March 18, 2018
Six minutes. That’s the estimate of how much time it took to change the course of Portuguese history. How is that possible?
On All Saints Day in 1755, an earthquake with a magnitude of up to 9.2 occurred some 150 miles off the southwest coast of Portugal. The trembling, aftershocks and subsequent tsunami destroyed an estimated 85% of all buildings in Lisbon. Candles that had been lighted in celebration of the religious holiday sparked numerous fires that completed the devastation. Tens of thousands perished in Europe’s greatest ever recorded natural disaster.
Prior to the earthquake Portugal was a global empire, with colonies on four continents and trade routes established around the world. Ferdinand Magellan, who every school kid knows as the first man to circumnavigate the world, is a native son.
But that all changed in six minutes. Lisbon, which was then the fifth most-populous city in Europe and possibly its most prosperous, never recovered. The earthquake had destabilized or destroyed the traditional institutions, and Portugal never regained its global prominence.
The earthquake also had significant impacts across Europe, both positive and negative. This was the Age of Enlightenment, when the arts and sciences flourished and philosopher/writers such as Voltaire and Emmanuel Kant held forth. The earthquake directly led to the creation of the science of seismology and earthquake engineering. But, in an attempt to punch holes in the primacy of reason that anchored the Enlightenment, the Church argued that the earthquake was the vengeance of a wrathful god on a decadent city.
With this fascinating history as backdrop, I was excited to find and capture the dramatic and beautiful images that define Portugal today. From the Porto waterfront to the beaches of the Algarve, I constantly reminded myself that I was seeing a country that had almost literally been reborn.
To only know Portugal as the birthplace of Port wine is to miss the other things that make it special. Any kind of seafood, but especially the bacalao (salted cod), octopus and sardines. Vinho Verde (literally, green wine), a low-alcohol, almost effervescent wine that is refreshing and excellent with seafood. Then, there is pastel de nata, a completely naughty but thoroughly delicious egg custard tart often eaten at breakfast.
Fado, a style of music with mournful tunes and lyrics. The calçada portuguesa (cobblestone mosaics) in the sidewalks, plazas and walkways.
The massive Moorish fortresses on hilltops and the Arabic influence in the individually-styled chimneys of the Algarve.
Others must agree, for Portugal was named the Best European Destination in 2017 by the World Travel Awards.
You can click here to see my very best images of Portugal. As always, I recommend that you click on the small triangle above any image in the gallery to start the slide show. Then, just sit back and enjoy the experience. You can always go back and read the captions to learn more.
I hope you enjoy my take on Portugal.