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PAPER PRESENTED AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE THE IMAGE OF THE
CITY TRANSFORMED: 15TH-18TH CENTURY, MAS, ANTWERP, 23-24 MAY 2013
Myth and Reason: Lisbon’s image before and after the 1755 earthquake
Maria Alexandra Gago da Camara* ** , Helena Murteira*, and Paulo Simões Rodrigues*
* Centre for History of Art and Artistic Research (CHAIA), University of Évora, Portugal
** Universidade Aberta (Open University), Lisboa
In the extensive universe of urban iconography between the seventeenth century and the
eighteenth century, Lisbon stands out as a paradigmatic example of the Portuguese reality.
This paper aims to analyze the different representations of Lisbon during this long period by
establishing the relationship between the imagined city (Myth) and the projected city
The image of Lisbon from the late medieval period to the second half of the eighteenth
century develops from depictions, still very much subject to drafting, to the more realistic
representations in which is established a clear visual connection between the most emblematic
In the sixteenth century, the images of Lisbon convey a narrative that unfolds from the hill-
top Castle to the Cathedral, in the city centre maze, and the Royal Palace on the riverbank.
The Castle symbolizes the foundational moment of the Christian city, the Cathedral embodies
the power of the Church and the Royal Palace represents the Crown’s dominion over the sea
and its navigation. Throughout the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, the
Royal Palace plays the main role in the depictions of Lisbon, becoming the main visual and
symbolic element of the city.
The 1755 earthquake generated a vast number of images of Lisbon during the disaster, in its
majority of a fantasist nature. Depictions centred on the “poetics of the ruins” followed these,
emphasizing the catastrophe’s dramatic appeal. Some are of crucial importance for the study
of pre-earthquake Lisbon as they depict with some accuracy the ruined buildings. The
assertive character of the rebuilding enterprise carried out soon after the catastrophe is patent
on the many plans and building elevations designed by the Portuguese military engineering
for the new Lisbon. The rational character of these plans led to a new idealization of Lisbon,
plain in the prints, paintings and illustrations that portray an imagined rebuilt city, as
with the Travels in Portugal (1795) by James Murphy. From this moment, the regularity of
the new Lisbon and the monumentality of the Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio)
was emphasized, namely with the laydown of the equestrian statue of king D. José I (1714 -
77), conveying the idea of a reformed order after the chaos under the authority of the
In studying the past of an old city such as Lisbon, whose material and physical history was
curtailed by a powerful earthquake in 1755, all iconographic sources, whether drawn,
engraved or painted, assume particular importance: they differ from the interpretation of
written documentary sources, since they allow us to visualize buildings and streets no longer
This is the reason why, in the ample universe of iconographic output on cities in
the early modern period (sixteenth to eighteenth century), Lisbon stands out as a paradigmatic
reference for the Portuguese situation.
Dissemination of images of Lisbon in the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth century
was made largely through the publication of engravings which were distributed separately or
included in books, outside Portugal in most cases. Those images were always the element
which allowed Europe and part of the world to admire the famous Portuguese capital, both in
its general aspect and in some particulars centred on its riverside monuments, particularly the
Belém Tower, the Jerónimos convent, the Corte Real Palace, the Ribeira Palace and the
Terreiro do Paço (“Palace Courtyard”). These were the most emblematic buildings and areas
in Lisbon, which it was necessary to register, divulge and aggrandize.
Most panoramic images of Lisbon in those days represent the city seen from a prime location
bringing together the sea and the river, the place from which the overseas expansion had set
out, under the Crown's direction. The permanent repetition of the riverside perspective
converts urban images into imagery, hinting at an idea of the city which determined the
configuration of its depictions, turning them into a mixture of myth, wish and reality.
This paper aims to present different representations of Lisbon, spread throughout a “long time
cycle” which runs from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, as well as to identify and
interpret the relationship between imagined city (Myth) and experienced city (Reason). As
for the methodology, we have decided to juxtapose the representations of the different
“Lisbons” and investigate the potential held by some key items of the city's iconography in
Early Modern times, which sought to divulge the role played by Lisbon in Europe and in the
world, ever alternating between a mythical and a realistic vision.
The image of the city as a concept
Even when it is absent from the author's initial intention or awareness, the image of any city,
from any period in History, always subordinates the complexity of physical reality to a given
perspective, idea or common denominator. Rather than a visual depiction, the point of view is
a concept, an idea made visible through images. The image's formal structure is also
symbolic, in the same sense in which Erwin Panofsky understood perspective in Renaissance
The point of view is shaped by the way in which perspective or perspectives, the different
plans, scales, colours, and light are interrelated and create in the city's landscape what Kevin
Lynch called ‘landmarks’.
These include the most characteristic modulations of the
buildings' topography - especially those which, either by themselves or in articulation with
others, acquire or represent specific meanings. It is essential, in order to understand these
meanings, to integrate the cities' images in the context and circumstances shaping the purpose
of their production: whom were they created for, and with what objectives. These questions
are mandatory when trying to account for the idea presiding over the image's formal
composition and meaning.
Abstraction and depiction in the early representations of Lisbon
In the specific case of Lisbon, from the late Middle Ages up until the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries the symbolic dimension of individual buildings and architectural structures, such as
city walls, took precedence over the depiction of the city as a unified urban body. The city
was represented not as an observable physical reality, but rather as an observable concept.
