This Gulf of Fire: The Destruction of Lisbon or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason, by Mark Molesky
The huge earthquake that destroyed the city of Lisbon, Portugal on November 1, 1755 (All Saints Day) was an event that had a profound impact on 18th-century Europe and the Age of Enlightenment. It is not an event that many educated people know about today. Most people who have heard of the earthquake know about it from passages in Voltaire’s dark novella, Candide. Molesky’s title, “This Gulf of Fire” comes from a line in a poem written by Voltaire that he composed shortly after learning about the disaster.
A view of the city of Lisbon made a few years before the
This vivid and horrific account may well be the definitive account of the quake. For the faithful citizens of Lisbon, the quake seemed to bring to life the apocalyptic events described in the Bible, in the Book of Revelations. Many believed that this was the prophesied Apocalypse, that they were indeed experiencing the end of times, as one phase of the cruel disaster followed another. Eighty percent or more of the buildings in Lisbon were either completely destroyed or significantly damaged. For most people in Lisbon, the earthquake was seen as an act of God, an expression of his anger for the sins of the city. Molesky holds us in some suspense about the actual loss of life (he doesn’t speculate on a figure until late in the narrative). When he addresses the subject he gives us a judicious estimate, putting the figure at more than 40,000 in Lisbon, less than some of the unfounded speculations of the time, but still a loss that represented a large percentage of the city's population.
|A view of the port at Lisbon on the Tagus River|
A wonderfully turbulent engraving depicting the quake damage,
tsunami and fire in a single plate.
Lisbon was hit by three huge tsunami waves, one following
another at distinct intervals
At least 34 looters were hung in the wake of the earthquake,
as authorities tried to restore civil order