Read about alluring Pombaline Architecture that emerged in the 18th century. It was born as a part of significant changes in urban planning in Lisbon following the devastating Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.

It was introduced by  Marquis de Pombal among other Pombaline reforms in Lisbon.

One of the interesting features of Pombaline buildings was a new earthquake-proof buildings technique - Pombaline Cage.

There were also other new elements and design styles as well, which I talk about in this post. 

2 beautiful, colorful buildings with elaborate iron balconies & a custom sign: 'Pombaline architecture'
2 beautiful, colorful buildings with elaborate iron balconies & a custom sign: 'Pombaline architecture'

Pombaline Architecture: Unique Style Emerged from Reforms

Updated February 6th, 2024

Hello, I’m Tatiana. I’m hopelessly in love with old uniquely looking buildings, and cozy urban scenes, and finding best places in Europe to go. Check out Alonga Travel for my travel tips and reviews of the best European destinations and city breaks. Let's connect on social media!

Summary of the main points of this page

On this page I talk about Pombaline architecture and:

  • Baixa Pombalina. The downtown district of Lisbon that was rebuilt using the Pombaline style, with a grid-like street layout, wide boulevards, and uniformed buildings.

  • Pombaline Cage - a revolutionary new earthquake proof invention. 

  • Decorative Elements of the style. The Pombaline style incorporated various decorative elements to add visual interest to the buildings, while keeping the overall uniform appearance for increased functionality. 

  • Modern Examples. I present some examples of how the Pombaline style is preserved and adapted in modern flats and houses, as well as how to see many Pombaline buildings on a tram ride.

THE POMBALINE STYLE

The Pombaline style was a Portuguese architectural style of the 18th century the first Marquês of Pombal, who was instrumental in reconstructing Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755.

The earthquake resulted in widespread destruction and loss of life, the Marquis of Pombal was appointed as the chief minister of the kingdom by King José I. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive and well-planned rebuilding effort, he took charge of the reconstruction process.

The new Pombaline style of architecture in the reconstructed areas were aimed at rationality and accessibility, unity and homogeneity, to facilitate movement within the city.

The Pombaline Style introduced a grid-like urban layout with 12 meters wide, straight boulevards intersecting at right angles.

The changes Marquise de Pombal has implemented were so revolutionary, that they were named as the new style--Pombaline Style.

Key features and characteristics of Pombaline architecture

Here are some key features and characteristics of Pombaline architecture:

  • - Pombaline buildings usually have up to four floors, with ground-floor arcades for shops and balconies on the upper floors.

  • - This architectural style is often associated with the creation of wide-grid streets, which improve urban planning and traffic flow.

  • - Pombaline buildings are known for their earthquake-resistant construction techniques, with features like wooden frameworks and stone walls.

  • - Ornamental details such as decorative facades, intricate stonework, and elaborate balconies are common in Pombaline architecture.

Let's look at all these characteristics in more details.

Pombaline downtown Lisbon or Baixa Pombalina

Pombaline downtown, located in the historic center of Lisbon, is the best example of the Pombaline style, with its carefully planned streets and spacious boulevards.

It is located in the area north of Praça do Comércio, between Cais do Sodré and Alfama district beneath Lisbon Castle. It is also boarded by Avenida da Liberdade.

Baixa Pombalina was born out of necessity after the devastating Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, which left much of the city in ruins. Under the leadership of the Marquis of Pombal, the district was carefully designed and reconstructed to ensure the safety, functionality, and aesthetic appeal of the new city center.

 Modern street in Pombaline downtown with beautiful Pombaline style buildings around the street
 Modern street in Pombaline downtown with beautiful Pombaline style buildings around the street

Pombaline downtown or Baixa Pombalina

Modern Baixa area on a map
Modern Baixa area on a map

1. © OpenStreetMap, Mapbox and Mapcarta

he old Topographic map of the ruined city of Lisbon with new planned to build areas
he old Topographic map of the ruined city of Lisbon with new planned to build areas

2.The old Topographic map of the ruined city of Lisbon and of the newly designed by architects Eugénio dos Santos Carvalho and Carlos Mardel, Baixa Pombalina. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art.

Modern map of Baixa Pombalina in modern Lisbon

Grid-like street layout of Lisbon

The Marquis of Pombal, with the assistance of architects and military engineers Eugénio dos Santos, Manuel da Maia and Elias Sebastião Pope, introduced a revolutionary for Portugal grid-like street layout for Baixa Pombalina.

The grid-like layout of Baixa Pombalina incorporated wide boulevards that intersected at right angles. This design created a sense of order and made it easier for people to navigate through the city. The wide boulevards in Baixa Pombalina had plenty of room for both people walking and vehicles, making it easier for everyone to get around. This created better accessibility and made moving around the area much more convenient.

The grid-like layout of Baixa Pombalina was inspired by Enlightenment ideals and urban planning concepts of the time.

The Enlightenment and urban planning

The Enlightenment was a period in history characterized by the emphasis on reason, logic, and progress. In the context of urban planning, Enlightenment thinkers believed in creating organized and functional cities that would improve the lives of their inhabitants.

And that is exactly what Pombaline architecture provides.

The architecture of Baixa Pombalina is a unique blend of Neoclassical and Pombaline styles.

