Is it possible that one day can change an urban plan of a whole city? History of Lisbon shows an unusual metamorphosis, which can be seen in still existing districts Alfama and Baixa. The solutions implemented after Great Lisbon Earthquake had a huge impact on the architecture of Portugal.


The oldest Lisbon neighborhood is situated on a hill, close to Tagus River. The name came from an occurrence of mineral springs – an Arabic word Al-hamma meaning fountains or baths. But it is not the only one testimony of its origins. It was established by Maurs1 on the slope of the Tagus River. An urban plan was shaped in imitation of an unconquerable maze, which was a characteristic feature of Maghreb2. Narrow, steep streets hindered attacks on the contemporary city centre – citadel Castelo de São Jorge3. However, high-density housing had negative impact on the sanitary and living conditions. That is why, the neighbourhood was inhabited by the poorest people and fishermen. Thanks to the high location, Alfama was the only survivor from the earthquake.    

All Saints Day

1st November 1755
9:40 a.m.
3 minutes earthquake
8,7-9 on Richter’s scale
20 meters tsunami wave
5 days of fire
85% of the city destroyed
30,000–40,000 fatalities

Baixa Pombalina4

The reconstruction mission of the representative downtown after the Great Lisbon Earthquake was entrusted to Marquis of Pombal5. With the support of engineers Manuel da Maia, Eugénio dos Santos and Carlos Mardel he created an innovative architectural and urban planning solutions. Everything was designed taking into account sanitary conditions, seismic and fire protection in mind. The urban planning scheme began near the Tagus – with the riverbanks protected by additional embankments. Spacious Praça do Comércio square built in destroyed royal palace’s place, is surrounded by an “U” shaped buildings. An orthogonal net of wide streets starts from the main axis Rua Augusta, marked with a triumphal arch. Another square – Rossio – ends the whole urban scheme.

Earthquake Resistant Architecture

Monumental, classical buildings, except unified architectural detail, had a special construction, which distributes seismic forces – wooden cage structure and pile foundations. Fire protection was provided by tall detaching walls. Moreover, modern sanitary and sewer systems were also added. Usage of prefabricated elements has shortened reconstruction’s time. The Great Lisbon Earthquake brought specific architectural changes, which shaped features of the Pombaline Style. Technical and urban planning solutions became a model for many other cities around the world.  

Travel Palette of Lisbon


1Moorish domination on the Iberian Peninsula lasted from the8th until the 12th century.
2Region of North Africa created during Arabic expansion in Middle Age.
3The castle was recaptured by Christian forces during Reconquista in the 12th century.
4Today’s district Baixa, partly Baxia-Chiado and Cais do Sodré.
5Actually, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo.