The great earthquake of Lisbon

The great earthquake of Lisbon

March 11 this year an earthquake of such great magnitude (9.0 on the moment scale) struck the country Japan that much of its infrastructure was reduced to mere rubble. As if this was not harm enough, the aftermath proved to be yet another fatal incursion by nature. The incident is now referred to as “The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami” with the later proving to be one of its most lethal kinds, submerging those entombed by rubble and drowning the aidless.

The phenomenon of earthquakes is not a novel occurrence to mankind, especially not to such an earthquake ridden area as the archipelago of Japan, still she has not been able to provide a haven for herself. So, evidently earthquakes have been a force to be reckoned with throughout the entire history of mankind and the age of enlightenment was no exception.  The earthquake of Lisbon (also 9.0 on the moment scale) which occurred in 1755 is a good example of this.

The earthquake struck the city of Lisbon in the morning of November 1. It was the holiday of all saints day and most of the 250,000 population were praying in one of the many cathedrals when the catastrophe hit. The cities buildings started to ominously sway back and forth. And as the buildings started to collapse into the narrow streets, where congregants had gathered to search for sanctuary, the city had, in a matter of seconds, completely transformed from a secure religious holiday celebrating community into a menacing deathtrap. Nature was just getting started though.

Many of those who had survived and managed to escape the streets fled to the docks to seek refuge. They never found it. They were met by death in the shape of three huge tsunami waves. The tsunami just added to the destruction created by the quake and all the ships in the harbor of Lisbon where destroyed.

Still, it was not over. The two previous catastrophes lead to a third. Among the chaos created, fire had ignited on numerous places and was, encouraged by the northeast wind, rapidly spreading taking advantage of the buildings, which were so closely located to each other. This resulted in further turmoil in which several hundreds of patients in the hospitals were forgotten. Immobile and forsaken, they were left for the flames.

All this sudden havoc provoked worries in the rationally thinking enlightened Europe. That one of the wealthiest and most populated cities of the “civilized world” could be laid to waste within two hours was an, thus far, furtive menace. This occupied the minds of the great European enlightenment thinkers as they tried to find a scientific explanation for the earthquake because they refused the religious motives. This was the start of the science of seismology. Thus the earthquake could be considered a landmark in the understanding of how earthquakes work and why they occur.

Another thing which we shall not leave unmentioned is the deft leadership of the minister of the kingdom of Portugal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, subsequent to the catastrophe. He emphasized ” the punishment of thieves and other criminals, the installation of tents and other facilities for the homeless, the fixation of prices for essential goods and the redirection of fleeing citizens to the city”. Also, everything was done to avoid the outbreak of a plague, people tried to get rid of the corpses as soon and possible and restore the drainage system.

In conclusion, the earthquake of Lisbon could be considered to be the first “modern” earthquake as it was the first which was followed up by serious scientific research. Thus the earthquake of Lisbon is the first antecedent of the most recent quake in Japan. I do wonder about one thing, though. How come we, who live in a globalized world where scientists all over the world work together, after more than 250 years of research, still find ourselves so exposed and vulnerable to earthquakes? How come science and architecture have not yet been able to provide the haven mentioned above? Is it impossible to overcome nature in some aspects? After all, we do it every day. We do it when we cook food, wear clothes and ride the bus. So, what do you think? Will we ever be able to subjugate and be safe from nature’s outbursts in form of earthquakes?


//Baloo Peinkofer






Postat av: Sebastian C

Nice work!

The thing about Japan is that the actual earthquake did not cause much damage, it was the tsunami that destroyed everything in its path with devastating power. So Japan has, as one of the leading coutries in the world within architecture against earthquakes, come a long way. Personally I don't think that there is any rescue against tsunamis, as they have such enormous power. So if you want to see a some light in all the badness, most of the buildings passed the worthy test against the earthquake.

It's astonishing that after 250 years we are still at the same place basically working against natural disasters. Most innocent lives in todays society are taken by nature. And I think it will remain like that.

2011-04-06 @ 16:18:37
Postat av: Andreas Larsson

Great article Baloo!

It is like Sebastian says, Japan is the country in the world that is best adapt for earthquake resistance. Earthquake-resistant architecture is very common in Japan. The tsunami is what caused the devestation. In the future I believe we'll be able to resist these natural disasters better, but never fully. The power of the earth is too strong for that. Earthquakes, tsunamis or, god help us, a super volcano will always pose as threats to us.

2011-04-06 @ 18:09:53
Postat av: Baloo Peinkofer

Yes! You are totally right about the tsunami being the most destructive factor. I had emphasize the earthquake, because I wanted to draw the parallel between the two quakes. But you have to remember that Japan is more of a exception, because it has the financial possibility to secure its population with most the best and most up-to-date protection. Many other nations, which do also suffer from earthquakes, such as Haiti and Chile do not have this possibility. As for the question whether mankind can overcome the wrath of nature or not, I must agree with you both again. natural disasters like these are not becoming less and they are not becoming weaker, and we keep adding fuel to their might through our everyday life. Mankind will simply not be able to develop protection in the same rapid speed as the power of natural-disasters is increasing.

2011-04-14 @ 17:48:08
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