The Belem Palace is the official residence of the president of Portugal and the former Royal Palace in Belem. Read about its grand architecture and history.
The Belem palace was the Royal summer Palace and later became the main Royal residence of Portuguese monarchy after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.
The Palace is the official residence of the President of Portugal since 1910 and is officially called the National Palace of Belém or Palacio Nacional de Belem.
The Belem Palace is located in the Belém District of Lisbon, with the main entrance facing the Tagus River.
The palace complex includes different buildings, wings, courtyards, and gardens, which were constructed at different times between the 18th and 21st centuries.
Belem Palace: the Former Portuguese Royal residence, its history and architecture.
History of Belem Palace
The Belem Palace has a long and interesting history. Here is the address of Belem Palace.
The site of Quinta de Belém was originally part of the Outeiro das Vinhas property along the Tagus River. It was purchased by D. Manuel of Portugal in 1559 and a building was constructed with three salons and two atria. In the mid-17th century, it became linked to the Royal Court, then later transferred to the Counts of Aveiras and occupied by a convent.
King John V purchased the land in 1726 and ordered its reconstruction. He bought two parcels, Quinta de Baixo and Quinta do Meio, for the purpose of building a summer home. It was initially known as the Royal Country House of Belém or Palace of the Leoneiras (1). This was explained in a book of SARAIVA, José António about "O Palácio de Belém", 1985.
In 1754, Queen Maria Anna of Austria died in the residence. The Royal Family was at that time constituted by monarch D. José, his wife, D. Mariana Vitória and their daughters D. Maria Francisca Isabel Josefa, Joana (1734-1816) which succeeded the throne taking the name of D. Maria I, D. Maria Ana Francisca Josefa (1736-1813), D. Maria Francisca Doroteia (1739-1771), D. Maria Francisca Benedita (1746- 1829).
The Royal family mostly lived in Lisbon at that time. They were only visiting the Belem palace in summer, as a country residency. They moved to “Casa de campo real de Belém” (the Belém Royal Country House) in May of 1755 for the summer as usual, but ended up in that area permanently. (2)
How do we know this? Read an account of this period in history. (2) That move has quite possibly saved their lives. According to newspaper reports, during that time, the Royal Family only traveled to Lisbon to attend royal operas.
“As the violent earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon occurred during the early morning, a time of day when royal operas were highly unlikely to take place, the Royal Family escaped this catastrophe, which decimated a large portion of Lisbon’s population, unharmed”, writes MARIA ISABEL BRAGA ABECASIS. (2)
So, the 1755 Lisbon earthquake caused some minor damage, because the area is less quake prone. The Palácio Nacional de Belém was one of the least affected buildings during the earthquake (2). This was because the ground it stood on was made of basalt, which helped prevent many local buildings from collapsing. (4)
However, the earthquake's impact was not limited to November 1, 1755. Aftershocks were felt throughout that year and the following year, both in Portugal and in other parts of the world. (5).
People were afraid to live in stone houses and started living in tents.
The Royal family started living in a tent on Belem Palace Garden as well. (2) The monarchs made the decision to move from Lisbon and live in the area of Belém/Ajuda. They continued to live there for many years. (6)
However, The Belem Palace only needed a few minor repairs, which were done in 1755 and 1756, and supervised by architect João Pedro Ludovice.
Around 1770, architect Mateus Vicente de Oliveira reconstructed the entire estate. Several smaller projects were completed, such as painting the Sala das Bicas, replacing tiles along the southern veranda in 1778, and constructing birdhouses in 1780.
From 1807, with the departure of the Royal Family to Brazil and the removal of much of the palace's contents, the property mainly served as an occasional residence where the court would gather for dances and ceremonies. But it remained mostly unused until the end of the Liberal Wars.
Construction of the Neoclassical horse training arena, designed by Italian architect Giacomo Azzolini, began in 1828 and that later became the location of the National Coach Museum.
In 1839, the palace was used for royal balls and as a temporary residence for visiting dignitaries. During renovations at the Palace of Necessidades in 1840, the royal family returned to Belém and lived there for the next decade. The palace saw the birth of Infanta Antónia in 1845. By 1850, the grand ballroom was renovated, allowing Queen Maria II to host Portuguese society.
