Pombaline reforms were a revolutionary set of reforms that implemented significant changes in Lisbon's urban planning, infrastructure, governance, trade and education. These reforms were introduced by the Marquis of Pombal in response to the devastating Lisbon earthquake. The aim was to not only rebuild the city but also improve the overall living conditions and stimulate the economy.

Beyond their impact on Lisbon, the Pombaline reforms had far-reaching effects in Portugal and its colony, Brazil. However, they faced opposition from the nobility and the Catholic Church, making them controversial.

Let’s look deeper into the impact of these reforms on Lisbon.

But first, it is important to understand the role of Marquis de Pombal. Who was the Marquis of Pombal?

Pombaline Reforms in Lisbon: Transforming Urban Planning, Infrastructure & other areas

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Marquis de Pombal

Marquis de Pombal was a prominent figure in Portuguese history during King José I's reign. He made changes to how cities were planned, buildings were constructed, how trade was conducted and  education was carried out, and how knowledge was shared.

These changes were made to make Lisbon more modern and keep up with the times.

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), who later became known as the Marquis of Pombal, was given this title for his work and help to the Portuguese kingdom. He was also called the 1st Count of Oeiras.

He held big jobs like Secretary of State for Internal Affairs and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and War.

When Lisbon was hit by an earthquake, Marquis de Pombal led the city's rebuilding and made changes that improved Lisbon and Portugal as a whole.

Even though some people didn't agree with him, Marquis of Pombal's changes made a big difference and he is well respected in Portugal.

A round square and a tall statue of Marquis de Pombal
A round square and a tall statue of Marquis de Pombal

Statue of the Marquis of Pombal on Praça Marquês de Pombal in Lisbon

Creating a Rational and Organized City of Lisbon with reformed urban planning

Urban planning played a crucial role in Pombaline reforms, aiming to create a rational and organized city.

Before these reforms, Lisbon was a maze of narrow, winding streets that hindered movement and created confusion.

During the devastating Lisbon earthquake that struck Lisbon, Portugal, on November 1, 1755, much of the city was leveled. It was time to rebuild, and it was a good time to modernize city and make it more seismic-prof and fire-prof.

Grid-like wide streets of Lisbon center resulting from Pombaline reforms planning
Grid-like wide streets of Lisbon center resulting from Pombaline reforms planning

Pombaline reforms brought about a new and improved layout for the city.

Marquis de Pombal's architects introduced wide boulevards and streets. They created a grid-like (see above) pattern that made it easier for people to find their way around and reducing traffic jams.

All these changes not only made navigation simpler but also helped stimulate trade and commerce. Wider streets allowed more efficient movement of people and goods.

The changes also brought about clear distinctions between different areas of the city. Residential areas were clearly separate from commercial and public spaces, ensuring a peaceful coexistence and reducing any potential conflicts. This helped create a harmonious atmosphere for all residents.

Pombaline buildings – buildings with a similar design were introduced. They usually had a store at the bottom and a symmetrical living quarters above it. Read more about Pombaline buildings in my related post.

Reforms placed emphasis on well-planned public spaces and amenities.

Wide square of commerce built during Pombaline reforms in Lisbon, with people enjoying their walk
Wide square of commerce built during Pombaline reforms in Lisbon, with people enjoying their walk

Praça do Comércio, or new wide Square of Commerce in Lisbon, was built during Pombaline reforms. 

The changes also brought about clear distinctions between different areas of the city. Residential areas were clearly separate from commercial and public spaces, ensuring a peaceful coexistence and reducing any potential conflicts.

This helped create a pleasant experience for all residents.

Beautiful street in Portugal with people going about their business
Beautiful street in Portugal with people going about their business

Busy residential area of Lisbon

Well-planned public spaces and amenities

The Marquis de Pombal and his workers started integrating parks, squares, and other communal areas into the city's layout. This not only this created a sense of community among the residents but also enhanced the overall quality of life. People had access to green spaces where they could relax and socialize, further contributing to the well-being of the city's inhabitants.

The benefits of this new urban plan were immediately apparent. Residents and visitors could now navigate the city with ease, as the wide boulevards and intersecting streets provided clear pathways and reduced congestion. The efficient movement of people and goods and creating retail spaces on the ground floors stimulated trade and commerce. The reforms turned Lisbon into a bustling hub of economic activity.

People relaxing on on a bench in an area of Lisbon built for relaxation during Pombaline reforms
People relaxing on on a bench in an area of Lisbon built for relaxation during Pombaline reforms

People are relaxing on one of many benches in an urban park around between central Lisbon and the river Tagus

The rational and organized city layout of Lisbon, influenced by the Pombaline reforms, continues to shape the city's character and functionality today.

But the Pombaline reforms were not limited to urban planning alone.

a row of green bikes and bus stops on a busy well planned square in Lisbon
a row of green bikes and bus stops on a busy well planned square in Lisbon

Modern and well planned square of Lisbon exists as the result of Pombaline reforms planning. 

Building regulations implemented during the Pombaline reforms

Building regulations implemented during the Pombaline reforms played a vital role in ensuring the safety and resilience of Lisbon's architecture. After the devastating earthquake of 1755, which caused widespread destruction, it became essential to establish guidelines and standards to prevent such catastrophic events in the future.

the Pombaline Cage

One of the most significant contributions of the Pombaline reforms was the introduction of the innovative construction technique known as the Pombaline Cage. This technique involved using wooden frameworks within building walls, which provided flexibility during earthquakes. The wooden frames absorbed and distributed the seismic forces, reducing the risk of collapse and increasing the buildings' resilience.

Read more about Pombaline cage in more details in my other related blog post.

New strict building codes and regulations

To improve safety, strict building codes and regulations were enforced alongside the introduction of the Pombaline Cage. These rules covered materials, design, and structural integrity.

Building materials had to meet specific criteria for durability and resistance to earthquakes. Architects and engineers followed guidelines for factors such as load-bearing capacity and stability. These measures aimed to minimize structural failure during disasters.

In addition, the regulations also focused on fire safety.

Measures were implemented to prevent and combat fires, including guidelines for constructing fire-resistant buildings. These measures specified that fireproof materials, like stone and brick, were to be used more and the use of flammable materials was limited.

Firefighting infrastructure, such as water supply systems and fire hydrants, was improved to enhance the city's ability to respond to fires. These measures aimed to protect buildings and their occupants from the destructive effects of fires.

The enforcement of building regulations was crucial to ensure compliance and maintain safety standards.

Inspections and certifications became mandatory to verify that buildings met the required criteria. Qualified professionals, architects and engineers became very important.

Architects and engineers were put in charge of overseeing construction projects and ensuring adherence to regulations. Non-compliance could lead to penalties or even the demolition of unsafe structures. They also introduced new guidelines for architectural styles.

The impact of these building regulations on the safety and resilience of Lisbon's architecture was enormous. The Pombaline Cage construction technique proved its effectiveness during subsequent earthquakes, as buildings constructed using this method showed a remarkable ability to withstand seismic forces.

The regulations and guidelines established during the reforms contributed to the creation of structurally sound buildings that could better withstand natural disasters and other hazards. And because of all that, we are now still able to enjoy these beautiful buildings in Lisbon!

But building regulations were not the only changes that happened with Pombaline reforms