The urbs functioned as a representation of the civitas
. The representation of the city reflected
and was determined by its political and social organization. For this reason, in pictures dating
from the late Middle Ages we see a predominance of those elements which, in that period,
generically defined any city as a political and social organization – e.g. city walls, limiting
and protecting it or, in Christian cities, the cathedral. At times, however, some images refer to
a specific city. Such is the case of the Great Seal of Lisbon (Lisbon’s Municipal Seal), dating
from 1346, which probably holds the oldest known depiction of Lisbon (Fig. 1).
Figure 1 Reconstitution of the Great Seal of Lisbon. Drawing published in António Caetano de Sousa,
História Genealógica da Casa Real Portuguesa, vol. IV (Lisboa, 1738) (National Library of Portugal).
On the Great Seal of Lisbon a few elements suffice to define the city in visual terms: a
schematic, undifferentiated set of houses, the city walls and the cathedral. The cathedral
stands out, due to its central location in the representational space and due to its scale, larger
than that of the other elements in the composition. The cathedral was the most important
building in any medieval city. Its magnificence and architectonic quality symbolized the
prestige and the economic and political power of the city. There are also innovative features
which hint at the city of Lisbon specifically, namely the presence of the river, the downward,
river-bound direction of the city's growth made visible by the innovative composition in aerial
perspective, and some of the cathedral's architectonic elements, namely the bell towers on
both sides of the façade and the tower which rises above the crossing.
Recent studies have interpreted the scene opposite the image of Lisbon as being the
representation of the cathedral's interior, during a ceremony held to thank St. Vincent, the
city's patron saint, for his protection and miracles, or possibly to exalt him in his relationship
with the Portuguese monarchy. One can also identify the presence of King Afonso IV in the
ceremony (the figure on the throne, crowned, holding the globe of sovereignty), which allows
us to relate the seal's making with the promotion of Lisbon to principal city in the kingdom, a
policy pursued by this monarch. King Afonso IV is actually thought to have undertaken a plan
for embellishing the city and to have declared in his will that he wished to be buried in its
The city as a political symbol
The cathedral, the river, and the downward direction of the city's growth, leading from the
hills to the river below, became reference points in the city of Lisbon. They appear repeatedly
in pictures of Lisbon produced in the ensuing centuries, even when these became more and
more descriptive and close to observable reality, almost cartographical in their nature. The
reason for this can be found in the fact that they were determined by very precise political and
ideological goals. We can better grasp this iconographic permanence and its political and
ideological conditioning by making a comparative analysis of three images of Lisbon
produced in the sixteenth century: an engraving first published in volume I of Civitates Orbis
Terrarum, by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg, in Cologne, in 1572 (Fig. 2); a miniature
included in the frontispiece of a chronicle of the first king of Portugal, written by Duarte
Galvão (Crónica de D. Afonso Henriques) around 1520 (Fig. 3); and a miniature from
Genealogia do Infante D. Fernando, which can be dated from between 1530 and 1534,
attributed to the Portuguese miniaturist António de Holanda and the Flemish painter Simon
Figure 2 Georgius Braunius and Frans Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Cologne, 1572). Lisbon in
the early-16th century. Engraving (Lisbon City Museum).
Figure 3 António de Holanda (attribution). View of the city of Lisbon (sixteenth century). Duarte Galvão,
Crónica do Rei D. Afonso Henriques. Miniature (Câmara Municipal de Cascais / Museu-Biblioteca Condes
de Castro Guimarães).
Probably based on an anonymous drawing from around 1513, the engraving in Civitates Orbis
Terrarum shows Lisbon in a planimetric, cartographical and descriptive image of the city's
architectonic and urban forms. The image's features match the general purpose of the work, an
atlas which aims at acquainting a wider public with the most important cities in the known
In the second case, an image of early sixteenth century Lisbon appears in the chronicle of
Portugal's first king, D. Afonso Henriques (1109 - 85). The chronicle was a literary genre with
clear dynastic and political intentions, a fact which must inevitably has conditioned its
content. It is quite telling that the perspective, the differentiated scales and the architectonic
naturalism highlight the buildings directly linked to the king's secular power and its religious
legitimation: the castle on top of the hill, the two royal palaces (one in the city centre, the
other on the river bank), and the cathedral. The emphasis laid on these buildings corresponds
to the idea of the city expressed in late medieval chronicles, as the one written by Duarte
Galvão about King D. Afonso Henriques. In these chronicles, the cities were seen as being
indebted to the early kings because these had freed them from Islam and had refounded them,
both materially and spiritually. They also functioned as stages and headquarters for the
monarchs and their courts, spaces which hosted the kingdom's most important institutions.
They helped structure the monarchs' power and prestige, being spaces that reflected the
principles of urban wealth, power and memory, as part of the construction and glorification of
the image and legacy of the kings. The main buildings, such as cathedrals and other urban
temples, were considered to be places of memory which confirmed the historical truth of the
As for the Genealogia do Infante D. Fernando, the fact that it included miniatures of the
kingdom's main cities, with Lisbon in the spotlight among them, was meant to legitimate the
Portuguese monarchy as a symbol of territorial possession in the Iberian Peninsula. In this
specific case, the articulation of the towers, the interrelation of open spaces around the castle,
the Rossio square and by the river, next to the Royal Palace, help define a combination of
elements which make up an imagery of the city of Lisbon in the sixteenth century. These
elements proclaim the king's authority over the city, reinforced by his historical and religious
These two images of Lisbon represent an iconological synthesis of the unity of the kingdom,
an acknowledgement of the royal superiority initiated by the first king, D. Afonso Henriques.
