Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Lisbon earthquake (1755)

It was the first of November of 1755, about 9:50 a.m. when a fault broke under the Atlantic Ocean between Madeira and the Iberian Peninsula (estimated coordinates 36ºN, 11ºW). The magnitude has been estimated in 8.8, and the duration of the shaking was 6 and a half minutes. Twenty minutes later, a tsunami washed over the east coast of Portugal, the south-east coast of Spain and the east and north-east coast of Africa. The highest waveheight seems to be about 13 metres (some historical sources say up to 30 or even 40 metres), and the number of tsunami waves (run-ups) was to 51.

This is what has been historically called “The (Great) Lisbon Earthquake and Tsunami of 1755” due to the great destruction it caused in the capital of the Portuguese realm. It completely dynamited the country’s colonial race and had great impact in the European society at the time.

It is less known how it affected the city of Cádiz, a small peninsula in the south-west of Spain. The wave arrived about an hour after a “soft” tremor was felt, and washed through the city. Local legends say that everyone who tried to escape through the narrow sandbar that joins the city with the mainland were swallowed by the sea, and only the Governor’s order of closing the City gates prevented more deaths (although the toll is estimated to be “thousands”).

Although the number of wave run-ups was over 50, according to the local legends, there was only one wave that actually flooded Cádiz. In the church of La Palma there is a plaque that commemorates the event:

En el año mil setecientos cincuenta y cinco, primer día de Noviembre, la tierra en violentos vaivenes de un temblor se estremecía enfureciendo al mar sus movimientos por los muros de Cádiz se subía preparando entre horror, ansias y males, el último castigo a los mortales. Un sacerdote saca fervoroso el guión de la imagen de la palma; DE AQUÍ NO PASES, dice al mar furioso; y al punto al mar se vuelve y todo calma. Por este caso tan notable y prodigioso esta ilustre hermandad, con vida y alma de Dios y de María, en honra y Gloria en gratitud erigió esta memoria.

Which roughly translates to: “In the year of 1755, first day of November, the earth shuddered with violent movements, angering the sea with its movements. Over the walls of Cádiz the sea climbed, preparing among horror, anxiety and evil the last punishment for the mortals. A priest brings out in fervour the image of the Virgin of La Plama; DO NOT PASS THIS POINT, he tells to the furious sea; and immediately the sea retreats and calmness comes. For this notable and portentous case, this brotherhood, whose souls belong to God and Mary, in honour and Glory wrote this thankful note.”

There are many legends related to the 1755 Cádiz tsunami. There are also many facts. It was not the first and it will probably won’t be the last. The question that remains is, did the waters unnaturally retreat? And if they did… how and why? It’s probably worth mentioning now that the two promontories that flank the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar are called the Pillars of Hercules, and that they marked the end of the known world, although there were rumours of land beyond them… maybe Atlantis?

Nope, I’ve not gone postal… yet. I am indeed planning to write something that involves this. I’m just not telling you because… I don’t even know what it is about yet XD. Meanshile, this is how the beachfront of Cádiz looks:

Also… you have any clue how hard it was not to write “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” up there? LOTS.

Historical Tsunami Database NOAA
El Tsunami de Cádiz


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