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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of the Marquis of Pombal Square in Lisbon

What is the Marquis of Pombal Square?

Marquis of Pombal Square is one of Lisbon’s grandest squares and a monument to the statesman who saved the city.

Marquis of Pombal

Marquis of Pombal Square History

One of Portugal’s most remarkable statesmen and diplomats was Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquis of Pombal and 1st Count of Oeiras. Son of a former cavalry officer and nobleman of the royal house, he effectively ruled the Portuguese Empire from 1750 to 1777 as chief minister to King Joseph I. Though he effectively wielded the power of an autocrat during his time as a minister, he was at heart a liberal reformer influenced by the Age of Enlightenment.

Pombal modernised Portugal's economic, administrative and ecclesiastical institutions and led the kingdom's recovery from the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which killed over 40,000 people, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in history. Coupled with the fires and tsunami that followed, the earthquake almost completely destroyed Lisbon and surrounding areas.

Pombal was given the onerous job of rebuilding the city. He transformed and replaced narrow, twisting streets with broad avenues, and also incorporated some of the first examples of prefabricated buildings.

In recognition of his considerable achievements, a square was built and named after him, the Praça do Marquês de Pombal (or Marquis of Pombal Square). A major roundabout in the city, it’s located here within the heart of modern-day Lisbon, at the end of the Avenida da Liberdade.

Marquis of Pombal Statue close-up

A monument to the marquis was erected in the centre of the square, built between 1917 and 1934. The bronze statue at the top shows him standing on a column with a lion close beside him, symbolising leadership and power. Pombal’s eyes survey the streets below, the city that he rebuilt.

The base of the monument is decorated with allegorical images that depict Pombal's educational, political and agricultural reforms. There are tidal waves and broken blocks of stone at the base of the monument, which symbolise the effects of the calamitous earthquake. The paving stones that surround it are decorated with a mosaic of Lisbon's coat of arms.

The square is in one of the smartest neighbourhoods of the city and is surrounded by luxury hotels, large banks and the headquarters of several important companies. No doubt the marquis would have been proud of what the city became.

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