In 1861, the Infanta got married to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern at the Belem palace. However, a series of deaths forced the royal family to leave and it was again abandoned as a permanent residence in the 1860s.
In 1886, King Carlos ascended the throne. He ordered renovations of Belem Palace to transform the palace into a royal residence after his marriage to Princess Amélie of Orléans. It became his residence from 1886 to 1889, and the Palace was designated to accommodate official visitors.
Some repairs were made, including the installation of gas lines and new lighting. These renovations were completed by architect Rafael de Silva Castro and were accompanied by interior decorations by Leandro Braga, Columbano, and João Vaz.
The palace witnessed the birth of Prince Royal Luís Filipe in 1887 and Manuel in 1889.
From 1902 to 1903, Rosendo Carvalheira remodeled the interior spaces and added a visitors' house to receive foreign dignitaries. This addition was inaugurated during the visit of King Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1903.
Training horses stables, Picadeiro Raeal were separated from the palace in 1904. Above and below is the former building of Picadeiro Real - royal horses stables of the Portuguese family.
In 1905, as the venue of the former Picadeiro Real was no longer used, Queen Amélia inaugurated the Royal Coaches Museum, now the National Coach Museum, which displays a unique collection of royal carriages from the 17th to the late 19th centuries.
National Coach Museum was hosted in a beautiful neoclassical building known as the Royal Riding Hall of Belém, until National Coach Museum later got moved to another, larger building.
In 1908, the entire Belem Palace complex came under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and became the official residence of the Presidency of the Republic in 1910.
The Belem Palce is protected by 2 guards at the gates.
1. "O Palácio de Belém" Local- Date 1985 Autor(es)SARAIVA, José António.
2. MARIA ISABEL BRAGA ABECASIS has a degree in History through Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa and a Librarian-Archivist course through Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra. She was responsible for the Library of the Mafra National Palace from 1990 to 1992 and for the archive of the Ajuda Nacional Palace/Museum from 1992 to 2003. Currently she works at Torre do Tombo National Archive (Portuguese national archive).
3. The priest Manuel Portal states that “the area of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda was one of the least affected”, cited by Francisco Luís Pereira de Sousa, O Terremoto do 1o de Novembro de 1755 em Portugal e um estudo demográfico, vol III, Lisboa, Tipografia do Comércio, 1923, p. 699.
4. Francisco Luís Pereira de Sousa, Effeitos do terremoto de 1755 nas construções de Lisboa, Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional, 1909, p 39.
5. Isabel Maria Barreira de Campos, O grande terramoto (1755), Portugal, Editorial Parceria, 1998, p. 382
6. Opinion of Ana Miquelina, who accompanied infanta D. Carlota Joaquina to Portugal following her marriage to infante D. João, future King D. João VI, would however be different. She states to the infanta’s mother, Maria Luísa de Bourbon Parma: “We are living in a beautiful hut”. Biblioteca da Ajuda, Documentos Avulsos, 54-IX-20 (103), Letter from Ana Miquelina, handmaiden of infanta D. Carlota Joaquina to the infanta’s mother, Maria Luísa de Bourbon Parma, princess of Astúrias and future Queen of Spain [Ajuda 1785-11-9-1788].
Modern time of National Palace of Belem
By a royal decree published in the Diário do Governo on September 4, 1908, the palace ceased to be a royal residence and became part of the Treasury to accommodate heads of state, princes, and foreign missions visiting Lisbon, under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Below as the simplified sequence of modern events of the Belem Palace:
- In 1908, the palace became part of the Public Treasury, no longer belonging to the Royal House. Its purpose was to accommodate Heads of State, Princes, and foreign missions visiting Lisbon.
In 1910 Belem Palace became the official residence of the president of Portugal and now is officially named National Palace of Belém.
- In 1929, renovations were made to the palace in anticipation of a visit by the King of Spain, who ultimately did not come.
- Between 1951 and 1952, the Arrábida wing of the palace was remodeled to serve as the residence of the President of the Republic, General Francisco Craveiro Lopes.
- In 1967, the Belem Palace was classified as a Property of Public Interest. Decreto n.º 47 508, DG, I Série, n.º 20, de 24-01-1967 (classificou o "Palácio Nacional de Belém" como IIP) (ver Decreto)
- The palace suffered damage from an earthquake in 1969.
