4 Reasons to Visit the Electricity Museum in Lisbon

By Elmf – Own work, CC BY 2.5 – Wikimedia commons

If you are visiting the beautiful city of Lisbon, or are thinking of taking a holiday trip there, then we recommend that you visit the Belem district. An apparent old building from the picture above is currently one of the most interesting museums in Lisbon, “Museu da Electricidade“.

Really, the Lisbon Electricity Museum is one of the most entertaining cultural centers of the city and the country. This is not just a museum where people are going to admire something or object, but it is a combination of a science museum, an Industrial Archaeology museum, and other spaces designed for seasonal exhibitions and other events. This museum can be found in one of the best areas of Lisbon, the Barrio de Belém. 

This museum had its inauguration in 1990, nevertheless, some remodeling and restorations were made, and not in 2006 it was that it reopened its doors to the public. Today, the building preserves a cultural aspect that characterizes it. Once you enter the building you will be able to observe a permanent exhibition in which you will find many machines that once worked in the old Central Tejo.

You will also find some temporary exhibitions such as photographs, scientific arts, paintings, etc. In addition, there are other rooms where children can have fun, learn about solar energy samples outside, see theaters, concerts, and so on. Definitely, this museum is an adventure in which you can enjoy a whole day knowing about it and having fun.

The industrial architecture and design of the building originated from the 20th century. Inside you can find a historical review which tells its visitors how there were the operations that were made in the thermoelectric plant until 1951.

However, the museum not only teaches about the energy of the past but also explains the new energy generating systems and how they could be maintained in the future. The exhibitions and arts exhibited at the Electricity Museum foster the union of art and science.

Guided tours may be one of the best ways to tour the museum. Most of them begin with an explanation of how the thermoelectric power station works and what the working environment was like.

The guides are in charge of explaining all the events and even the operation of each machine of that time, some of which still work and are in perfect condition. Some of them have people or statues representing former workers.

The sources of energy also have their moment during the tours in the museum, also mention is made of the scientists who made contributions to the building and to the evolution of the history of the generation of electrical energy. In these tours not everything is talk and conversations, there are also moments in which educational games are made that are related to the museum or electricity.

However, guided tours are not obligatory for everyone who comes to the museum. If you wish, you can make a more exclusive visit, and even plan these visits to access the secret areas. The secret areas are not open to the public, including the boiler floors, the rheostat room, the coal distribution mat, the mixing tower, the water castle, and the tunnels. Here are 5 reasons why you should come and visit this great museum.

1. It is a young museum

By Elmf – Own work, CC BY 2.5 – Wikimedia Common

Founded several decades ago at the beginning of the 20th century, and culminating in its construction in the 1950s, Lisbon Electricity Museum is considered a relatively new museum compared to others in the city and the country. During its period of operation as a thermoelectric plant, for many years it provided electricity to the whole of Lisbon. This building was not only a large power plant, but it always maintained its charming architecture, even after the power plant had become obsolete.

Once the plant could not maintain electric power, remodeling and restoration began, but it wasn’t until 1990 that this beautiful building became a museum. Sometime after its inauguration, the complex underwent further renovations in 2000, in which the old boilers were polished, the squeaky machinery was renovated and new exhibition spaces were opened.

Subsequently, in 2006 it had another remodeling and restoration and since then the old machines on display have been kept shining, in addition to the other electrical interactions, including Jacob’s ladder and a rotating art exhibit. 

A feature of the Lisbon Electricity Museum is that it avoids having to maintain the same training for an entire year. That’s why the museum staff organizes and conducts different activities throughout the year to constantly capture people’s attention and not become a boring museum. These activities take place both inside and outside the building.

Temporary exhibitions such as Science Month, conferences, concerts, etc. are usually held. Thanks to the variety of spaces that the building has, it is possible to carry out this type of activities that attract many people to get to know and walk around this place.

Mês da Ciência (Science Month)

Science Month is entertainment that takes place in the museum throughout the month of May in the Plaza del Carbón. In it, a set of activities are carried out, which have been carried out since the first edition in 2009.

The activities carried out during the Mês da Ciência are Olympic Games of Physics, the National Science Exhibition (Mostra da Ciência, the Children’s Festival (Festa da Criança), the Rally Solar and the Solar Festival. All these activities have been developed by the Electricity Museum, except for the Physics Olympics. 

2. It’s rare collection

Museum da eletricidade, sourced from wikimedia

The different attractions and exhibitions of the Museu da Electricidade are not the only thing that can be appreciated as its collection, but there is also a deposit in which other fundamental pieces of the Central can be appreciated.

This part of the collection is based on the recovery that has been made of certain exhibition elements, through their restoration, conservation, acquisition, and preservation of new pieces that are in this deposit. In addition, many of these installations come from the rest of the country and from donations.

