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The 'time machine' room at the Quake Centre in Lisbon, Source: Quake

Lisbon residents can relive the city’s most traumatic moment with a new immersive experience

Lisbon residents can relive the city’s most traumatic moment with a new immersive experience

The 1755 earthquake levelled the Portuguese capital making its mark in the collective memory forever

At the start of this week, Carlos Moedas, the mayor of Lisbon, inaugurated the city’s newest attraction called Quake – Lisbon Earthquake Centre, an immersive experience that lets people relive the horror of the 1755 earthquake that destroyed the Portuguese capital.

Combining detailed historical research and modern technology, the developers have created something akin to a time machine that lets visitors revisit what was possibly the most traumatic day in Lisbon’s history.

A place that entertains and educates

In the Quake Centre people can relive the impressive earthquake that hit the city on 1 November 1755. The catastrophe is reproduced by a simulator in a safe environment, using video mapping and special effects. Through interactive stations, people will also get to understand the origin of earthquakes and tsunamis and better understand why Lisbon was completely levelled.

Although Lisbon itself is an ancient city, with its site probably first occupied during the Iron Age, the urban layout that we see today pretty much dates back to the second half of the 18th century, given that very few buildings managed to survive the destructive power of the earthquake. It is estimated that between 30 and 40,000 people perished, which means that about one in every six Lisboners lost their lives.

More than an interactive museum space, Quake asserts itself as an interpretation centre, where visitors can “see, feel and smell, and soon also taste”, Lisbon from the 18th century, through an immersive route that passes through several rooms and that invites visitors to interact.

As Carlos Moedas stated at the inauguration of the space, Quake offers what people are currently looking for in a museum, a place where you go to “live history” and which, according to the mayor, is “one of the first to have this vision”, as quoted by The Portugal News.

Making history more tangible

The visit to the centre, which lasts approximately one and a half hours, starts in a waiting room where visitors can appreciate various paintings and images that depict Lisbon in the 17th century, then move on to a didactic room on seismology, where it is possible to learn how earthquakes happen. This is then followed by another room that compares the Lisbon earthquake with some of the largest earthquakes to have ever occurred in the world.

But the highlight of the visit is the entry into the time machine room, which goes back to All Saints' Day in 1755 and takes us directly to the Church of São Nicolau, where it is possible to see and feel what the earthquake must have been like, through video mapping and pews that move as the earthquake increases in intensity and the building collapses.

The visitors can then move to the next room and see the destruction and consequences of the earthquake, which was followed by a tsunami whose wave reached five meters in height. It ends on a positive note, however, as then one is transported to the office of Sebastião José de Carvalho and Melo, the Marquis of Pombal, who was responsible for the reconstruction of the city as we know it today.

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