Has the earth ever moved for you? It has for us, several times, due to blasting at a nearby quarry! But did you know that central Portugal and the Algarve, are in an earthquake zone? Over the years, there have been several major earthquakes, the biggest being the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, but there have been many more of the magnitude that causes structural damage. It can be a concern if you are considering building or renovating a house in the Algarve. It’s imperative then, that you feel safe with your building project.

The earthquake struck on the morning of 1 November 1755, All Saints Day. Contemporary reports state that the earthquake lasted between three and a half and six minutes, causing fissures 5 metres (16ft) wide in the city centre. Survivors rushed to the open space of the docks for safety and watched as the sea receded, revealing a plain of mud littered with lost cargo and shipwrecks. Approximately 40 minutes after the earthquake, a tsunami engulfed the harbor and downtown area, rushing up the Tagus river “so fast that several people riding on horseback… were forced to gallop as fast as possible to the upper grounds for fear of being carried away.” It was followed by two more waves. Candles lit in homes and churches all around the city for All Saints’ Day were knocked over, starting a fire that developed into a firestorm which burned for hours in the city, asphyxiating people up to 30 metres (98ft) from the blaze.

1755 copper engraving of Lisbon in flames and tsunami overwhelming the harbor

Fast forward to the present century and any construction work now needs to adhere to building regulations that are designed to withstand earthquakes and should be structurally sound… as long as you get the right builder. If you don’t, this could mean that Portuguese houses might be even more cracked up than they should be!

In our last blog, we related the story of our trip back to the UK which was punctuated with a number of mini dramas surrounding the building work that was going on at the time. We never mentioned the bigger drama that we had to deal with just before we left and the crack we found… 

We have an annex that we’d like to make into a rental property, but last year we discovered a leak in the roof. Not a major one, but one that needed attention. Three well placed buckets served as a temporary solution, until we could ask Fernambuco, our Portuguese builder, to take a look at the roof. His approach was different to UK builders; there was no stroking the chin, no shaking the head, no sharp intake of breath and the dreaded words… “it’s going to cost you…”. Instead, Fernambuco looked down at the ground, pursed his lips, looked back up and uttered those unforgettable words “precisa de um novo telhado” (“you need a new roof”). Apparently, the pitch of the roof was insufficient for the tiles used, so that in windy conditions the rain was blown up, under the tiles. The water then trickled down a crack in the concrete slab that the tiles are laid on.

Old tiles removed and shuttering for new concrete ring.

Her Outdoors and I took a collective gulp, made a tentative enquiry as to cost and, upon hearing the price, waited for the shock to subside. Being pragmatic, it wasn’t long before we had agreed to the new roof, new tiles, a solar water system and later on, deciding to have the annex insulated. Oh, and while we are at it, let’s bung in some air conditioning!

That wasn’t the end of the latest drama. On removal of the roof tiles and some of the Polymer Fibre wrap, a major crack was revealed. Not a builders bum crack, but a reinforced concrete pillar on one corner had become detached from the roof slab. This could, in time, have caused the wall to collapse. “Não problema” according to Fernambuco! A week later, a new reinforced concrete ring was constructed and a new roof went on. We could happily leave for our trip to the UK, safe in the knowledge that the builders were on top of things (including the roof) and that we could relax. Little did we know at the time what was in store. But that’s another story…

The Builders Crack has been doctored to protect his identity

The annex is finished now and we are able to sit outside, enjoying the view of the Algarve coast and the Atlantic Ocean. Often, our thoughts turn to thinking how safe we would be if an earthquake caused a tsunami… 

We like and trust Fernambuco, our Portuguese builder, almost as much as we like, and feel safe, living on top of a hill…