Carmo Convent Ruins - Lisbon, Portugal

One of the deadliest earthquakes in history struck Lisbon on All-Saint’s day, November 1, 1755. The city was all but destroyed, and the ancient Carmo convent and church lay in ruins, its library of 5000 books destroyed.

Today the ruined arches stand in the middle of the rebuilt city as a reminder of the worst day in Lisbon’s history.

The magnitude 9 earthquake struck at about 9:30 am on the Saturday morning, tearing wide gashes in the earth. The tremor was followed by a series of devastating tsunamis and five days of raging fires which devoured the buildings left standing. It was one of the deadliest quakes in history, leaving an unknown total number dead (usually named as about 60,000 people though estimates range from 10,000 - 100,000), and 85% of the city in total ruins.

The earthquake inspired a frenzy of philosophical and religious soul searching, and some famous battles of wits. Voltaire, horrified by the tragedy and annoyed by religious accusations that Lisbon had been leveled in an act of divine retribution for the lewd lifestyles of its citizens, wrote his “Poem on the Disaster in Lisbon” in 1756. The poem reads, in part:

"What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast? Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?"

For more of Voltaire’s vitriol, keep reading the Carmo Convent Ruins on Atlas Obscura!