The Lisbon Earthquake

In 2015 I shared a interesting documentary I found on YouTube about the great Lisbon 1755 earthquake, a cataclysmic event that marked the Portuguese social and cultural life deeply.

In the documentary there are various scenes of virtual reconstruction of the earthquake and a general aspect of how Lisbon looked like in 1755.

Not only the loss of human lives but also the loss of cultural heritage was enormous. The royal opera house the Ópera do Tejo that had opened that year with a work by David Perez burned to ashes. It can be seen in the video (the fires scene) together with the great tower of the Ribeira Royal Palace also in flames. It housed the Royal Library that, besides priceless documents of historical value (such as Vasco da Gama’s campaigns), also included the Royal Music Library, for which we know only the 1649 first part of the catalogue. Priceless music manuscripts and prints were loss. The earthquake also destroyed the Carmelite convent (see in detail in the video) and the Royal Hospital of All Saints, both institutions that maintained an important musical activity. It also destroyed the Royal Chapel (then the Patriarchal Church) in the Ribeira Palace, another important centre of musical activity.

The earthquake also damaged some of the most important churches of Lisbon, which all housed musical institutions. This was the case of the Cathedral, churches of St. Paul and St. Catherine, the monastery of S. Vicente de Fora and the church of Misericórdia.

2 Comments on “The Lisbon Earthquake

    • Indeed! And this one was particularly devastating for musicologists because of the loss of King João IV’s music library. One can only imagine the amount of music stored there. There is a “glimpse” from a first part of a catalogue dating from 1649… which has thousands of manuscripts and prints from all over Europe…