Great Lisbon earthquake remembered

news: Great Lisbon earthquake remembered

AN INTERACTIVE exhibition to mark the 250th anniversary of the Great Lisbon Earthquake will take place from September 2005 until February 2006, at the Terreiro do Paço in Lisbon, Lisbon Câmara unveiled recently.

The exhibition will be organised into three distinct phases: how Lisbon looked before the earthquake (1730-55), the disaster itself and immediate aftermath (1755), and the city’s rebuilding (1755-1780). There will be a circular panoramic simulation of the pre-1755 city, which will include the main areas and buildings that were totally or partially devastated.

At the unveiling of the exhibition, Deputy Câmara President, Dra. Maria Manuel Pinto Barbosa, said that given the recent tragic events of December 26 in South East Asia, the exhibition seems rather timely. “We will mark the earthquake’s anniversary in the Terreiro do Paço, a traditional symbol of power that was most affected by the disaster,” she said. “We believe the exhibition will be a major tourist attraction for both locals and international visitors to the city.”

The exhibition will be backed up by a number of seminars, talks and conferences, reflecting on the political, cultural and social implications of the tragedy and the religious and philosophical views held at the time. Although it wasn’t the most powerful or destructive earthquake in the history of the world, the Great Lisbon Earthquake had huge consequences for Portugal and captured the European imagination at the time. Lisbon had been one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, retaining much of its Moorish architecture, and was filled with Medieval churches and splendid palaces.

The earthquake struck at 9.30am on Sunday, November 1 1755, while most people were attending mass. The epicentre was in the Atlantic ocean, about 200km west of Cape St. Vincent, and the total duration of the tremors lasted 10 minutes. Around 20,000 inhabitants were killed in the quake, mostly buried under the falling masonry of churches, hospitals and other public buildings, or trapped in wooden houses that collapsed like decks of cards.

Some 30 minutes after the quake, a massive tidal wave swept up the Tagus estuary, overturning scores of boats that were overflowing with refugees who believed they were safest in the water – many of them drowned. But the worst was yet to come. The quake had caused hundreds of candles to fall and, within hours, two-thirds of the city were alight, causing an inferno that lasted five days.

The tragedy resulted in what was probably the first internationally co-ordinated relief effort, with builders, carpenters, mercenaries and other tradesmen coming from all over Europe – particularly England – to help in the immediate clean-up of what was left of the city.

The world’s worst earthquake disasters:

China (Xanxi) 1556 – 830,000 deaths

India (Calcutta) 1737- 300,000 deaths

China (Tangshan) 1976 – 255,000 deaths

Syria (Aleppo) 1138 – 230,000 deaths.

China (Gansu) 1920 – 200,000 deaths.

South East Asia 2004 – 145,000 deaths and rising

Japan (Yokohoma/Tokyo) 1923 – 143,000 deaths.

Lisbon-Algarve 1755 – 20,000 deaths (Lisbon city and coastal areas)

• See what you can do to help the victims of the recent natural disaster in South East Asia on page 9