From imagery to town-planning
From the early fifteenth century up until the mid-sixteenth century, the Portuguese Crown
carried out an overseas venture that expanded its sovereignty from India to Brazil. This vast
enterprise had a significant impact on the Portuguese capital city. During the sixteenth
century, thirteen new parishes were added to the city, and its population grew from
approximately 65.000 in 1528 to 120.000 in 1590
. At the beginning of the seventeenth
century, Lisbon was one of the most populated cities in Europe, together with Paris, Milan,
Venice, Naples, London, Rome and Palermo.
As a consequence, the social character of
Lisbon suffered a dramatic transformation. The maritime activities linked to the overseas
expansion, which included fast-growing international trade, attracted the countryside
population and a multitude of sailors and merchants from various parts of the world. Lisbon
acquired a strong cosmopolitan character, and its urban attributes were reinforced.
From the sixteenth century onward, descriptions, statistics and essays were meant to picture
Lisbon in the light of its recently acquired status, the capital city of a modern Empire.
most of them there is an evident effort to produce a convincing account, even if the context is
one of national praise.
Among all these accounts, the Descrição da Cidade de Lisboa (Description of the city of
Lisbon, 1554), by the Portuguese humanist Damião de Góis, is the first to attempt an all-
encompassing portrait of the city.
The author leads the reader on a visual journey through
Lisbon, describing the locations and the city’s geographic and social characteristics, its
architectonic and urban landmarks, and the direction of its expansion. Revealingly, the book
opens with an account of the Portuguese discovery of the maritime route to India in 1498, a
turning point for the Portuguese Empire and, consequently, for the role of Lisbon in the
European commercial and cultural network of the period.
If we compare the Descrição da Cidade de Lisboa to the second view of Lisbon by
Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, we immediately understand that we are observing the city
at the same historical period (Fig. 4).
Both represent the Portuguese capital city at the peak
of the Portuguese Empire. The close relationship with the river Tagus and the Atlantic Sea,
the urban layout underlining the several Lisbon hills, the crucial significance of the Terreiro
do Paço (Palace Courtyard), location of the new royal palace, and the major importance of
maritime trade in the city's life, illustrated by the many ships sailing alongside the riverbank,
all concur to establish a well-defined image of sixteenth-century Lisbon. This engraving of
Lisbon by Braun and Hogenberg inspired several views of the city in the seventeenth century.
Its popularity explains the fact that it was used to represent New Amsterdam, later New York,
in C.L. Jollain’s engraving dated from 1672.
Figure 4 Georgius Braunius and Frans Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Cologne, 1598). Lisbon in
the mid-16th century. Engraving (Lisbon City Museum).
In 1571, the humanist Francisco de Holanda added a diverse note to these accounts. In his text
Da Fabrica que falece à cidade de Lisboa, dedicated to the Portuguese King D. Sebastião
(1554 - 78), he suggests a programme of monumental works for Lisbon. In a utopian exercise,
the author drafts an ensemble of architectural units, which he deems essential for the capital
city of a vast Empire. If his criticism of Lisbon’s urban debilities is apparent in this work, its
Humanist appeal towards the dream/ideal city is also obvious:
‘Each one of us has so much to do in the strengthening and restoring of one’s soul, and in the
realm of one’s spiritual city, that I could now restrain from dealing with the strengthening
and restoring of the kingdom and the material city of Lisbon, but not wanting to be ungrateful
to the glorious memory of your grandfather, the King that is in God’s company, who sent me
as a young man to Italy to see and draw its fortresses and its most illustrious works […]. And
considering myself the decay of Lisbon’s fortresses and the disorder of what really matters to
the city as head and crown of this kingdom. Your Highness I have striven to give this note
about its fortification and ornament to Your Highness and to Lisbon to use it in the present
time, or in the upcoming future’.
In 1578, the young King Sebastião was killed in the Battle of Ksar El Kebir in North
Africa, leaving no direct descendants. This event led to the Union of the Portuguese and
Spanish Crowns in 1580, under the rule of King Filipe II of Spain, Sebastião’s cousin.
The loss of Portugal's political independence and the resulting diminished role of Lisbon
in the empire fuelled a rich and often over-enthusiastic Portuguese literature about this city:
‘And if we stop speculating, and get to the facts, perhaps we will find it to be the largest in the
world (if not in extent) at least in the number of neighbours, and in people, as we will not find
in this City as many stables, backyards, as there are in many cities we are informed of; and
having the latter usually one-storey houses, here the most part have three storeys, and four,
and many five, and some six, besides the streets being very narrow’.
Lisbon was compared to Rome and placed at the civilizational forefront of Europe:
‘Europe is in the upper part [of the world], presiding over the rest … and Hispania is its
head, in which is Lisbon, in the place of the eyes, showing that it should be the guide and the
light of the remaining areas of Europe’.
The sixteenth-century Ribeira Palace was deemed too uncharacteristic and gloomy and,
consequently, unsuitable for the new monarch, King Filipe II of Spain. Therefore, at the end
of the century the palace underwent extensive renovation works, projected by the architects
Juan Herrera and Filippo Terzi.
The programme succeeded in giving a more regular
appearance to the ensemble, which had developed as a succession of distinct buildings in the
The vast production of images in Europe, throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, typified a representation of Lisbon centred in the Palace Courtyard and the Royal
Palace. The new tower at the southern end of the Palace became the main visual and symbolic
element of the city.
. Many pictures of Lisbon, with varying degrees of fantasy, travelled
through Europe, perpetuating the image of the late seventeenth-century Royal Palace and the
vast square where it was located, sometimes in mirror-images (optical prints) long after the
1755 earthquake had ruined Lisbon's city centre (Fig. 5).
