As is common with earthquakes, the animals sensed it first: “All of the animals appeared alarmed and filled with fear,” noted a survivor of the 1755 Lisbon quake. Thus it was the screeching of the pet monkey belonging to the family’s governess that alerted the Dutch ambassador to the imminent danger. Then came the vibrations and the sound that an english merchant likened to the rattle of “heavy carriages driving hard,” after which walls started to crack and structures to tumble. Believed to have measured between 8.5 and 9.1 on the moment magnitude scale, the earthquake that hit the city on November 1 at 9:45 AM was the most powerful ever to hit Europe. The shocks were felt across the continent: in Venice, Casanova, imprisoned in the Doge’s Palace for his blasphemous escapades, was knocked over in his cell.

The impact on Lisbon, Europe’s third busiest port after London...


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