segunda-feira, 2 de novembro de 2009

The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

The 1st of November always leaves me depressed. Why, you my ask. Well because on this day, way back in 1755, practically all of Lisbon was destroyed, by a huge earthquake. And I'm not talking about some shaky ground, I'm talking about full blown "destroyer of Atlantis" quake completed with a tsunami and fires. It even changed the coast line.

It's thought that in Lisbon's population of 200,000 people, 30,000 to 40,000 people were killed. From a "Rape of Europa" point of view, the destruction was brutal as well. The ruling dinasty was the Bragança dinasty, known for being very artistic folks, and some of the most fabulous pieces of art in Europe, which inclueded Titian, Ruebens and Corregio, belonged to them. One of the greatest libraries in Europe, joy and pride of the first Bragança ruler, D. João IV, was destroyed, along with 85% of the palaces in the capital.

The coast line advanced and today, the tower of Bethlem stands on the bank of the river while prior to 1755, it stood in the middle of it.

But all was not doom and gloom, particularly for an emerging polititian, Sebastião de Carvalho e Melo, the future and infamous Marquis of Pombal. It gave him the oportunity to show what he was made of, and show he did. The minister did not wait any time, and soon after the smoke had cleared, already the troops were marching into Lisbon. He had called the army to protect what was left of the city form thieves and looters, and to stop able bodied men from fleeing the city. After all, he needed all the work force he could get his hands on. But even that did not quiet the nerves, and soon the ruins of Lisbon were gruesomely decorated with the hanging corpses of the looters. Legend has it that when he arrived in Lisbon after the earthquake and was asked what could they do, he answered "Tend to the living, bury the dead."

Nerves of steel, that man.

It also gave him the opportunity to transform the ancient city, that had survived the Fenicians, the Romans, the Moors and the Spanish, into the Enlightened City, with, much to the consternation of his fellow country-men, very wide streets.

Clairvoidence perhaps, because without it, it would be impossible to drive Downtown.

The earthquake also shook the minds of Europe. Catholics said it was the Portugueses punishment for their sins and for traiding with the heretics (the English), while the Protestants said it was for their punishment for the submission to Rome. Huge mess, I know, but more interestingly, it was also the first time that the other nations pulled that stick out of their arses and contributed to help the people left destitute by the desaster.

Early solidarity, perhaps, but the ones who profited the most were the wanted criminals and the con artistist.

1 comentário:

  1. I was your touched by your account. While feeling the impact of earthquakes and tsunamis of the distant past (and the lurking presence of those in the near future) I wish others were as moved by the past as you are.

    Thank you
    Michael Cerulli Billingsley