On the morning of November 1st, All Saints’ Day, a violent earthquake took place in Lisbon, Setúbal and the Algarve. In the capital, where it reached the highest intensity (modernly believed to be Grade 9 on the Richter scale), it was accompanied by a tsunami with waves that appear to have reached 20 meters, and which reached the United States coasts of America.
The tidal wave swept the Terreiro do Paço and a gigantic fire that, during 6 days, completed the scene of destruction of the whole of Lisbon. This tragic event was the subject of a vast literature that has developed a little throughout Europe, and of which the poem by Voltaire Le Désastre de Lisbonne (1756) is an example.
Lisbon had already felt many earthquakes in modern times, eight in the fourteenth century, five in the sixteenth century, including that of 1531 that destroyed 1,500 houses, and that of 1597 that destroyed three streets, and three in the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth century the earthquakes of 1724 and 1750 were mentioned. The latter, precisely on the day of Dom João V’s death, but both of minor consequences.
In 1755 important buildings, such as the Opera House, the Duke of Cadaval’s palace, the royal palace and the Torre do Tombo Archives were destroyed, as were the Dominican and Franciscan libraries. Altogether, some 10 000 buildings have been destroyed and 12 000 to 15 000 people have died, or perhaps more. (Modern studies indicate that in a city with 275,000 inhabitants 70 to 90,000 people died)
It was in this context of tragedy and confusion that Sebastiao José de Carvalho e Melo, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and War, revealed his great capacities of leadership and organization in taking charge of the restitution of the order; While the influential people and the royal family moved away from Lisbon, Sebastião José de Carvalho and Melo (Marquês de Pombal) put into practice the policy of burying the dead and caring for the living.
It prevented the population from escaping by providing relief and distributing food. He severely punished those who robbed their homes and immediately began to think about the reconstruction of Lisbon.
In that same year, Manuel da Maia, engineer of the kingdom, was already studying the problem of reconstruction and raised the question of building a new city on the rubble of the old one or building a new city in Belém, less subject to earthquakes Seismic. Once the first of the solutions was chosen, a model was adopted in which private works were prohibited; The owners of the land were forced to rebuild under the general plan within five years, otherwise they would be obliged to sell the land.
Out of a total of 6 plans drawn up by Manuel da Maia’s collaborators, Eugénio dos Santos, architect of the city’s Senate, was chosen to lead the work until 1760, when he died and was replaced by Carlos Mardel, an immigrant Hungarian architect in Portugal.
The medieval town of narrow streets gave way to a rational layout of straight lines in which the buildings all have the same height. Of all the Pombaline city, so designated as having resulted from the initiative of the Marquis of Pombal, stands the Commerce Square, majestic “entrance hall” in the city, with the equestrian statue of D. José I, monarch of the height, of the Author of the sculptor Machado de Castro.