As one of the oldest cities in western Europe, Lisbon, Portugal is an archaeology lovers’ paradise. But one doesn’t only have to look underground for fascinating ruins. In fact, one of the most beautiful ruins in Lisbon isn’t even that old! To find it, you just have to walk through the entrance below. Beyond this imposing door, are the Carmo Convent Ruins and Archaeological Museum:
History of the Carmo Convent and Church
D. Nuno Alvares Pereira founded the Carmelite convent in 1389 (young by Lisbon standards!). Construction of the Church of Santa Maria do Carmo and convent wrapped up in 1423.
Even in its early days, the church was easily one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Lisbon. Unfortunately, a massive earthquake in 1755 nearly destroyed the entire city of Lisbon, including the church and convent. Consequently, severe damage to the building forced the 126 clerics to abandon the site.
Reconstruction started a year later. However, it came to a halt in 1834, after the religious orders in Portugal were abolished. The naves, transept and chapels were never fully rebuilt.
But in some ways, seeing the building like this makes it even more beautiful. I loved the play of shadow and light across the arches and walls.
This is how the interior looks today:
After the religious orders left, the building went through several incarnations. In 1835 the church became a sawmill shop, and the convent housed the first and second companies of infantrymen for the municipal guard. The first cavalry squadron moved in ten years later.
The building was donated to the Association of Portuguese Archaeologists in 1864. The association quickly turned the convent ruins into a museum. The walls around the convent were reconstructed between 1911 and 1912. In 1969, another earthquake shook the ruins, and caused additional damage to the church nave.
The view from inside the Carmo ruins facing the main entrance. Note that the 1755 earthquake completely destroyed the rose window on this side:
Ruins and Archaeological Museum of Carmo
The church is now home to a hodge-podge of statues, tombs, fountains and fragments of architectural elements. These came from other churches, monasteries, cathedrals and archaeological excavations. It almost looks like an architectural salvage yard.
This is a statue of St. Joao Nepomuceno from the 18th Century. Interestingly, he was the patron saint of Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, and not Portugal. He protects the faithful from floods and drowning. He’s often portrayed with a halo marked with five stars:
Here are some additional random architectural elements inside the nave. I love the intricate details on this piece in particular:
Just look at the faces carved into this remnant. The faces are both creepy and whimsical at the same time. I assume this was the base of a column at one time:
And this may have once been a fountain, in a former life:
The museum houses a small, but very eclectic collection of books, pre-Colombian pottery, sculptures, and so on. They even have a 16th Century Peruvian mummy and an Egyptian sarcophagus on display!
The Carmo Ruins and Archaeological Museum are located in the Chiado district. It’s just a short walk from the Santa Justa elevator.
Address: Largo do Carmo, 1200-092 Lisboa, Portugal
Bus: Route 758
Tram: Tram 28
Metro – Baixa-Chiado Station
Elevator: Elevador de Santa Justa
Hours of Operation:
Monday to Saturday:
October to May: 10h00 – 18h00
June to September: 10h00 – 19h00
Closed on Sundays, January 1, May 1 and December 25.
The Carmo Convent museum also offers guided tours in Portuguese, English, French, Italian and Spanish (included in your ticket price). The tour takes approximately 30 minutes. It’s best to inquire in advance for a schedule. You can email them at [email protected] or phone + 351 213 460 473 / 478 629.