When catastrophes cascaded over the Algarve – the «annus horribilis» of 1855-56 (IV)

The cholera epidemic was still affecting the region, when an earthquake of great intensity hit the Algarve

«Faro – (…) A formidable earthquake on the 12th (…), if it lasted a moment longer, everything would collapse»
(Newspaper «O Braz Tisana», February 6, 1856)

The year 1855-56 was tragic for the Algarve. Cholera spread in the district between July 1855 and April of the following year, as we have already mentioned. However, this epidemic was still raging with some intensity, when an earthquake shook the Algarve.

Loulé, the largest municipality in the region, was, in general, unscathed by the pandemic, but for Loulé residents and neighboring municipalities, another adversity was in store – the earthquake of January 12, 1856.

One hundred years later, the earth shook violently again: «at 11 o'clock in the morning there was a roar like thunder in the distance and immediately afterwards a great earthquake was felt, which lasted for two seconds; the oscillation, it seemed to me, was from northwest to southeast; the violence was so great that not a single building remained that did not suffer”.

It was in this way that, according to Ataíde Oliveira, in the «Monografia do Concelho de Loulé», the prior José Rafael Pinto recorded the event in the Loulé Parish Visitor Book.

To which the parish priest added: «the main church on the front wall gave out, the vault of the sacristy also gave of itself and where it made the greatest impression was in the sacristy das Almas which cracked all over. The church of S. Sebastião also opened cracks in the frontispiece and the vault. And so suffered the villa's buildings and suburbs. In the villa many people retreated from their homes to the countryside. After about a hundred minutes, another less violent quake was repeated and seven minutes later it happened again, but with little intensity. The terrified people fled to the streets and squares, begging for mercy aloud, and many headed towards the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade. To encourage the spirits and prevent the large gathering of people in the chapel of N. Senhora da Piedade, I had a shed built in Largo de S. Francisco, where I had the venerated image of Senhora da Piedade lead in procession and there accompanied by more than two thousand people, of both sexes and of all ages, made rogatory prayers to God».



The image of Our Lady descended on Loulé, not at the small party, but in January, when the people of Loulé, faced with panic and doom, exchanged their masonry dwellings for tents on the street.

According to the Lisbon newspaper «Imprensa e Ley», on 20 January, the earthquake occurred at 11:20 am. The newspaper publishes a letter from Loulé, which confirms the ruin of several buildings, «some of which will have to be dismounted in order to be built».

As a result, José Coelho's family had pitched a tent in Largo da Graça, where they now lived and were no exception: «almost everyone sleeps in the countryside and in Largo de S. Francisco, in tents».

There were no deaths, although some injuries were reported, such as a lady who fell on top of a chimney, or a man who, falling down a ladder, lost his balance, falling helplessly. Others fled into the street, bumping into window frames, etc.

The misfortune quickly aroused the interest of the stranger's friends: «what seems incredible is that they are repeating the same scenes of thievery that were seen in the time of the Lisbon earthquake (…). This night, fifty men of the company and of the police have been patrolling the villa, in order to avoid the thefts that have been made many attempts, and some are carried out with impunity, because almost all the houses are abandoned», reads in the same newspaper. .

Joaquim Ramalho Ortigão, deputy for the circle of Faro, he was in this city at the time of the earthquake, «but he was later in Loulé, and when he entered this municipality he saw the walls of the houses supported so they wouldn't collapse: the owners had gone to their farms and completely ignored them, because the valleys had disappeared ; many houses were completely destroyed: it had not been a small shock, it had been an immense scourge», he recalled in the session of the Chamber of Deputies, on March 3, 1856.


The damage was not limited to Loulé. On January 27, the newspaper «A Patria» reported the damage to Faro: «the earthquake, or earthquake of the 12th of the current year, did considerable damage here», there were walls that gave way, opening considerable gaps.

Another newspaper, «O Braz Tisana», in the January 29 edition, still about Faro, says: «almost all the buildings were left with large cracks, and if it lasted a moment longer, everything would collapse; part of the Palace of the Civil Government, and the Zimborio of the Igreja da Misericordia is the one that suffered the most».



In turn, from Olhão, «A Patria» wrote: «they tell me today that half of the properties are on land and the fourth part is already on land».

On the same day, 29 January, «A Patria» published a letter from Tavira: «close to a hundred dwellings of houses fell into disrepair, and some fell completely. Fortunately, there was not so much loss of life, as such a calamity could have caused, for there is no record that more than two unfortunate girls died, who were buried under the ruins of a new house».

The lower part of the city was the most affected, in such a way that «some houses are standing, so that from the outside they look like bull stands, suspended by plummets and bimbarras».

In Barlavento, there were also losses. In São Bartolomeu de Messines, according to the parish priest Pégado de Oliveira, «this church suffered some cracking in the walls and stonework in the front, with some houses having fallen and other ruins in several places in the parish». In Silves, the chain almost collapsed, and it was necessary to shore it up, while the roof of the old Cathedral opened large cracks.



In Albufeira, the main church was very ruined. Damage that was perpetuated in time, since in 1862 it was still asked in parliament that the works be done in both churches, under penalty of the roof collapsing on the faithful.

According to Francisco Pereira de Sousa, the mega earthquake of January 12, 1856 had an intensity of X in Tavira, in Faro VII-VIII and Loulé VIII, on the Mercalli scale.

However, as if that were not enough, the earthquake and cholera were not the only adversities that befell the Algarve, and if the epidemic mainly affected the most disadvantaged, the earthquake did not look at classes.

But all this was aggravated by another misfortune, no less unusual, which had been manifesting itself since August 1855 and did not stop – the rain…


(Go on)


Author Aurélio Nuno Cabrita is an environmental engineer and researcher of local and regional history, as well as a regular collaborator of the Sul Informação.

Note: In the transcripts, the spelling of the time was preserved. The images correspond to illustrated postcards from the first half of the XNUMXth century, with the exception of the table, inserted in the Report.


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