Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is situated at a point where the Tagus River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The downtown center of the city is built over seven hills, which are too steep for vehicular access. The area, therefore, can be reached by an elevator and three funicular services.
Brief History-the Earthquake
The origin of the city dates back to 300,000 years. The most important feature of Lisbon's history is the earthquake that took place on the All Saints Day Catholic holiday, November 1, 1775 at 9.20 am.
It was probably one the most catastrophic events in the history of the world. The earthquake destroyed 85% of Lisbon's buildings including the Royal Palace along with its priceless treasures and killed nearly 100,000 out of 275,000 people.
When the people rushed to the open space of the docks for safety, they watched the sea water recede baring the ocean bed strewn over with the shipwrecks and other lost goods. Minutes later, an estimated 50 feet high tsunamic tide came crashing into the city sweeping away thousands of people.
And if all this was not enough to reduce the city into a rubble, the violent tides broke open the cooking gas lines and lamps which caught fire resulting into a fire storm. The fire burnt down several buildings including Lisbon's largest hospital along with hordes of patients in it.
It was the kind of devastation the likes of which are mentioned only in mythologies and epics.
Two interesting events happened during this devastation
First, many animals sensed the danger and fled to higher ground for safety before the occurrence of the earthquake and the arrival of the tidal waves. This is the first ever documented phenomenon in Europe.
Second, King Joseph1 and his family along with the Prime Minister, Sebastião de Melo, remained safe as they had left the city for a holiday following the advice of one of his daughters to leave Lisbon.
The King was so traumatized that he refused to live in brick and mortar buildings and spent the rest of his life in tents and pavilions on the hills of Ajuda in the suburbs of Lisbon. It was only after his death when his daughter Maria 1 ordered the construction of the Royal Palace of Ajuda that still stands at the point of the old tented encampment.
The day after the devastation
The Prime Minister and the King rose into action soon after the tragedy. "Bury the dead and feed the living", the Prime Minister is reported to have told the survivors. There was no time to bury the thousands of decomposing corpses as they could spread the disease. So contrary to the wishes of the people and the priests, the corpses were hauled into the barges and dumped into the watery graves of the ocean.
The government announced strong and deterrent punishment for the anti-social elements and built gallows at high points in the city and those indulging in such activities were executed publically.
The architects and engineers cleared the city of all the garbage of destruction and reconstruction started in full swing. The first seismologically strong Pombaline building, popularly known as the Pombaline Downtown or Baixa Pombalina along with big broad avenues came up in the city which testifies to the vision and foresight of the King and the Prime Minister.
The modern Lisbon, with its stark contrasts and countless surprises is one of the most amazing capital cities in Europe.