Baixa Pombalina was not only a physical reconstruction project but also an opportunity to improve the quality of life for the inhabitants of Lisbon. The Marquis of Pombal implemented regulations for public health and sanitation, ensuring better living conditions for the residents. Read more

The district became a center of commerce, trade, and cultural exchange. The grand Rua Augusta, the main street of Baixa Pombalina, served as a vibrant commercial hub, lined with shops, cafes, and theaters. It became a symbol of the city's resilience and revival, attracting locals and visitors alike.

Today, Baixa Pombalina is a lively district with historical landmarks, famous squares, and vibrant shopping streets. Tourists love its beautiful buildings and energetic atmosphere, a lovely blend of the past and present.

Baixa was designed not only with a grid-like street layout and wider boulevards. All buildings started being constructed with new sturdy materials and construction techniques, such as the famous Pombaline Cage.

Busy modern grid-like layout streets in Baixa with beautiful balconies on Pombaline style buildings
Busy modern grid-like layout streets in Baixa with beautiful balconies on Pombaline style buildings

Baixa Pombalina area of Lisbon

Pombaline Cage

Pombaline Cage, also known as Gaiola Pombalina, is the building seismic-resistant construction technique that was developed during the reconstruction of Lisbon, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. It involves reinforcing a masonry structure with an internal wooden cage.

This construction method was used during the reconstruction of Lisbon Baixa, the downtown area of Lisbon.

The Pombaline Cage was named after the Marquis of Pombal, makes buildings more flexible and resistant to earthquakes. It uses wooden frameworks and flexible connections, acted as a shock absorber, allowing the buildings to sway during seismic events and minimizing damage.

Before the Pombaline Cage, buildings in Lisbon were mostly made of stone or masonry, which didn't hold up well during earthquakes.

Marquis de Pombal recognized the need for a stronger construction method that could withstand future earthquakes. He implemented strict building regulations that required structures to be built with sturdy materials and specific design features to withstand future earthquakes.

Pombaline Cage uses a wooden framework that creates a grid-like pattern inside the walls of the buildings. Metal connectors, like iron straps, are used to connect the wooden beams and columns, allowing them to move and absorb the energy produced by earthquakes.

Pombaline Cage has several advantages when it comes to earthquake resistance. The wooden framework allows the buildings to sway during earthquakes without collapsing. This helps to distribute the seismic forces evenly throughout the structure and prevents stress from concentrating on specific points.

The wooden framework is also lighter than solid masonry walls, reducing the overall weight of the buildings. This weight reduction improves the structural integrity and stability of the constructions.

The implementation of the Pombaline Cage technique was a significant advancement in building construction and earthquake resilience. It not only allowed for the reconstruction of Lisbon, but also influenced architectural practices in other earthquake-prone regions around the world.

Today, the Pombaline Cage is recognized as an important feature of Lisbon's buildings. Many structures in the city's Baixa Pombalina district, which was rebuilt using this technique, still have the characteristic wooden framework within their walls.

The Pombaline Cage showcases the creation of a safer and more resilient city of Lisbon and later – all of Portugal. Its innovative design and earthquake-resistant properties have contributed to the preservation of Lisbon's and Portuguese architectural heritage, allowing future generations to appreciate the city's and country's history and advancements in building construction.

In addition to grid-like planning, use of sturdy materials and Pomaline Cage, Marquise de Pombal's architects introduced a new style of buildings—Pombaline buildings.

Brown wooden carcass of Pombaline cage from a museum
Brown wooden carcass of Pombaline cage from a museum

Wooden carcass of Pombaline cage. Galinhola, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>

One of the goals of the Pombaline Style was to create a unified and harmonious urban environment. The buildings within the reconstructed areas of Lisbon were designed to have a uniformed appearance following the regulations and guidelines set forth by the Marquis of Pombal.

This led to the creation of a unique style of buildings in Lisbon—Pombaline buildings.

Pombaline buildings in Lisbon

Pombaline buildings are 3-4 story structures with ground floor arcades, first floor balconies, and an attic, with simple and symmetrical facades and some decorative elements, including azulejos. The overall design is consistent, but the decorative elements on the façade vary based on the building's importance and purpose.

The design typically follows a three to four-story structure, with the ground floor reserved for commercial spaces and the upper floors used for residential purposes. Large storefront windows on the ground floor invite pedestrians into shops and businesses. The upper floors have regularly spaced windows that align with the overall symmetry of the building.

A row of bright differently colored but uniformly looking Pombaline buildings
A row of bright differently colored but uniformly looking Pombaline buildings

A row of Pombaline buildings in Lisbon

Ornamental Elements of Pombaline buildings in Lisbon

While the Pombaline Style prioritizes functionality and simplicity, it also incorporates decorative elements to add visual interest.

One prominent decorative feature found in Pombaline buildings is the use of azulejos, the typical Portuguese ceramic tiles. Azulejos cover both the façades and interiors of buildings, adding a touch of decoration a functionality.

Azulejos often depict intricate geometric designs, floral motifs, or scenes from history and mythology. They serve as both decorative elements and a cultural representation of Portugal's rich tradition of tile craftsmanship

Blue colored azulejos on a Pombaline building in Lisbon
Blue colored azulejos on a Pombaline building in Lisbon
Azulejos covering an inner yard of a Pombaline building with floral motives
Azulejos covering an inner yard of a Pombaline building with floral motives