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Medieval Lisbon: Carmo Convent

View of Carmo Monastery from the top of the Santa Just a Lift. Photo by Medievalists.net
View of Carmo Monastery from the top of the Santa Just a Lift. Photo by Medievalists.net

In Part 3 of my 4 part series on Medieval Lisbon, I paid a visit to Carmo Convent.

Like most historical buildings in Lisbon, Carmo Convent was ruined in the massive earthquake that struck the city in 1755 but what remains of it is still stunning. The monastery is located in Chiado neighbourhood, a trendy tourist area full of shops and restaurants like the famous café, A Brasileira, known for having Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) as one of its regulars. The Chiado has been inhabited since Roman Times and during the Middle Ages, it appeared to be a hot spot for convents; 4 were built in the area: St. Francis Convent (1217), Esparto Santo da Padeira (1279), Trinidad Convent (1291) and Carmo Convent (1398). These 3 convents were completely destroyed in the earthquake of 1755, and only Carmo convent is left standing today. Currently, the ruins of the church currently house an incredible archaeological museum, Museu Arqueológico do Carmo.

View of the majestic Gothic tomb of King Ferdinand I (1345-1383), along with several other Gothic sarcophagi inside the Carmo Monastery museum. Photo by Medievalists.net
View of the majestic Gothic tomb of King Ferdinand I (1345-1383), along with several other Gothic sarcophagi inside the Carmo Monastery museum. Photo by Medievalists.net

The History
Carmo Convent was founded by Portuguese knight, Nuno Álvares Pereira (1360-1431). It was the home of Lisbon’s Carmelite Order, an order founded in the early 13th century by a group of hermits. He built the monastery to celebrate the Portuguese victory in the 1385 Battle of Ajulbarrota, which freed Portugal from Castilian rule. After a distinguished military career as Constable of Portugal under King João I (1357-1433) Pereira joined the convent in 1423. His sepulchre is inside the convent museum.

After the devastating earthquake the church was occasionally used as a military base and it is currently used by the Portuguese Republican Guard. In 1864, it was give to the Association of Portuguese Archaeologists and converted into a museum.

Valado dos Alfeizeirão (Alcobaça). This beautiful muse sarcophagus from the Carmo Monastery museum is from the 3rd or 4th c. and depicts theatre and music. Photo by Medievalists.net
Valado dos Alfeizeirão (Alcobaça). This beautiful muse sarcophagus from the Carmo Monastery museum is from the 3rd or 4th c. and depicts theatre and music. Photo by Medievalists.net

The Museum
The convent and church were built in the Gothic style. The ruins of the church are currently being used to exhibit a wide assortment of medieval graves, heraldic crests, statues, stone art and Roman stellai. The outdoor part of the church is beautiful; I managed to arrive right after a bout of rain and take a bunch of pictures before too many tourists showed up.

The inside museum is impressive, with intricate, stunning medieval tombs, the most famous being that of King Ferdinand I (1345-1383) and the bastard son of King Denis I (1261-1325). It also houses pieces from every period in Portuguese history and pre-history, from Bronze Age spears and tools, Egyptian Mummies, Visigothic art, Gothic tombs, and Early Modern tiles. It’s not a large space, but it’s incredibly well put together, and carefully thought out. They’ve done an excellent job of conveying the continuity of Portuguese history.

I was there for well over 2 hours; there were so many interesting pieces to look at and the detail of the Gothic crypts was just so incredible, that I wanted to take my time to soak it all in. I also spent a considerable amount of time in theopen air part of the convent reading about and looking over the outdoor exhibits. I advise you not to rush through this area, there are some great pieces, and it’s a great place to capture some beautiful photos if you time it right to avoid the crowds.

Tips
The convent is open from 10:00-18:00 (October to May), and 10:00-19:00 (June to October). It’s closed on Sundays, Christmas Day, New Year’s and May 1st. The cost of a ticket is only €3.50.

~Sandra Alvarez

Close-up of the tomb of Fernão Sanches, 14th c., Carmo Monastery museum, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Medievalists.net
Close-up of the tomb of Fernão Sanches, 14th c., Carmo Monastery museum, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Medievalists.net

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