Why you need to visit the Carmo Convent in Lisbon

The construction of the Carmo Convent started in 1389. It was the project of D. Nuno Álvares Pereira. The purpose of this construction was to state two things: his intention to convert himself to the religious life and his competition with the King. The monumentality of the Carmo Convent is really impressive for the time of its construction.

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The earthquake of 1755 destroyed a great part of the convent. By the middle of the nineteenth century, its management was undertaken by the Archaeologists Association, that created the first Portuguese museum. An impressive monument that carefully keeps and saves impressive pieces, such as the tomb of D. Fernando I, which is a medieval masterpiece! A tomb that shares with us the story of an unloved beautiful frivolous king, but who turned out to be much more than that after all! If you want to learn more and find out why you need to visit the Carmo Convent in Lisbon, read on this article!

Introduction: Who is the founder of the Carmo Convent?

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The Carmo Convent is one of the few Medieval buildings that still remain in Lisbon! This fourteenth century monument which construction was commissioned in 1389, a few years after the Battle of Aljubarrota, by the battle’s hero, D. Nuno Álvares Pereira. He’s a man who has a solid military training, but also great religious beliefs, that awaken his desire of leaving an important testimony.

The history of the Carmo Convent architecture is pretty interesting

When the earthquake happened in 1755, the Friars that lived there ended up in a complicated situation. So, they tried to quickly proceed the reconstruction efforts. The restoration which was done in 1758 sought to be the same as the founder wanted it to be. In other words, it had to be a Gothic structure. This was unique because the architectural style of the time was the Baroque. The Carmo Convent is a great example of the first attempt in Portugal of what would later called “Gothic Revival” or “Neo Gothic“, without even having the theoretical foundations. They just tried to imitate what they knew existed before. This is why you will find columns and pillars sockets very different from the ones that initially existed, for instance.

This “imagined” Gothic came out to be an amazing result. Unfortunately, the reconstruction was not completed. Lisbon ended up with an open sky Carmo Convent.

After the 1834 Dissolution of the monasteries in Portugal, the convents, mostly male ones, were closed and abandoned. This abandonment resulted in a tremedous degradation of the heritage of Portugal. The Carmo Convent even went through a military occupation, and other types of occupation that deeply damaged the convent.

Visit the first ever Portuguese museum

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© Manuel Manso

By mid-nineteenth century, the King granted the monument to the Real Associação dos Arquitectos Civis e Arqueólogos Portugueses that still exists today under the name of Associação dos Arqueólogos Portugueses. It was the first Portuguese association that worried about the safeguarding of the heritage of Portugal. Even today, it still holds this function. They set up the first Portuguese museum at the Carmo Convent, with collections exhibitions open to the public.

The prime mover of this association and these initiatives was Joaquim Possidónio Narciso da Silva, which was an architect, an archaeologist, and a photographer. He was deeply interested in Portugal Heritage and its safeguarding. He dedicated his whole life to this purpose and set up the museum of the Carmo Convent. All the pieces he managed to save can be see at the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo. These pieces are essential to the understanding of the history of Portugal.

Have a look at an incredible medieval masterpiece

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© Stephan Classen

Of all the stunning history-filled pieces in the museum, you will find the tomb of D. Fernando I particularly stunning! You will be mesmerized by its beauty, its bas-reliefs. All the details look like a stone crochet. Look at the aesthetics and technique quality of the tomb and learn a lot about the King, because it was D. Fernando I himself that ordered the tomb for him.

The tomb is different from all the others prior to it. Apart of the religious references found on it, it also has political ones, which is very unusual. For him, it was an opportunity to express his main worries. He knew he was about to die and that he had no successor.

For his tomb, D. Fernando I wanted it to be unprecedented, with the presence of both his and his mother’s crest. This was to affirm that he was the son of a legitimate matrimony. Only him was allowed to the throne, so only his daughter could be the heir to the throne of Portugal. These were some of the political aspects of his tomb.

If you have a look at all the details of D. Fernando I, you will learn a lot about his history. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff for more information about them!

Don’t miss the mumies

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Being able to see mummies in a museum is not usual at all! At first, people are a bit disgusted but, then, they usually show a lot of interest.

Two mummies are exhibited at the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo since the Count Januário Correia de Almeida was the second president of the Associação de Arqueólogos Portugueses. For carrying out the role of ambassador, governor in other countries, such as South America, and for his interest in ancient civilizations, Aztecs, Incas, Egyptians, the museum was not only about Portugal, its place in the world, the western civilizations but also became universal with the exhibition of mummies – that come from Peru – and artefacts of other civilizations.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my article and that it has awaken your interest! You now know a few reasons why you need to visit the Carmo Convent in Lisbon! This is only a teaser, because both the Carmo Convent and the Archaeological Museum of Carmo have so much more to offer! If you love to learn new stuff, have a strong thirst for knowledge, and are curious about history, you will love to visit the Carmo Convent! Located in the lovely area of Chiado, it will definitely be one of the highlights of your visit! See you soon in Lisbon!

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