"If God is good, and created this world, then this world necessarily has to be the best possible one "
On the morning of All Saints Day November 1st, 1755, almost all of Lisboa's deeply religious population had congregated in the numerous churches to celebrate the high holy day, when a powerful earthquake leveled a large part of city, collapsing the churches onto the masses of worshippers. The subsequent tsunami and a firestorm, sparked by the toppled candles of All Saints day, completed the destruction of what at the time was one of the richest cities and busiest trading ports in Europe.
News of the disaster spread far and wide. It was the first truly international media event, with accounts and illustrations of the calamity published all across Europe. The economic repercussions were felt from London, a close ally and trading partner, throughout all other major stock exchanges and trading centres of the world. Religious believers across Europe were quick to pronounce this as God's punishment for the lavish lifestyle of the people of Lisboa for the disaster, but that failed to account for the survival of the gambling and prostitution centers of the city.
This raised the question:
How could God, who is good, unleash such a terrible event, let a whole city and its inhabitants be destroyed instantly - especially Lisboa, the supremely pious center of orthodox catholicism, bastion of the church and the inquisition? Was it God's angry hand or simply a natural disaster that toppled cathedrals and monasteries, while sparing the brothels and other dens of sin?
The event became a turning point in the intellectual history of the world, sparking debates among philosophers and thinkers, such as Voltaire, whose masterpiece "Candide" was a direct commentary on the event. The unexplainable nature of the catastrophe undermined the foundations of church orthodoxy and the validity of absolutism. It cast doubt on the authority and rule of divinely anointed kings, and heralded the coming of the Age of Enlightenment, the triumph of scientific thinking and of political revolutions.
THE MARQUES DE POMBAL
Appointed by King D. Jose I to oversee the reconstruction of Lisboa after the devastating earthquake, the diplomat and politician Marques the Pombal eventually assumed quasi-dictatorial powers and reigned with the King's blessing, trying to bring Portugal out of the medieval ecclesiastical darkness and transform it into a modern state.
Industrious, cunning and forward-thinking, Pombal amassed great power and wealth, which he invested heavily into wine production, growing the stature of Carcavelos Wine around the world. It was a favoured tipple of Thomas Jefferson, who kept a few bottles in his private cellar, and King Jose I of Portugal would give bottles as gifts to his most esteemed guests. In England, as the supply of French wine dried up during periods of war between the two countries, Carcavelos Wine become a favourite, alongside Port.
The sure sign of a successful product? Imitations, copies and fakes – as the renown of Carcavelos Wine reached its height through the 18th century, the English market was flooded with them.
But Pombal’s influence went far beyond the world of wine. With this power, he did more than rebuild Lisbon and modernise the nation as a whole; the earthquake and the subsequent revolutionary changes in Lisbon and Portugal, largely overseen by Pombal and directed by his vision, are sometimes pointed to as kickstarting key developments in the Age of Enlightenment.
Banished from power upon the King's death he has remained a somewhat controversial figure. Today, the rebuilt city of Lisboa remains a legacy
of his vision.