While earthquakes weren’t all that an uncommon in Lisbon, the city suffering a handful of significant occurrences each century, the earthquake of November 1, 1755 proved especially devastating as it was one of the largest cities in Europe at the time and left an indelible mark upon the collective community. Voltaire would even write about it both in a poem he produced shortly after the quake, and then again in his 1759 novel ‘Candide.’ Even a hundred years later it would still find its way in poetic works like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.’s 1857 poem ‘The Deacon’s Masterpiece.’ Despite killing almost 15% of Lisbon’s population and destroying almost 85% of its buildings, the resultant tsunami proved even more destructive. North and south of its epicenter waves reached almost 30 meters in some places, claiming lives not only along much of the Portuguese coast but as far away as Cadiz, Spain where waves penetrated up the Guadalquivir River, and even along Morocco’s western coast where the waters were able to sweep across town walls killing many. Lisbon as a result had to be largely rebuilt with even the Portuguese king and his royal household being forced to live in shacks as the remnants of the medieval town was instead demolished to make way for more modern urban designs. Two great squares were incorporated to act as the city’s central commercial district, and provide greater access to the Tagus River.
Interestingly the Santa Maria de Belem was one of the few areas left relatively unscathed by both the quake and the following tsunami.