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Hunting for Clues in Lisbon


On the First of November 1755, everything changed for Lisbon.

The city was hit by a very powerful earthquake, destroying most of the Lisbon. Houses were burnt to the ground and the city centre ruined by tsunami water from the Tagus. The timing for the earthquake was interesting; it came at a time of political instability and disrupted colonial advancements of Portugal’s empire.

Over 80% of the buildings in Lisbon were destroyed either by the earthquake itself or engulfed in flames in the chaos that followed. Lisbon was a wreck and needed a complete rebuild.

When the earthquake struck, the King was nowhere to be seen. Alongside the royal family, King José 1st had left the city after sunrise that day following mass. When he had returned to this city, he feared for his safety and was scared that the tragedy could happen again. Rather than returning to the royal palace he became paranoid and set up tents on the outskirts of the city where he could be safe. This did not go down well with the people who wanted their leader to help them. The job of helping the people fell to the prime minister at the time; the 1st Marquis de Pombal. He organised the relief effort, fighting the flames, corralling the locals into helping and removing the dead from the city centre in order to prevent the spread of disease.

The Marquis de Pombal was not popular with the aristocracy at the time but was favoured by the King. He became a sort of de facto head of state post-earthquake as Lisbon and Portugal as a whole entered reform period described as Pombaline. Along with these reforms that helped abolish slavery and stop the persecutions of faiths other than Christianity, Lisbon was rebuilt. The “new” downtown area has many examples of Pombaline architecture.

Yet in the main square (Praça de Comércio), it is not a statue of the Marquis de Pombal you see, no it is a statue of the King. The same King who was no help when the city burnt down. The statue maker left clues in both the building of the statue and the position of it in the square to show the peoples distaste in its creation, although take this with a pinch of salt as many believe that the statue merely represents the King’s power. Here are some clues to make me believe that the statue represents more than just the King’s power:

  • Firstly, looking at where the statue is. The square is outside of the city walls, somewhere the King found himself often once the earthquake had hit, so maybe this location is fitting.  

  • Next: The King’s head. There appears to be no crown on the King’s head. However, a carved crown can be found atop the head of the small portrait of the Marquis de Pombal, at the front of the statue (the true saviour of the city).

  • The direction the statue is facing is another key point of interest. Instead of facing the city, it is angled towards Brazil, which at that time was a colony of the Portuguese Kingdom, making the Kingdom very rich. This suggested that the King was more interested in making money than helping the people.

Go and check it out for yourself, the architecture in Downtown Lisbon is fabulous and take a look at the statue. Some things are not always as they appear.

#Lisbon #Portugal

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