The Roaring Atlantic: Portugal Part 4

On our last day in the Algarve we took our hire car and drove up the west coast of Portugal, taking in the dramatic coastal scenery in our search for a good beach. Eventualy we turned up at the beautiful Praia da Borderia, which lies within the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park. In truth I found the extraordinary cliffs to be far more interesting that crowded sandy beach. Unlike the south coast, the western side of the Algarve is much more exposed to the wild forces of the Atlantic Ocean, making it ideal for wind sports and surfing. As we explored the area, the sound of the constant roaring of waves as they crashed against the resilient cliffs, filled our ears and proved the soundtrack to our day.

This area of the country was sadly heavily damaged during the Lisbon Earthquake, one of the greatest natural disasters in human history. I said in an early post that I’d go into more depth about this event and seeing that I didn’t really do much on this particular day except laze on the clifftops and the beaches, I guess this is the best opportunity I’ll have to write about it.

On the morning of 1st November 1755, an estimated 8.7 earthquake struck about 200 km south west of Cape St Vincent. In Lisbon, people were gathering to celebrate All Saints Day, but when the ground began to violently shake people raced to the docks just as fissures began to open up across the city. There, they bore witness to a vast tsunami that swept across the downtown area of Lisbon and up the River Tagus so fast that people on horseback weren’t able to escape it. This was followed by two more, equally devastating waves and in those areas unaffected by the water, fires raged for days. However the destruction didn’t stop at Lisbon, the tsunami raced along the coast of the Algrave, destroying several coastal fortresses and in Lagos, the then capital of the Algarve, it topped the city walls and demolished the old town. Even in the centre of Portugal, nor far from the Spanish border and high in the Serra da Estrela Mountains, the effects could still be felt, as parts of Covilha Castle were sent crashing to the ground by the terrible shaking of the earth.

The effects of the quake were felt across Europe and the tsunami did not end on Portugal’s shores. In the Azores, the tsunami reached 150 metres inland, destroying almost every single port on the archipelago. Then it raced across the Atlantic, striking the Moroccan coast and in the opposite direction it hit as far away as Barbados and Brazil. Waves some 3m high struck the south coast of Cornwall, washing away numerous fishing villages and in Galway, Ireland, the waves resulted in the destruction of the famous Spanish Arch. Though the true numbers may never be known, most estimates place the number of deaths at around 50-60,000 people.

The city of Lisbon suffered terrible damage with almost 85% of its buildings being destoryed. The Portuguese monarch, King Joseph, escaped harm but was psychologically damaged by the event and refused to ever live within walls again, choosing to spend the rest of his life in a camp on the hills of Ajude. However like other disasters, such as the Great Fire of London, the disaster did garner some advantages. Lisbon was rebuilt, this time with wide open squares and large avenues and the quake generated the construction of the first seismically protected structures in Europe, via the form of the Pombaline buildings. The disaster also spawned a new wave of philosophical thinking in Europe and helped pave the wave towards the Enlightenment. Immanual Kant became the first man to present a modern, systematic theory to explain earthquakes by positing natural, rather than supernatural, causes. So in a way, while the event was disastrous for many hundreds of thousands, it did serve to create new understanding of seismology and promoted further examination of the effects of earthquakes and how to prevent further lose of life.

So with that out of the way, I hope you enjoy these pictures of Portugal’s west coast.


I hope you enjoyed this fourth part of my trip to Portugal. If you did enjoy it feel free to write in the comments, or leave like and thanks for reading.

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