Thanks to this are that the museum has a wide variety of goods to exhibit; boilers, turbo-alternators, condensers of the years 1940-1950, and other pieces that had their origin in the late nineteenth century and are still preserved.

You can also appreciate the collection of household appliances, electrical machines, public lighting molds in iron and wood, everyday lighting elements, laboratory equipment, models, valves, and so on. 

3. Architecture

Museum da eletricidade, sourced from wikimedia

The architecture of the Museu da Electricidade is maintained since the old thermoelectric plant which provided electricity to the whole of Lisbon for years. This design and architecture was quite unique and architectural during that time and still is in Lisbon.

In fact, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful architectural examples of the city since its foundation in the mid-twentieth century; therefore, the Portuguese government issued a decree declaring it a protected property.

This building was built from 1908 to 1951, years during which different processes and types of construction were carried out, involving expansion and transformation. The architecture of the building is based on irons covered with solid bricks, which give it a facade with an artistic style that is coupled from modernism to classicism as the most contemporary buildings.

Thanks to the acquisition of land and adjacent buildings, this became an industrial complex for cultural purposes, in addition to having a beautiful view thanks to the Tagus River.

Thanks to its good architecture, the building has been preserved for many years. However, in the decade of the year 2000, some restorations and remodelings were carried out to better condition the structure, clean the facades and the interior of the building, in addition, the museological discourse was changed to as it is currently known.

4. Virtual Visit

During the virtual tour, everything starts from the nerve center of the museum, the Plaza del Carbón. This is where most visitors are received; exhibitions and other events are held.

Then, there is Antaño, a place through which the river crossed and the boats came to manually unload the tons of coal for the supply of the boilers. In this Plaza del Carbón you can also see large silos and augers that were responsible for mixing and conducting coal to the high-pressure boilers, located at the top of the building.

To enter this incredible museum you have to pass through the Exhibition Hall of the old low-pressure boilers; today this space is used for temporary exhibitions where you can still see the steam expansion pipes and coal silos for the old boilers disappeared.

After passing through this building, one enters the room of the old building of the High-Pressure Boilers; in which one can appreciate a large space where the four enormous boilers are located at about 30 meters of altitude. You can also see the boiler control tables, the air and fuel circuits, ventilators, etc.

One of the boilers, number 15, can be seen in more detail to discover its internal structure in which you can see the coal conveyor belt, Bailey walls, naphtha burners, heating tubes, etc.). Here you can not only see the boilers but also know the history of the plant and know-how was the conditions which the workers had to be during their work.

Museum da eletricidade, sourced from wikimedia

On the floor below the cauldrons is the Cinzeiros Romm (ashtrays). As its name indicates, in that area was where the coal ashes were collected both burned and unburned. During the explanatory history that is given through the route, it is made known that this was one of the strongest areas of work because of the heat it was doing in it and the difficulty of breathing because of the ashes of coal.

Continuing with the tour, we pass behind the cinzeiros to access the Experiments Room. It is divided into three sections: the first is devoted to energies (renewable and fossil fuels), the second knows how electricity evolved thanks to the ingenuity and inventions of the best-known physicists and electricians, and finally, an area with entertaining games to learn about the functioning of some electrical systems.

It is a very interesting route that attracts not only adults but also children, and the best thing is that both can have fun and can learn.

Once we leave the Experiment Room, we move on to the Water Room. We also proceed to the Engine Room; in both rooms, the museum’s discourse is the same as that of the boilers. In these rooms, you will notice that the different tubes that go through the wall or ceiling have different colors, and each color has a meaning that indicates the type of fluid that flowed through there: wet steam, dry steam, water, and so on.

It is here in the Water Room that we show how water was treated in order to be used in the boilers. The machines inside these are known as electric pumps, purifiers, filters or distillers, which originated in 1940.

Next to the Water Room is the Condensers Room. In this room was where the steam was transformed into the water again. In this room, you can see the condensers, steam coolers and drainage pipes from the river Tajo which were responsible for supplying cold water to the machines.

In this same room, at the back, you can see the circuit breakers of the generating sets. You can also see the exhibition known as Faces of the Central Tejo in which you can appreciate the photographs of all those workers who once served in the central and their working conditions.

If you go up to the floor above the condensers, you will find the Generators Room. In this space, you can see two of the five turbo-alternators used in the power plant. The museum had the disposition to open one of them to observe better their structure and to show how they worked internally, more specifically; it is to discover how the electric energy was generated. 

Finally, you will find a small loft where the Command Room is. In this place, all the use and production of the generators, the substation and the distribution of electricity through the network that the power station served were controlled.

Nowadays, it is a place where the guides explain a little the history of what was done and even show some examples such as the functioning of renewable energies, or the simplification of the productive process of the plant itself.

Without a doubt, the Museu da Electricidade is a place worth visiting. We hope that these reasons will be enough for you to come with your family or with a group and you will see that you will not stop having fun and learning more about the culture of this city and Portugal.

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