The Lisbon earthquake of 1755: the catastrophe and its European repercussions

Published in Economia Global e Gestão (Global Economics and Management Review), Lisboa, vol. 10 (2004), p. 79-99.

This paper is based on a section of the author’s PhD thesis: A Place for Lisbon in Eighteenth Century Europe: Lisbon, London and Edinburgh a town-planning comparative study (PhD in Architecture, Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, 2004).

Helena Murteira

In November 2005, Lisbon will recall a momentous event in its history: two hundred and fifty years before, a powerful earthquake (estimated magnitude of 9 using the Mercali scale) ruined most of its city centre, killed a significant number of its inhabitants and curtailed its wealth and its historical legacy. The scale of the seismic shocks and the damage it caused in the capital city were cause of bewilderment and astonishment not only in Portugal but also everywhere in Europe. Newspapers rapidly developed throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries benefiting from an increasing number of readers interested in what was happening all over Europe as well as in other regions of the recently “discovered” world (which had gradually been incorporated in the “known world” by the imperial expansion of the European nations). Apart from being a source of wide-ranging information at a time when the means were scarce and the demand was rising, the most renowned newspapers were used to swiftly and thoroughly assist the cultural and scientific European elite and, more specifically, to keep the European commercial and financial network up to date. The Lisbon earthquake made the European newspapers’ headlines for several months not only due to its dramatic consequences but also because of its commercial and political implications.

Let us examine the catastrophe and its repercussions on European society at the time in greater detail.
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