1755 Lisbon Earthquake

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The Deadliest Earthquake Ever

1st November 1755

1755 Lisbon earthquake was the deadliest earthquake ever known followed with a tsunami. Lisbon was a fair city with palaces and 20,000 houses, mostly stone, of four or five stories. There was a population of about 235,000.

That morning a series of earthquakes occurred, causing serious damage, and killing an estimated 60,000 people in Lisbon alone. In Lisbon almost every large building was a church. Lisbon was a pious city, with monks and friars, abounding in processions bearing sacred objects and relics. The Holy Inquisition still burned its quota of Jews and heretics.

Lisbon was also an earthquake city. The city’s first earthquake was recorded in 1009. In 1344 there were ‘many violent shocks along the sea coast. On August 24, 1356, an earthquake lasting 15 minutes threw down many of the city’s buildings, and aftershocks continued for a year.

On January 26, 1531, a monstrous earthquake shook all Portugal, Spain, North Africa, and was felt in Flanders and Switzerland. In Lisbon there was disaster. 1,500 houses and all the churches were destroyed.

In 1551, a shock threw down 200 houses in Lisbon, and on July 28, 1597, another caused the houses of three streets to collapse. In 1699, earthquakes returned. The tremors began in October 27th, lasting for three days.

1755 Lisbon Earthquake1755 Lisbon Earthquake

These warnings went unheeded, for obvious reasons. Earthquakes were unpredictable, unstoppable, and inevitable. People did not think about them until they happened. The disaster of 1531 might be repeated at any moment.

The morning of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, was a fine and clear day. The city had been cleaned and decorated for the greatest religious feast of the year. Bells of Lisbon’s 40 churches and 90 convents were “singing”.

1755 Lisbon earthquake happened offshore, at a point estimated by the famous seismologist Charles Davison, latitude 39° North, longitude 11° West. A ship at latitude 40° North, longitude 25° West suddenly jerked up as if suspended, and a strange noise was heard. About a minute later, “three craggy pointed rocks, throwing up water of various colors resembling liquid fire” were seen about a league away.

The rocks disappeared, and the water subsided. At 9:45 a.m., the crew of a Dutch vessel a league and a half off Monte Zizambre, about 20 miles south of Lisbon, felt a violent shock. More shocks were felt on board this vessel towards sunset, and here too a mass of smoke was seen in the ENE, 7 or 8 leagues away. After dark a fire was visible illuminating the sky all night. A distant town was burning – 1755 Lisbon Earthquake facts.


Lisbon Earthquake News at The Time

“The challenging nature of the event is mentioned by contemporary writers, who were shocked by the loose bits of circulating news. On 16 January 1756, the Gazette de Cologne noted that “the earthquake is still on people’s lips”, and added that central Europeans were beginning to convince themselves that they had also felt the earth shake around 1 November (Campos 1998: 272). To a large extent, the spread of such feelings was caused by the language of those writing about the catastrophe. The sensational nature of the event was heightened by descriptions of the survivors’ panic, whose writings, whether real or non-existent, were to become a central theme of the largest circulation newspapers.”

1755 Lisbon Earthquake

Modern research indicates that the main seismic source was faulting of the seafloor along the tectonic plate of the mid-Atlantic. The earthquake generated a tsunami that produced massive waves about 20 feet (6 meters) high at Lisbon and 65 feet (20 meters) high at Cádiz, Spain. The waves traveled as far as Martinique in the Caribbean Sea, a distance of 3,790 miles (6,100 km), in 10 hours and there reached a height of 13 feet (4 meters) above mean sea level. The Damage was even reported in Algiers, 685 miles (1,100 km) to the east. The total number of persons killed included those who perished by drowning and in fires that burned throughout Lisbon for about six days following the shock. Palaces were lost, art and literature for ever.

1755 Lisbon Earthquake