Figure 5 Maillet, A View of the palace of the King of Portugal at Lisbone/ Vüe de Palais Roi de Portugal à
Lisbon [ca 1760]. Engraving (National Library of Portugal).
The restoration of independence in 1640, and the twenty-eight-year war that subsequently
opposed the Portuguese and Spanish Crowns, gave to military engineering a key role in the
Portuguese architectural and town-planning process. During this period, the building of a new
and effective defensive wall became the main concern of both the Portuguese Crown and the
Lisbon city council. French and German military engineers were appointed to draw the new
fortification and to assist in the war effort. The multiple challenges posed by the fortification
of Lisbon and other strategic cities and towns in Portugal, together with the colonization of
the overseas empire, particularly in Brazil, promoted the training and education of Portuguese
military engineers as architects and urban planners. The history of military architecture (later
military engineering) in Portugal is thus inextricably linked to the country's overseas
colonization and its long-lasting political dispute with Spain.
Developing always in a European context, Portuguese military engineering accompanied the
dramatic progress of military technology in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the
resulting modernization of the city's defences. Urban cartography was prioritised as a means
of responding to these demands. The first known plan of Lisbon with military purposes dates
from the mid-seventeenth century (Fig. 6). Its rigour and accuracy allow a novel reading of
the city, its layout and its development trends.
Figure 6 João Nunes Tinoco. Plan of Lisbon (ca 1610 - 89) (National Library of Portugal).
In the few plans of the city which survived the catastrophe, the detailed representation of the
urban layout is in contrast with the pictures, some more realistic than others, of the Royal
Palace (depicted in its full grandiosity on the Palace Courtyard) in the second half of the
seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth century. Military cartography developed
side by side with the poetic representation of the Portuguese capital's most notable elements,
made known throughout Europe by many engravers.
The reality of a myth: the baroque city
From the late seventeenth century, the winding, medieval streets of the Lisbon city centre
were widened in some places, and a number of the city’s urban infrastructures were
modernized. These actions were gradually carried out by the Lisbon City Council with the
approval and praise of the Crown. The private proprietors reluctantly complied with this
modernization effort of the city centre.
In the context of a wider programme seeking to modernize Portuguese society, Lisbon was
embellished, rearranged and enlarged.
The military engineers played a significant role in
these urban ventures. Lisbon, as the capital city, was a fundamental laboratory for the wide-
ranging expertise of the military engineers. Their main concern was that of building, or
rebuilding, in agreement with a series of norms which promoted architectonic proportion and
regularity, as well as durability of materials.
The gold and diamonds from Brazil which, toward the end of the seventeenth century, began
to fill the Crown's vaults and enrich the court in the Portuguese capital, made possible this
significant renovation process, which spread westward from the centre through the riverside
area. Some streets were opened, others enlarged (some of them more than once), piers,
drinking fountains, and even a new and monumental aqueduct materialized this idea of a
modern city, always present in the discourse of both Crown and Town Hall. These projects
were promoted alongside a hearty effort from the Crown to embellish the capital city.
In the late seventeenth century, and especially at the beginning of the eighteenth century, this
trend received a significant boost with the programme of works carried out in the city by King
D. João V (1689 – 1750). During this period, several churches and convents were built or
renovated, and the Royal Palace underwent a significant programme of works of renovation
and enlargement. Besides the changes made in the royal chambers, a new square was drawn,
to the north of the palace. It was the first square designed as a coherent element, meant to
receive the new Patriarchal Basilica.
The Lisbon of King João V, ephemeral and baroque as opposed to the seventeenth-century
sober and austere Portuguese architecture, was short-lived due to the sudden destruction
caused by the 1755 earthquake. It was built with the contribution of some noteworthy Italian
architects such as Antonio Canevari, Giovanni Carlo Galli da Bibiena and, fundamentally, the
German architect Johann Frederich Ludwig. However, whilst King João V looked to Italian
Baroque for the urban and architectonic staging of his political strategy, his programme of
works used the experience of the military engineers on a scale never before attempted in
On the eve of the 1755 earthquake, during the rule of King D. José I (1714 – 77), an Opera
House was built at the western end of the Royal Palace compound. This project authored by
Giovanni Carlo Galli da Bibbiena placed Lisbon on the map of Europe's great opera houses.
Despite this modernization effort, Lisbon remained confined to a medieval-type urban layout,
narrow and winding, and was unable to address the main issues which afflicted European
cities in those days: extremely precarious cleaning systems, lack of basic sanitation, defective
lighting and policing, vulnerability to the fires which broke out repeatedly. This two-sided
character of early eighteenth-century Lisbon comes out clearly in this account by a British
citizen, from 1745:
‘It is almost impossible to conceive any thing more magnificent than the appearance this
stately city made at a distance; owing, as we have said before, as well to its situation on the
declivity of several hills, as to the many grand edifices with which it abounded. The interior
part, however, did by no means correspond with its external magnificence. The houses of
Lisbon were mostly four, few of them five stories high, and built of stone. The narrowness,
declivity, and irregularity of some of its streets, and the dirtiness of others, made it a very
disagreeable place of abode to strangers’.
Images and imagery of the Baroque city
Although the Portuguese empire had long lost the pre-eminence of its sixteenth-century days,
with Lisbon now taking a back seat in the political and economic scheme of eighteenth-
century Europe, the importance of Portuguese colonial trade over international sea routes
endured, and so did the strategic importance of Lisbon's port.
