong winds. However, there are other hypotheses. Since deep cracks in the earth's crust formed on the territory of the city, combustible gas could flow through them from the bowels. Its ignition led to the emergence of numerous sources of open fire, which could not be extinguished. This version is also supported by the fact that 100 years after the terrible event, radioactive elements were discovered here. They could come to the surface of the earth along with combustible gas.

Following aftershocks

Lisbon earthquake - aftershocks

The tremors continued throughout November and December.Some of them were strong enough to bring additional destruction. One of the aftershocks, observed on December 9, was felt throughout Europe: in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

Seismic activity was high in the following months. According to a report from Lisbon dated November 1761, tremors were felt in the region almost every day.

Human casu alties

The Lisbon earthquake on November 1, 1755, according to various estimates, claimed the lives of 40 to 60 thousand people. And this is only in the capital of Portugal. To one degree or another, other cities of the country, as well as settlements in Spain, were destroyed. So, in the southern port of Faro, Portugal, 3,000 people died as a result of seismic events and flooding, and in one of the Moroccan villages, from 8 to 10 thousand people died due to a landslide.

Since in Lisbon warehouses for bread were arranged for the entire district, after their destruction, hunger began among the survivors. Help from England in the form of food arrived only in December. The scale of disasters after the earthquake was very great, given that at that time there were no rescue services or adequate medical care.

Loss of material and cultural values

Lisbon earthquake - material losses

According to one of the residents, who returned to the city 3 weeks after the start of the natural disaster, he saw only mountains of smoking ruins in the city. The Great Lisbon earthquake completely destroyed more than 85% of the houses. Among them were 53palace, more than 70 chapels, 90 monasteries. These figures may differ in different sources, since the event happened a long time ago. However, all researchers admit that the city was destroyed by at least two-thirds.

The Royal Library (several tens of thousands of volumes, including early printed books), church archives with ancient manuscripts, architectural masterpieces, about two hundred paintings by Rubens and Titian, old maps and other historical and cultural values ​​disappeared in ruins. The royal palace and the opera house were destroyed, jewelry worth a total of 800 million gold francs was lost.

Were there any signs of disaster?

Lisbon earthquake - influence on philosophy

However, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was not the only one in the region in those centuries. Strong shocks were recorded in the XII and XIV centuries, in 1531, 1551. Large earthquakes usually always have a group character and are first accompanied by smaller ones. The source of this catastrophe was "prepared" by natural processes for at least 5 centuries.

Researchers also note the presence of a predictive seismic lull several years before this event. So, 33 years before the tragedy in the Portuguese city of Faro, the last foreshock was recorded - an earthquake that occurred before a stronger one at about the same place and in the same period.

Climate change

There were other ominous harbingers of a temporary lull. During the last 5 years before the event, there was less rainfall than usual, and the summer of that year was unusualcold. In the vicinity of Lisbon, many wells dried up, while other sources, on the contrary, gushed. In some of them, the taste of water has deteriorated as a result of changes in its chemical composition. Gas emissions from the ground were also recorded.

Modern science knows that climatic and hydrogeological anomalies are a characteristic sign of seismic activity. It is surprising that on November 1, 1755, at 11-12 am in the Czech resort town of Teplice, a healing spring several times threw out a large amount of water, although the earthquake itself was not felt there.

The impact of the event on people's minds

Lisbon earthquake - impact on people's minds

The Lisbon earthquake made a big impression on the whole of Europe. Along with the French Revolution of 1848, it became one of the most significant events of the 18th century. A large number of articles, poems and essays devoted to the Lisbon earthquake appeared in the literature of that time. Voltaire included a description of this catastrophe in one of the episodes of the satirical story Candide. Other prominent figures also mentioned him in their works: I. Kant, J. Goethe, J. J. Rousseau, O. W. Holmes.

Since piety reigned in enlightened minds in those days, the very fact that this event happened on All Saints' Day caused a deep shock. Some modern researchers note that many facts could be exaggerated due to the philosophical attitude to this tragedy and the lack of scientifically explainable mechanisms for this phenomenon.

Development of seismology

Immediately after the earthquake, the Marquis de Pombal, who served under the Portuguese king, issued a decree according to which questionnaires were distributed in church parishes to clarify the facts of the event. He also led the restoration of the city and the country. His merit lies in the fact that the almost completely destroyed Lisbon was restored and once again became one of the most brilliant and elegant capitals in Europe.

Thanks to the questionnaires of Pombal, which are preserved in the national archive of the country, as well as information collected by the Spanish Royal Academy, seismologists of the 20th century were able to develop a macroseismic map of the region.

The Lisbon earthquake was the impetus for the development of research on this topic. So, just 2 years after the disaster, the Russian scientist M. V. Lomonosov outlined the first classification of earthquakes and tried to explain their causes. A number of treatises were published in almost all European countries. However, this natural phenomenon was then considered more from a philosophical point of view - as a manifestation of the four elements, and the theory of seismic waves was recognized only after 100 years.

Changes in political life

Lisbon earthquake - impact on politics

The destruction of such an important trading center as Lisbon and the destruction of the court of the Portuguese king gave rise to a kind of "revolution". The main ally in the Atlantic trade of this power was England. The natural disaster provided an excellent opportunity for radical changes in the foreign economic policies of other countries.European states in order to weaken the existing dominance of England and Portugal.

As a result of this event, the king of a ruined country had to abandon his colonial ambitions.

Earthquake press

It is also interesting how this incident was covered in the official Portuguese press of that time: among the most significant destruction in the Lisbon Gazette of 1755-06-11, only the fall of the tower in which the state archives were located was noted.

Meanwhile, the losses were clearly more significant. The King of Portugal understood the importance of public opinion during the Enlightenment, so the scale and consequences of the disaster were deliberately underestimated. The aforementioned Marquis of Pombal also took part in this, who gathered and "instructed" a group of writers with the aim of highlighting the facts about the Lisbon earthquake to the advantage. It was also new, not yet common for that time in the field of printing.

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