Quakes that shaped history
A seismic event that dealt Portugal’s empire a grievous blow
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.