In the European imaginary, on
the other hand, the luxury and wealth of the Portuguese crown were proverbial, sometimes
causing an unrealistic perception of the latter.
The depictions of the city centre, more
specifically the area of the Palace Courtyard and the Royal Palace, reflect both realities.
In addition to the widespread reproduction of engravings of Lisbon, paintings and drawings
portrayed, in some cases, after studies made in loco, the centre of Lisbon marked by the
tutelary presence of the Royal Palace. The Palace Courtyard is portrayed in its busy daily
activity, mixing the social, economic and religious dimensions of life. It held the reception of
royal and religious dignitaries, royal feasts and ceremonies, and the gruesome autos-de-fé.
Through these representations we may glimpse the evolution of the square itself, in the
aspects concerning the construction or renovation of several public buildings, namely
administrative and military ones.
In these images, the city that develops behind the Royal Palace discloses itself, showing a
growing number of baroque bell towers which reveal the active building dynamics of the first
half of the eighteenth century. Like the engravings, these representations evoke the political
and economic centre of the capital in its symbolic dimension, but they also convey, through
the suggestive inspiration of local observation, a quasi-cinematographic quality of
visualization of the past. One such case is the famous oil on canvas by the Dutch painter Dirk
Stoop, dating from around 1662, portraying the Palace Courtyard and the Royal Palace after
the programme of works ordered by King Filipe II of Spain (Fig. 7). The palace compound
dominates the urban setting, enriched by everyday scenes which take us back to the Lisbon of
the Restoration period.
A quill drawing made around 1750 re-enacts this visual narrative,
apparently in the same urban setting. However, a closer look allows us to detect a differently
skyline showing the bell towers of churches built or restored in the meantime (Fig. 8). It
portrays the lavish Clock Tower, by Antonio Canevari, built around 1728, and the bell tower
of the new Patriarchal Church, built around 1749. As such this representation of Lisbon is a
valuable documentary source of the works going on at the time in the Royal Palace
Figure 7 Dirk Stoop. The Palace Courtyard in the seventeenth century (1662). Oil on canvas (Lisbon City
Figure 8 Francisco Zuzarte (attribution). The Palace Courtyard at the eve of the 1755 earthquake (n. d.).
China-ink drawing (Lisbon City Museum).
The 1755 Great Earthquake
On the eve of the 1755 earthquake, the Senate of the Lisbon City Chamber had run out of
financial means in its attempt to make the city centre more spacious and functional. While the
catastrophe rendered these efforts pointless, it did not eliminate the vast experience in urban
intervention gathered in the process.
Side by side with a long-established practice of urban planning, military engineers maintained
an architectural approach which, instead of emphasizing elements and their representational
character, gave preference to the whole and its utilitarian dimension. They had the
opportunity to rehearse and implement this experience in the colonial territories, above all in
Brazil, where from the end of the seventeenth century an important effort of city founding had
been taking place. All this knowledge and praxis should now be put to use in Lisbon.
On the morning of 1 November 1755, Lisbon was shaken by three violent seismic tremors,
which destroyed the city centre and substantially damaged the old city, from the Castle Hill to
the Tagus River. A tsunami and a fire of great proportions, raging on for five days, completed
The 1755 earthquake is thought to have reached a magnitude of almost 9.0 in the Richter scale
and was the first to be studied scientifically, earning it a particular place in the advent of
seismology. The extensive destruction it caused in several places, from the south of the
Iberian Peninsula to North Africa, as well as the simultaneous occurrence of several seismic
episodes in Northern Europe, projected the 1755 earthquake onto the first pages of European
newspapers of the time. Countless texts were written on the subject, and the disaster exerted
significant influence on the philosophical thought of the period.
Details on the number of victims in the Portuguese capital are not consensual. The lack of a
rigorous record of the city's inhabitants, added to the uncertain numbers of the population in
transit (visitors and seasonal workers) make it difficult to count the total loss of human lives.
Nowadays it is estimated that some 35.000 to 45.000 people died, in Lisbon, as a consequence
of the earthquake. Material loss was colossal and hit heavily the Portuguese economy, as well
as the community of foreign traders settled in Lisbon.
Among these, the colony of British
merchants was affected the most, due to the extraordinary volume of trading it held in the
Portuguese capital. Heritage devastation completed this grim picture – in the city ruins were
lost science and art collections, libraries, archives, historic buildings and their respective
According to one of the most important sources for the study of the 1755 earthquake in
Lisbon, nearly ten-percent of the city's buildings were razed to the ground, and two thirds of
them were rendered uninhabitable. A mere twelve of the seventy-two convents in the city
were spared, and all hospitals, along with thirty-three palaces, were destroyed.
The 1755 earthquake generated a wealth of images about Lisbon, most of them unrealistic in
their character. It is possible, however, to identify a group of representations focusing on
observable reality. A drawing of Lisbon seen from the Tagus made in 1763 and signed by the
military engineer Bernardo de Caula aims at representing the magnitude of the destruction
throughout the whole city. The result is outstanding. Ruined areas follow one another, wiping
out entire spaces, or largely mutilating those in existence. The Palace Courtyard rises,
changed beyond recognition, among the piles of rubble (Fig. 9).
Figure 9 Bernardo de Caula. View of Lisbon ruined by the 1755 earthquake. The Palace Courtyard
(detail). Quill pen drawing with sepia and grey ink (National Library of Portugal).
