City and Spectacle: a vision of pre-earthquake Lisbon 

1. Concept

The project consists in a Second Life® virtual recreation of the memory of Lisbon as it was before the earthquake of the 1 November 1755, giving shape to a laboratory model of research into the city’s history.

2. Partners

The project is being developed at the Centre for History of Art and Artistic Research (Centro de História da Arte e Investigação Artística) – CHAIA, of the University of Évora since 2008 and is a result of collaborative work with Beta Technologies and the King’s Visualisation Lab, King’s College London.

3. Historical Context

On the eve of the catastrophe, Lisbon was one of the most populated cities in Europe, a major sea port, international trading station and the political heart of an empire that extended from India to Brazil. From the 16th century, the Portuguese capital became a cosmopolitan city which was highly diversified both demographically and socially.

Portrayed by some travelers and foreign residents as a mixture of abject misery, extreme religious devotion and baroque opulence and extravagance, the old Lisbon became a mythical city for 18th century Europeans while for the Portuguese it has remained so until today. Its destruction made the headlines in the European press, inspiring various texts of different kinds, notably Voltaire’s Candide ou l’Optimisme (1759), and had a significant impact on European 18th century thought.

After the earthquake, the minister to King D. José I, the future Marquis of Pombal, obtained the vital assistance of Portuguese military engineers to build a city with a regular layout arranged in uniform blocks. The old city with its particular morphological and social characteristics disappeared.

4. Methodology and potentialities

Following a comprehensive survey and selection of written documentation and iconography found in archives and national museums, we propose to reconstitute the whole area altered by the rebuilding plan. This recreation will include not only the urban design but also the architectonic fabric of the whole and the interiors of the most noteworthy buildings, such as the Ribeira Royal Palace in Terreiro do Paço, the Patriarchal See, the Opera House, the Corpus Christi Convent and the All Saints Hospital. It will also include audio and animation components in order to provide the background noise of city-dwellers, as well as the recreation of opera performances and other noteworthy Lisbon events of the time. It will be complemented by small texts giving the historical context.

The project thus strives to recreate the spatial, architectural, social and cultural dimensions of Lisbon in the early 18th century, using the technology of virtual worlds.

Second Life® technology and its open source version OpenSimulator (OpenSim) allow users and researchers to interact in an immersive and easily built collaborative space in real time. There is no separation between the modeling and the visualization stages. These characteristics foster the coordination of researchers when confirming historical hypotheses, allowing the dynamic updating of the model and its implementation at a low cost. They also provide to both a specialized and broader public the immersion in a lost urban reality in a context of social interaction, thus promoting the didactic and leisure dimensions of the project.

The project consists thus of a laboratory in which virtual language is applied to historic research in such a way that the traditional context of the research is enhanced and broadened. More specifically, it enables the long research path into the city’s history to be tested in an interactive and immersive three-dimensional representation.

Its online availability will also foster scientific debate and the sharing of documental sources about the city of Lisbon and Urban History in the international context.

In its first phase, was implemented the virtual recreation of the exteriors of the Ribeira Royal Palace, Chapel Street, Clock Tower, Patriarchal Piazza, Royal Opera House and Pátio das Arcas.

5. Team

The team brings together researchers in the area of Art History, specializing in the history of the city, urbanism, architecture and the landscape; specialists in the creation of virtual realities and experts in the application of IT resources to research and the dissemination of history.

Alexandra Gago da Câmara – Art Historian (Universidade Aberta/CHAIA – Universidade de Évora)

Ana Amaro – Designer (Universidade de Aveiro)

António Filipe Pimentel – Art Historian (Director of the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga/Instituto de História de Arte – Universidade de Coimbra)

Aurora Carapinha –  Landscape Architect (CHAIA – Universidade de Évora)

Drew Etienne Baker – King’s Visualisation Lab/King’s College London

Helena Murteira – Art Historian (Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian/CHAIA – Universidade de Évora)

Joaquim Ramos de Carvalho – Historian (Universidade de Coimbra)

Luís Miguel Richheimer Marta de Sequeira – Informatic Engineer (Beta Technologies)

Pedro Miguel Gomes Januário – Architect (Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade Técnica de Lisboa)

Miguel Soromenho – Art Historian (IGESPAR – Instituto de Gestão do Património Arquitectónico e Arqueológico)

Paulo Simões Rodrigues – Art Historian (CHAIA – Universidade de Évora)

Rita Manteigas – Art Historian (Museu de Tavira)

Silvana Moreira – undergraduate student in Architecture (Beta Technologies)