- After the Carnation Revolution in 1974, the palace became a seat of power and a venue for political decisions and meetings.
- Following the election of General António Ramalho Eanes as President of the Republic in 1976, significant renovations were carried out, particularly in the Arrábida wing, to adapt it for use as the official residence of the head of state and family.
- From 1980 to 1985, the Dining room was used as a museum center to display gifts offered to the Head of State.
- Construction of the Documentation and Information Center building began in 1998, designed by architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça.
- In 2002, painter Paula Rego was commissioned to create a set of paintings on the theme of the Cycle of the Life of the Virgin Mary and the Passion of Jesus Christ to decorate the palace chapel.
- The Museum of the Presidency of the Republic opened on October 5, 2004.
- In 2005, an exhibition titled Do Palácio de Belém was held at the King's Painting Gallery, presenting the history, architecture, and artistic contents of the palace.
- In 2006, the property was reclassified as a National Monument and its boundaries were adjusted to include the entire complex, including the palace and gardens.
The Portuguese Institute of Architectural Heritage (Instituto Português do Património Arquitectónico ), IPPAR, confirms that the following was designated as the National Palace of Belem: National Palace of Belém and the entire intramural complex, including the Palace, gardens, and other dependencies, as well as the Tropical Botanical Garden, formerly known as the Agricultural Tropical Garden-Museum.
Inside the Belem Palace
Inside the Belem Palace, built in Baroque and Neoclassical style, the highlights include the Bicas Room, with two fountains and a marble floor, the Golden Room, the Empire Room, and the Louis XV Room. The inside decoration includes various mythological themes, with statues, busts, and classical-inspired frescoes, as well as some 18th-century azulejo panels.
The main space of the building features a series of rooms along the south side.
You can see guards, guarding the entrance to Belem Palace, see picture above.
the Sala das Bicas
The highlight of this area is the Sala das Bicas, a grand marble vestibule. The ceiling is adorned with carved flora and colorful azulejo ashlars from the 18th century. Two round marble fountains with lion heads are observed along one wall, giving the room its name. Additionally, there are eight jasper busts of Roman emperors on plinths surrounding the space.
The Sala Dourada
The Sala Dourada, also known as the Salão de Baile, has a paneled ceiling with a central allegory of the Roman Empire. The ceiling also features murals and crown molding medallions in a neo-Pompeian style.
The Sala Luís XV
In the Sala Luís XV, the paneled walls are adorned with a series of paintings topped by two shields representing the House of Braganza and Orléans.
The chapel, which has smooth walls and wood paneling, showcases a Neoclassical retable in gold-leafed wood. The retable includes a painting by André Reinoso depicting The Adoration of the Shepherds. The vaulted ceiling of the chapel is decorated with various decorative motifs in a style similar to those found in the Sala Dourada. On the walls, there are paintings by artist Paula Rego depicting the Circle of Life of the Virgin Mary and the Passion of Christ.
Belem Palace Gardens
The Belem Palace building is complemented by beautiful gardens.
The Belem Palace gardens had statues, boxwood avenues, pavilions, lakes, and cascades with allegorical ornamentation, as well as a few of courtyards. Courtyard of the Ladies and Courtyard of the Animals, can accessed by a ramp leading to the palace.
The complex also includes the Documentation and Information Center, designed by architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça, and the Presidency Museum, inaugurated in 2004.
In the area of the former Belém Palace enclosure, the Tropical Botanical Garden was installed in 1912, now known as the Tropical Agricultural Museum Garden (formerly the Overseas Garden). It is a beautiful and vast garden, covering about seven hectares, specializing in tropical and subtropical flora, mainly from former Portuguese colonies.
It includes over 500 species from various continents, including rare exotic specimens and many species that are endangered or extinct in their countries of origin. The Tropical Botanical Garden is located here.
The garden's grounds also feature notable buildings such as the Palace of the Counts of Calheta, the Director's House, the Deer House, and the Great Greenhouse, an early 20th-century iron structure, as well as various statues.