Before that, in 1757, a set of engravings by the famous French engraver Jacques-Philippe Le
Bas, based on drawings by M.M. Paris and M. Pedegache, very likely executed in loco,
illustrated quite effectively the ruins of some of Lisbon's most remarkable buildings of that
time. These engravings clearly belong in the “poetry of ruins” aesthetics, with their emphasis
on the dramatic. They constitute an essential iconographic document of the city in ruins, for
their trustworthiness and detail. They represent in the case of the Patriarchal Square and the
Opera House the only known picture of these architectonic and urban settings, erected little
before the 1755 earthquake (Figs. 10 and 11).
Figure 10 MM. Paris, Pedegache and Jacques Ph. Le Bas, Colleçaõ de algumas ruinas de Lisboa causadas
pelo terremoto e pelo fogo do primeiro de Novemb.ro do anno de 1755 debuxadas na mesma cidade por
MM. Paris et Pedegache e abertas ao buril em Paris por Jac. Ph.
Figure 11 MM. Paris, Pedegache and Jacques Ph. Le Bas. Colleçaõ de algumas ruinas de Lisboa causadas
pelo terremoto e pelo fogo do primeiro de Novemb.ro do anno de 1755 debuxadas na mesma cidade por
MM. Paris et Pedegache e abertas ao buril em Paris por Jac. Ph.
Conclusion: the image of the city as memory
As we have mentioned, in keeping with the prominent role it enjoyed in architectonic creation
and urban planning, Portuguese military engineering took the lead in the city's reconstruction
process. There is a clear match of purpose between the military engineers and the then
Secretary of State to King José I, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the man in charge of the
vast project of reconstruction, which encompassed concept, praxis and legal and financial
The (re)built city replaced the medieval, organic layout of the old Lisbon with a geometric
grid of sober and regular architecture. Urban functionality was articulated with financial
restraint, in an effort to build a modern and spacious city. The new Lisbon served the project
of reforms, mainly economic in nature, which Carvalho e Melo, later Marquis of Pombal, had
devised for Portugal.
The rational and pragmatic character of the rebuilding enterprise is apparent in the
comprehensive legislation, ranging from building restrictions, propriety rights, policing, and
sanitary measures to primary goods distribution and pricing, issued soon after the catastrophe
by the Marquis of Pombal. It is particularly apparent in the reticular plan and in the
standardized building elevations drawn by the Portuguese military engineers for the new
Lisbon (Figs. 12 and 13).
Figure 12 João Pedro Ribeiro. Copy of the adopted plan for Lisbon by Eugénio dos Santos and Carlos
Mardel. Lithography (1947) (Lisbon City Museum).
Figure 13 Eugénio dos Santos. Building elevation for Lisbon’s main streets. China-ink and aquarelle on
paper drawing (Lisbon Municipal Archive).
After 1755, the image of Lisbon conveys a new reality: that of order surfacing after the chaos.
The rupture, concerning memory and urban identity, implied by the 1755 catastrophe, along
with the scarcity of documentary sources on the ruined city, strongly conditioned historic
research on pre-earthquake Lisbon. The vast historiography on this subject demands a global
outlook, capable of gathering and testing the different working hypotheses in one single
model, while staying open to the progress of the research itself. This demand has given rise to
a project of virtual, interactive and immersive recreation of the urban ensemble that was lost.
Named City and Spectacle: a vision of pre-earthquake Lisbon and coordinated by the authors
of this paper, it strives not only to approach the memory of the lost city but also to be a
research laboratory on the city's history (Figs. 14 and 15).
Figure 14 Recreation of the Royal Opera House, the Royal Palace and the Shipyard. City and Spectacle: a
vision of pre-earthquake Lisbon, OpenSim version 0.7.5 Dev, November 2012.
Figure 15 Recreation of the Royal Opera House, the Royal Palace and the Shipyard. City and Spectacle: a
vision of pre-earthquake Lisbon, OpenSim version 0.7.5 Dev, November 2012.
A project such as City and Spectacle underlines the fundamental importance of the images of
a city as documentary sources for its history. It also stresses the need to subject those images
to a hermeneutic treatment, to an archaeology of iconography, so that our knowledge of the
motivation and context of their production will allow us to distinguish myth from reason and
discover the real city, preserved under layers of urban images.
The study of Lisbon’s past as an urban phenomenon has always seen several approaches and
interpretative variations, leading to widely different points of view in the Portuguese historiography. See Júlio
Castilho, A Ribeira de Lisboa: descrição histórica da margem do Tejo desde a Madre-de-Deus até Santos-o-
Velho (Lisboa, 1893); Augusto Vieira da Silva, As Muralhas da Ribeira de Lisboa (Lisboa, 1900); Augusto
Vieira da Silva, Plantas Topográficas de Lisboa (Lisboa, 1950); Irisalva Moita, Lisboa Quinhentista: a imagem
e a vida da cidade (Lisboa, 1984); Irisalva Moita (ed.), O Livro de Lisboa (Lisboa,1994); Helder Carita, Lisboa
Manuelina e a formação de modelos urbanísticos da época moderna (1492-1521) (Lisboa 1999); Helena
Murteira, Lisboa da Restauração às Luzes (Lisboa, 1999); Nuno Senos, O Paço da Ribeira, 1501-1581 (Lisboa
2002); Carlos Caetano, A Ribeira de Lisboa. A época da Expansão Portuguesa (séculos XV a XVIII) (Lisboa
2004); Walter Rossa, ‘A imagem ribeirinha de Lisboa’, in A urbe e o traço (Coimbra 2002), pp. 86 - 121 and
Lisboa do século XVII, ‘A mais deliciosa terra do Mundo’. Imagens e Textos nos 400 anos do nascimento do
Padre António Vieira (Lisboa, 2008). For a comprehensive view see Pereira Paulo, Lisboa (Séculos XVI–XVII), a
speech read at the international meeting Novos Mundos – Portugal e a Época dos descobrimentos, at the
Deutsches Historisnches Museum, in Berlin, 23 - 25 November 2006.
