In 1755, a massive earthquake off the coast of Lisbon resulted in a deadly and destructive tsunami that devastated coastlines across Europe. Scotland, and Dundee in particular, were not without exception. When the wave struck the town of Dundee in November of that year, it obliterated the town’s dock area, smashing every ship in the harbour to smithereens, and submerging our busy, thriving commercial hub, known as Packhouse Square. PS was situated where the bottom of castle street meets Dock Street and Exchange Street…but around 12 to 15 feet lower than the current street level.
The town’s first line of coastal defence, the bulwark, believed to have been constructed from stones taken from the sites of the old 12th and 13th century monasteries of Dundee was swallowed and destroyed almost immediately. Storerooms and warehouses in Packhouse Square were flooded, damaging goods, property, and livestock. By this time, Packhouse Square was over 100 years old, but despite this, the buildings and their vaulted ceilings withstood not only the tsunami, but also time itself, and are still standing to this day, supporting the new streets and buildings you see today.
Decisions were taken to raise the street level higher, to ensure a disaster like this never struck the town again. By infilling some of the surrounding land and using what remained of Packhouse Square and its sturdy vaulted rooms to form strong, solid foundations, work began raising the harbour area in line with the street levels we see there now. This was designed for the same purpose as we are now building new flood defences along our current waterfront – keeping the water from ultimately destroying Dundee.