The columns that the earthquake displaced that we’re telling you about are curious cases of pieces of ruins and demolitions from the catastrophe that were recovered and thus have persisted until today.
In the mid-eighteenth century Lisbon was a city of contrasts. A bustling multicultural trading hub marked by prosperity provided by the gold from Brazil. A city both old, with Muslim mediterranean and medieval Christian traces, and new, with monumental baroque signs.
From one moment to the next the brutality of the earthquake of 1755, on November 1, and the following tsunami and fires razed the downtown area to the ground.
But in the midst of the ruins of the buildings that collapsed and of the inevitable demolitions there were materials worth preserving. Not only because of the obvious financial issues that the kingdom and the people were facing, but also because reusing was common practice. From intact sculptural pieces to rubble that consolidated the ground, everything was ingeniously reused.
Therefore we should observe the post-earthquake constructions and reconstructions with extra attention. Only this way will we be able to identify elements foreign to where they are today. Still, this is a hard task as most of the recovered pieces haven’t been registered and are, thus, many times an enigma with no solution.
From the four examples that we’ve selected, only one of them remains a mystery. The other columns that the earthquake displaced are documented.
Let’s unveil where they are and where they came from.
Four Cases of Columns that the Earthquake Displaced
From the Ribeira Palace to the Church of São Domingos
The Ribeira Palace, ordered built by King Manuel in 1498, was situated in the at the time maritime trade centre, next to the Tagus river, where today is the west building and tower of Comércio Square.
This manueline-style palace has gone through big alterations during the Philippine dynasty, getting a mannerist character.
With the earthquake the building was completely destroyed, as well as all the art treasures accumulated there throughout 250 years.
The royal chapel of the palace didn’t make it after the catastrophe either, but some of its architectonic elements were reused…
As for the Church of São Domingos, it was one of the most important buildings in Rossio before the earthquake.
It was built in the 13th century but one other violent earthquake in 1531 destroyed it, having been rebuilt a few years later.
In the reign of João V the church went through construction work, having the Sacristy and the High Altar been completely rebuilt with a baroque style in black marble. These were the elements that remained after 1755.
It was once again rebuilt, this time by the architects Carlos Mardel and Manuel Caetano de Sousa, who integrated in the façade the columns, the portal and the balcony from the collapsed royal chapel of the Ribeira Palace.
On 13 August 1959 the Church of São Domingos suffered a devastating fire and it only reopened in 1994, after having been decided to leave visible the marks from this brutal event. This was a brilliant restoration and reconstruction of the artistic heritage after a calamity that is worth knowing more about.
From the College of Santo Antão-o-Novo to the Church of São José da Anunciada
In this case in addition to the displacement of columns, there’s one other curious fact. Between the 16th and the 19th century the convents of Anunciada and of Santo Antão crossed paths through addresses, names and recovered pieces… Let’s find out how.
The Convent of Nossa Senhora da Anunciada was founded by King Manuel in place of the mosque of Mouraria, and handed over to the Dominican Nuns in 1519.
In 1539 they switched places with the friars of the Order of Saint Augustine of the Convent of Santo Antão. Thus, the friars took to Anunciada the name of Santo Antão and the nuns took to Santo Antão the name of the Anunciada.
Later on, the order of the friars was extinct and in 1543 the Convent of Santo Antão was handed over by King João III to the Jesuits. This was their first own house in the world and the first external school in Portugal, known as Coleginho.
The rapid growth of students forced the construction of Santo Antão-o-Novo (the new Santo Antão) in Santana Hill, which was concluded in the mid-seventeenth century.
The earthquake of 1755 damaged the church but it didn’t collapse. After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1759 it became unoccupied.
Ten years later, Marquis of Pombal determined that there would be the location of the São José Royal Hospital to substitute the All Saints Royal Hospital that had almost completely collapsed.
Thus, the building went through several changes in order to be adapted to its new purpose, among them the demolition of the church in the 19th century. The recovered pieces found new homes, among them the Church of São José da Anunciada.
This new parochial church, built throughout the 19th century, stands where the Convent of Anunciada was, which had firstly belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine, as previously mentioned, and later to the Dominican Order.
The initial project suffered changes all the way to its conclusion, but what we want to highlight is that the columns that the earthquake displaced are the solomonic columns that side the high altar and that came from the demolition of the church of the school of Santo Antão-o-Novo.
From the Convent of São Francisco da Cidade to the Queen Maria II National Theatre
The Convent of São Francisco da Cidade was founded in the 13th century in Monte Fragoso, an isolated place near Chiado.
Successive destructions, reconstructions and uses contributed to the fact that today only remain traces of this Franciscan convent, the starting point of the old Procession of Saint Anthony of Lisbon.
It was an important religious, cultural and social complex of the city of Lisbon. There existed, in addition to the convent area, a hospital and accommodation spaces.
After having suffered two big fires in the first half of the 1700s, its reconstruction was almost concluded when the earthquake of 1755 ruined it one more time.
It was once again rebuilt, but before it was even finished, with the extinction of the religious orders in 1834, it was closed down.
It was later on the National Library of Portugal and later, the Fine Arts Academy.
Nowadays, it is classified as a public interest immovable and is occupied by several entities: the National Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu do Chiado, the Fine Arts Faculty of the University of Lisbon, the National Academy of Fine Arts and the Public Security Police.
In 1839 part of the building was demolished and some of its elements were reused. For instance, the monumental Ionic columns that were moved to the Pombaline Downtown and that today are part of the narthex of the Queen Maria II National Theatre.
This theatre was built between 1842 and 1846 in the place of the old Estaus Palace, a medieval palace that hosted the state visits and the location of the Court of the Inquisition after 1584. It collapsed with the earthquake and was rebuilt still for the Inquisition, until it was extinguished in 1820.
After having suffered a big fire it was demolished, giving place to the theatre. In 1964, the theatre also burned down, having its interior as well as its covering got completely destroyed. It was only reopened in 1978 and today it is classified as a National Monument.
From an Uncertain Place to the Building of the Columns in Alfama
Lastly, we reveal to you the perhaps most unusual and obscure case of these columns that the earthquake displaced.
In Alfama, in Chafariz de Dentro Square, very near the Museum of Fado there’s a building with several floors and a balcony supported by two large columns.
It’s quite evident that these imposing simple columns with simple bases and Ionic capitals weren’t produced for such a modest building. We don’t know where they came from but they’re surely another case of the recovered pieces of the earthquake that were ingeniously reused.
Curious FactIn Chafariz de Dentro Square, right in front of the building of the columns you can find another curious sculptural element made of stone that has also been displaced.
It is a crown of the kings of Portugal and its origin is also unknown, but it certainly belonged to a palace that no longer exists.
Today, the crown is illuminated and marks the entrance of a typical casa de fado (restaurant with fado performances) of Alfama.