Erwin Panofsky, A Perspectiva como forma simbólica (Lisboa, 1993).
Kevin Lynch, A Imagem da Cidade (Lisboa, 1982), pp. 59 - 60.
We follow the concepts employed by Isidore of Seville in his Etymologies. When referring to the city,
Isidore of Seville distinguishes the urbs from the civitas: the civitas is the group of citizens over which the city
holds jurisdiction, while the urbs is the physical city, the buildings and their distribution in space. See Isidore of
Seville, Etymologies, XV, 2.
Carla Varela Fernandes, ‘D. Afonso IV e a Sé de Lisboa. A escolha de um lugar de memória’,
Arqueologia & Historia (2006-2007), pp. 143 - 166.
Maria Sofia Marques Condessa, A Memória das Cidades dos Séculos XII a XIV nas Crónicas de Rui de
Pina e Duarte Galvão (Cascais, 2001), pp. 88 – 89, 169.
A.H Oliveira Marques, Enquadramento Histórico
http://www.urv.cat/dgeo/media/upload/arxius/Lisboa/02_encuadre_historico.pdf Accessed 6 May 2014
Jan de Vries, European Urbanization, 1500 - 1800 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
The first attempt to compile thorough statistics on the city of Lisbon was made in 1551 by Cristovão
Rodrigues de Oliveira. The work was published in 1554-1555 under the title Sumario e[m] que breuemente se
contem alguas cousas assi ecclesiasticas como seculares que ha na cidade de Lisboa.
Damião de Góis, Descrição da Cidade de Lisboa (Évora,1554).
Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Vol. V (Cologne, 1598). Despite having
been published in the late sixteenth century, the layout and architectural elements of the Ribeira Royal Palace
indicate that this engraving probably resulted from a drawing of Lisbon made in the mid-
Francisco de Holanda, Da fabrica que falece a cidade de Lisboa (Madrid, 1929), p. 211 : ‘Tem
tanto cada hum de nos que fazer em a fortaleza e repairo de sua alma, e no reyno da spiritual cidade della, que
bem podera eu disimular por agora de tratar da fortificação e repairo do reyno e cidade material de Lysboa,
mas por não ser ingrato á gloriosa memoria del rey vosso avó que DEOS tem, que me mandou sendo eu moço a
Italia ver e desegnar as fortalezas e obras mais insignes e ilustres della (…). E considerando eu quão
descomposta está Lysboa de fortaleza e quão desornada do que lhe muyto importa, sendo ella a cabeça deste
reyno, e a coroa della. V. A. esforcei-me, dar para sua fortificação e ornamento, esta lembrança a. V. A. e a
Lysboa ou para se servir della em o presente, ou para o tempo que está para vir’.
Nicolau de Oliveira, Livro das Grandezas de Lisboa (Lisboa, 1804), pp. 111 - 112 : ‘E se
deixarmos especulações, e viermos á pratica, por ventura que acharemos ser a mayor do mundo (se não em
cerco) ao menos em numero de vizinhos, e em gente, pois naõ acharaemos nesta Cidade curraes, nem quintaes,
como ha em muytas das de que temos noticia; e tendo as outras de ordinario casas terreas, aqui as mais dellas
saõ de tres sobrados, e quatro, e muytas de sinco, e algumas de seis, além de serem as ruas muy estreitas’.
Luís Mendes de Vasconcelos, Do sítio de Lisboa, Diálogos (Lisboa, 1608), pp. 7 - : ‘a Europa está na
parte superior, presidindo às mais, como cabeça de todas: (…) do qual Hespanha he a cabeça, e nella está
Lisboa, no lugar dos olhos, mostrando que ella deve ser guia, e luz das mais partes da Europa’.
For a detailed analysis on the subject see Miguel Soromenho, ‘O Paço da Ribeira à medida da Corte: de
Filipe I a D. Pedro II’, in Do Terreiro do Paço à Praça do Comércio - História de um Espaço Urbano, ed.
Miguel Faria (Lisboa, 2012), pp. 37 - 71.
This project was part of the Royal Palace renovation works and, as such, was also carried out by the
architects Filippo Terzi and Juan de Herrera. See Rafael Moreira, ‘O Torreão do Paço da Ribeira’, Mundo da
Arte. Revista de Arte, Arqueologia e Etnografia, 14 (Coimbra, 1983), pp.43 - 48 and Miguel Soromenho, ‘O
Paço da Ribeira à medida da Corte: de Filipe I a D. Pedro II’, in Do Terreiro do Paço à Praça do Comércio -
História de um Espaço Urbano, ed. Miguel Faria (Lisboa, 2012), pp. 37 - 71.
Helena Murteira, Lisboa da Restauração às Luzes (Lisboa, 1999).
Helena Murteira, Lisboa da Restauração às Luzes (Lisboa, 1999) and António Filipe Pimentel, ‘D.
João V e a imagem do poder: o terreiro do Paço ao revés’, in Do Terreiro do Paço à Praça do Comércio -
História de um Espaço Urbano, ed. Miguel Faria (Lisboa, 2012), pp. 73 – 91.