Read more about the National Belem gardens in "Tratado da Grandeza dos Jardins em Portugal" Local Lisboa Date 1987 Autor(es)CARITA, Hélder, CARDOSO, Homem.
The Presidency Museum is located in the Belém Palace and is open for visitors every day except Mondays. Inside the museum, you can learn about the history of the Portuguese Republic and its Presidents.
The museum includes various rooms such as the Bicas Room, the Dining Room, the Golden Room, the Chapel, the Empire Room, the Ambassadors Room, and the Official Office of the President of the Republic.
Additionally, outside the museum, you can explore the Pátio dos Bichos as well as the Buxo, Tileiras, and Cascata gardens.
The permanent collection includes exhibitions about the national symbols like the flag and anthem, as well as photographs that showcase the role of the presidents throughout history.
One gallery displays portraits of every Portuguese president, while another showcases the gifts, they received from world leaders and other important people.
Note as of 2023, the permanent exhibition at the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic is currently closed due to technical difficulties. However, the tours of the Belém Palace and the temporary exhibition titled António José de Almeida and the 'glorious journey' to Brazil are still being conducted.
Here are 12 attractions near the Belém Palace in Belém:
National Coach Museum (Museu Nacional dos Coches): Located near the palace, within 2-minutes walk.
Monastery of St. Jerome (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos), a fine example of Manueline Architecture with Mudejar style elements, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This 18th century coach was used by the Royal Portuguese family and is now located in National Coach Museum of Lisbon.
A replica of 6 horses that were kept in Belem Palace Stables to draw the Crown Carriage, displayed in National Coach Museum in Belem, Portugal.
The stunning Jeronimos Monastery is a short 5-minutes walk from Belem Palace.
Botanical Gaden of Ajuda (Jardim Botânico d'Ajuda): an outstanding botanical garden with fountains, plants & species from Portugal's former colonies. The best attraction is though – a large family of peacocks.
Palace of Ajuda (Palácio Nacional da Ajuda): A neoclassical monument in Ajuda, the city of Lisbon, central Portugal. 20-minutes walk. It's neoclassical palace was the 19th-century residence of the royal family. It is the museum of decorative arts now.
Botanical Garden of Ajuda is located about 20-minues walk from Belem Palace and is well worth visiting. The entrance is 2 euros and it's not complementary even with the Lisbon card.
National Palace of Ajuda is located about 25-minues walk from Belem Palace and well worth visiting. The entrance is 2 euros and it's not free even with the Lisbon card.
Belém Tower (Torre de Belém): A fortified tower built in 1515-1521 as part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus river.
Memorial Church of St. Jerome (Igreja da Memória): A church built in memory of Vasco da Gama, located near the Belém Palace.
Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga) - the best museum in Lisbon! 25-minutes walk.
Pasteis de Belem - the best Pastel de Nato in Portugal! It's a next door to Belem Palace, walking towards Jeronimos Monastry.
MAAT - Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia): A museum housed in a former power station that showcases contemporary art, architecture, and technology.
Garden of Afonso de Albuquerque (Jardim Afonso de Albuquerque) - a small, well mantained garden right in front of the Belem Palace with a tall statue of Alfonso Albuquerque. It's a great place to rest in the shade in the middle of the day in summer.
Garden Vasco da Gama is a lovely park, a 3-minutes walk from Belem Palace. It has Thai gazebo, a gift from Thailand, and a statue of Vasco da Gama. The park is hidden behind the buildings right across from the Pasteis de Belem. The address of the Garden Vasco da Gama is here.
Ultramar Garden (Jardim do Ultramar): A garden located south of the palace close to the River Tagus.
Planetário de Lisboa: A planetarium that offers educational programs on astronomy and space science.
Cultural Center of Belém (Centro Cultural de Belém - CCB): A cultural center that hosts exhibitions, concerts, theater performances, and other events.
Jardim da Praça do Império: A garden located near the Belém Palace that offers a panoramic view of the Tagus river and its surroundings.
Electricity Museum (Museu da Electricidade): A museum dedicated to electricity and energy.
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The Belem Tower is located a short-distance from the Belem Palace. However, because you have to cross railway trucks, you can do it only at the bridge over them. So, plan for about a 20 minutes walk from the Belem Palace.