Quakes that shaped his­tory

A seis­mic event that dealt Por­tu­gal’s em­pire a griev­ous blow

BBC History Magazine - - Earthquakes -

The sud­den de­struc­tion of Lis­bon by an earth­quake and tsunami in 1755 ex­erted an in­flu­ence on 18th- cen­tury Europe as far-reach­ing as the oblit­er­a­tion of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki by atomic bombs in the 20th cen­tury. This is epit­o­mised by Voltaire’s 1759 novel, Can­dide, satiris­ing re­li­gious ex­pla­na­tions of the dis­as­ter and the phi­los­o­phy of op­ti­mism.

By the 19th cen­tury, im­ages of a shak­ing Lis­bon were icons of nat­u­ral dis­as­ter com­pa­ra­ble with the smoth­er­ing of Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum by the erup­tion of Ve­su­vius. In Por­tu­gal, the dev­as­ta­tion ac­cel­er­ated the long-term de­cline of the coun­try in Europe and the colo­nial world, which had been caused by its over-re­liance on gold rev­enues from its colony Brazil and what many saw as the per­ni­cious in­flu­ence of Je­suit or­tho­doxy. Although Lis­bon was grad­u­ally, and im­pres­sively, re­built un­der the near- dic­ta­tor­ship of the mar­quess of Pom­bal, the coun­try con­tin­ued to weaken eco­nom­i­cally, es­pe­cially af­ter Brazil gained its in­de­pen­dence in 1822.

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