October 31, 1755, Lisboa was one of Europe’s most magnificent cities, as well as one of its busiest ports. It was the home to the great explorers who sailed the Earth’s ocean, charting previously unknown waters and making contact with various civilizations and cultures. Lisboa was one of the world’s longest occupied cities, had beautiful architecture, grand palaces, and layers upon layers of history from some of the greatest civilizations throughout history.
November 1, 1755… it was all destroyed.
Portugal was, and to a certain extent, still is one of the most religious countries in Europe. A strong Catholic history means that the Church was an integral part of life in Lisboa in 1755. At 9am, on All Saints Day, a large majority of the population was attending mass at the various churches around the city, with the Igreja do Carmo being one of the largest and most important. Then, one of history’s deadliest earthquakes, rated at about 9.1 struck Lisboa, followed by a series of tsunamis and fires that raged for 5 days. About 85-90% of the city was destroyed, leaving Portugal, and all of Europe in shock. With looters then taking over the city, and the population living in fear, many, including King Jose I and the royal family, moved to the outskirts living tent cities. Under the guidance of the Marquis of Pombal, the city was rebuilt newer and better, but this medieval gothic cathedral built between 1389 and 1423, was intentionally left unrestored and remains as a reminder of the most horrific event in Portugal’s history, with its imposing position overlooking downtown Lisboa.
Sometimes beauty can come out of destruction, and there’s no better example than the Convento do Carmo. It’s by far, one of my favourite structures in all of Lisboa, and has not only seen terrible destruction, but also beautiful moments in Portugal’s history. The pretty, tree-covered square in front of the ruined church was also the site of the climactic point of the Carnation Revolution that restored democracy to the country after about half a century of strict dictatorship.
Nowadays, the Convent serves a historic site to visit, and the best place to get in touch with the reality of the earthquake that left its footprint on soul of Lisboa. The roofless structure offers a really unique experience, as allows you to step inside a traditionally dark venue, with the bright blue Portuguese sky showing overhead. At the back of the church there’s a small museum (Museu Arqueológico do Carmo), that houses various archiologic finds, most of them found on the very site, under the church… dating all the way back to neolithic times, showing that people have been living here long before the Portuguese, Moors, or Romans every even existed.
For any visitor to Lisbon, make sure you add this to your must-visit places. It’s more than worth the €4 entrance fee!
Convento do Carmo / Museu Arqueológico do Carmo
Largo do Carmo, 1200-092 Lisboa
Open 10am – 6pm (October – May), 10am – 7pm (June – September)