World heritage bid for down-town

news: World heritage bid for down-town

LISBON council is preparing to propose the historic Baixa Pombalina district as a candidate for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The area was largely destroyed by the devastating earthquake in 1755, which, in Lisbon alone, killed some 90,000 people. The Baixa was rebuilt under the leadership of the then Prime-Minister, the Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782).

Lisbon Câmara President, António Carmona Rodrigues, and the Head of the General Directorate of National Buildings and Monuments (DGEMN), Vasco Martins Costa, signed an agreement on October 7 to work together on the technical and scientific aspects of the research involved in preparing the bid. At the ceremony, the DGEMN also presented the 21st issue of their twice-yearly magazine Monumentos, almost entirely dedicated to the Pombalina district.

Lisbon Câmara will be submitting the World Heritage bid in 2005. Throughout next year, Portugal will be commemorating the 250th anniversary of what has become known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake, which on November 1, 1755, destroyed 85 per cent of the city. The violent quake had its epicentre about 200km off Portugal’s south-west coast.

Three consecutive jolts lasted a total of 10 minutes, shocks were felt throughout Europe and seiches were observed as far north as Finland. In Lisbon, the earthquake was followed by an outburst of fires and a tsunami with waves of up to six metres.

Before the disaster, the Baixa was a densely populated area, with a labyrinth-like architecture similar to that which can still be found today in the city’s historic Alfama district. The Marquis of Pombal, however, had a vision of a more majestic building style, in keeping with Portugal’s status as a colonial power. The area between Praça dos Restauradores and the Tagus River was rebuilt according to a strictly geometric, grid-like pattern, consisting of 15 streets, three squares and an impressive ‘Arch of Triumph’ at the junction of Rua Augusta and Praça do Comércio.

The Pombalina style has been criticised in the past for being “symmetrical and heavy” and lacking “charm”. Presently, however, the Baixa Pombalina is considered to be a typical example of 18th century Enlightenment. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for July 2005. The organisation’s list is currently made up of 788 sites.