António Filipe Pimentel, Arquitectura e Poder. O Real Edifício de Mafra (Lisboa, 2002); António
Filipe Pimentel, ‘D. João V e a imagem do poder: o terreiro do Paço ao revés’, in Do Terreiro do Paço à Praça
do Comércio - História de um Espaço Urbano, ed. Miguel Faria (Lisboa, 2012), pp. 73 - 91 and Angela
Delaforce, Art and Patronage in Eighteenth Century Portugal (Cambridge, 2002).
Marie Thérese Mandroux-França, ‘La Patriarcale du Roi Jean V de Portugal”, Colóquio-Artes, 83
(Lisboa, 1989); António Filipe Pimentel, ‘A Patriarcal do rei D. João V de Portugal’. in Triunfo do Barroco
(Lisboa, 1993), pp. 33 - 41 and António Filipe Pimentel, and Ana de Castro Henriques (eds.), A Encomenda
Prodigiosa: da Patriarcal à Capela de S. João Baptista (Lisboa, 2013).
Maria Alexandra Gago da Câmara, ‘A Nostalgia de um Património Desparecido : uma obra
emblemática de encomenda régia na Lisboa do século XVIII – A Real Ópera do Tejo’, in O grande terramoto
de Lisboa: ficar diferente, eds. Helena Carvalhão Buescu, and Gonçalo Cordeiro (Lisboa, 2005), pp. 202 - 211;
Pedro Januário, Teatro Real de la Opera del Tajo ( 1752-1755), Investigacion sobre un teatro de opera a la
italiana para una posible reconstituicion conjectural, basada en elementos iconográficos y fuentes documentales
(doctoral thesis, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura, 2008) and Aline
Gallasch-Hall, A Cenografia e a Ópera em Portugal no século XVIII: os Teatros Régios (doctoral thesis,
University of Évora, 2012).
Scots Magazine (November 1755).
Adam Anderson, An Historical and Chronological deduction of the Origin of Commerce, vol. I (1764),
pp. IV, 325 – ‘But the Great Glory of Portugal at present centres in her very extensive and immensely rich
colony of Brasil in South America; from whence she has her vast Treasures of Gold and Diamonds, besides
immense Quantities of excellent Sugars, Hides, Drugs, Tobacco, fine Red-Wood, & c…Every one knows that this
noble Province has ever since (its discovery) proved an almost inexhaustible Fund of Riches to Portugal; and
that all Parts of Europe, who have any Commerce with that Kingdom, do, in some measure, reap the Benefits’.
Robert Adam, the Scottish architect who dreamed of rebuilding Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake,
writes to his sister the following: ‘And now let me descant a little on my private incitements to a scheme which is
a thousand chances to one never will take place. The being called by a Prince as the prosperest person in the
universe to build a whole city is no unflattering idea, but still more so when one considers the éclat, the elevated
appearance and the fortune that may be made in a few years by it (…)’ - Robert Fleming, Robert Adam and his
Circle (London, 1962), p. 205.
The Restoration period begins with the Portuguese Revolution of 1640 and the subsequent war between
the two countries, which ended in 1668 with the Lisbon Treaty, recognizing the independence of Portugal,
signed by Mariana of Austria on behalf of the young King Carlos II of Spain.
Voltaire publishes Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (1756) and Candide ou l’Optimisme (1759),
increasing his criticism of philosophical Optimism as argued by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Alexander Pope
in his Essay on Man (1733 - 34).
For a detailed analysis of the impact of the 1755 earthquake in the Portuguese economy, see José
Vicente Serrão, ‘Os impactos económicos do terramoto’, in O terramoto de 1755: Impactos Históricos, ed.
Araújo et al (Lisboa, 2007), pp. 141 - 164.
On the Lisbon 1755 earthquake see Francisco Luís Pereira de Sousa, O Terramoto de 1755 em
Portugal e um estudo demográfico, 4 vols (Lisboa, 1919 - 1932); Carlos Estorninho, ‘O terramoto de 1755 e a
sua repercussão nas relações luso-britânicas’, Revista da Faculdade de Letras, XXII, 1 (1946), pp. 198 - 233;
Charles Davison, Great Earthquakes (London, 1936); R. Charles Boxer, “Some contemporary reactions to the
Lisbon earthquake of 1755”, Revista da Faculdade de Letras, XXII, 1 (1956), pp. 113 - 129; Thomas Downing
Kendrick, The Lisbon Earthquake (London, 1956); Helena Carvalhão and Gonçalo Cordeiro, O grande
terramoto de Lisboa: ficar diferente (Lisboa, 2005); Ana Cristina Araújo et al (eds), O Terramoto de 1755:
Impactos Históricos (Lisboa, 2007) and Helena Murteira, ‘The Lisbon earthquake of 1755: the catastrophe and
its European repercussions’, Economia Global e Gestão (Global Economics and Management Review), 10
(2004), pp. 79 - 99, available at http://lisbon-pre-1755-earthquake.org/the-lisbon-earthquake-of-1755-the-
Joaquim José Moreira de Mendonça, História Universal dos Terramotos, que têm havido no mundo, de que há
notícia até o século presente (Lisboa, 1758).
For a more detailed outlook on the subject see José-Augusto França, Lisboa Pombalina e o Iluminismo
(Lisboa, 1987)  and Walter Rossa, Além da Baixa: Indícios de Planeamento Urbano na Lisboa
Setecentista (Lisboa, 1998); Monumentos, 21 (Lisboa, 2004).