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The Largo do Carmo is one of Lisbon’s most charismatic and picturesque squares, which is surrounded by grand baroque houses and numerous important historic monuments. The square is a popular location for a relaxed meal, eaten at one of the open-air restaurants under the shade of the jacarandas trees, but there is a surprising amount to see and do. This article will provide a guide to the Largo do Carmo, the Igreja do Carmo church and the other tourist attractions of the square.
The Chafariz do Carmo fountain in the Largo do Carmo
The Largo do Carmo square overlooks the ruins of the Igreja do Carmo church, and these haunting ruins are a permanent reminder of the devastation and destruction that was caused by the immensely powerful 1755 earthquake. Contained within the ruins is the small Museu Arqueológico do Carmo, one of Portugal’s first archaeology and art museums.
Housed next door in the original Carmo Convent is the GNR police headquarters and the Guarda Nacional Republicana Museum, which has free admission. This building is historically important, as it was here during the 1974 Carnation Revolution that the Estado Novo surrendered power after 50 years of dictatorship, mainly lead by António Salazar.
The ruins of the Igreja do Carmo Church in Lisbon
At the centre of the Largo do Carmo is the ornate Chafariz do Carmo fountain, which was once the main source of water for the district. The square is shaded by ancient jacarandas trees, which during their blooming season fill the square with beautiful lilac flowers.
The Elevador de Santa Justa
There is no better entrance to the Largo do Carmo than a ride up on the majestic the Elevador de Santa Justa lift that transports visitors up the steep hill from the Baixa district. At the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa is one of the finest viewpoints of Lisbon with amazing panoramic views over the entire historic centre.
The Terraços do Carmo are a fantastic location for an evening drink and are rapidly becoming one of Lisbon’s trendiest hangouts. The terraces are situated in front of the Carmo church and provide views over the city while sipping cocktails.
The Terraços do Carmo, amazing for an evening drink
In the Largo de Carmo there is always a lively and social atmosphere and is a great place for a meal with outside dining and entertaining street performers or singers.
The remainder of the article will explain in detail each of these sights and include entrance fees, opening hours and tourist information.
The Igreja do Carmo is the chilling memorial to the devastating earthquake that struck Lisbon on 1st November 1755. Hundreds were killed as the roof collapsed on the congregation gathered for the feast of All Saints, and the fires ignited from the toppled candles raged for days.
The bleak exterior of the Igreja do Carmo stands at stark contrast to the colours of the district, while inside the skeleton arches and towering pillars indicate the size and once religious importance of the Gothic church. The Igreja do Carmo is entered by the gothic red door that leads from to the Largo do Carmo and to explore the interior a ticket to the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo must be purchased. (For the full history of the church please see the end of this article)
After the earthquake, the convent section of the Igreja do Carmo was converted into a military base. Today it is the Comando Geral, the headquarters for the GNR, the paramilitary security force who cover rural Portugal (as opposed to the PSP police who deal with urban areas such as Lisbon). The Guarda Nacional Republicana Museum provides a history of the GNR since its formation in 1911 (from the Republican Guards) to the present day, and includes vehicles, uniforms and weapons. This small but interesting museum is free to enter and is open 10:00-17:00.
The Comando Geral and a guard in full uniform
As the Comando Geral is technically an army base, there are two soldiers stationed outside in full dress uniforms and during the day there is the changing of the guard.
Being the headquarters for the Portuguese paramilitary security forces it was one of the last places to surrender during the 1974 Carnation Revolution, and was were the then leader Marcello Caetano took refuge. The building was the location that the surrender was signed and signified the end of the Estado Novo (new state), this significant historical event in modern Portuguese history is marked by a plaque in the ground.
Museu Arqueologico do Carmo was one of Portugal’s first Archaeology and Art Museum, set up to safeguard the important objects after the expulsion of Religious Orders and the Napoleonic Wars of the 18th century. The small collection of random ancient artefacts often comes second to visiting the interior of the Carmo Church. The museum is open 10:00-19:00 (10:00-18:00 winter) and the admission fee is €4.00. Before being donated to the Archaeologists Igreja do Carmo in 1864, the skeleton shell of the Igreja do Carmo was used a wood store.
The Elevador de Santa Justa is the 1902 lift that connects the Largo do Carmo to the Baixa district. The lift is a magnificent piece of industrial age architecture, with Gothic inspired arches and sumptuous wooden cabins, which when originally constructed was powered by a giant steam engine. A return ride on the Elevador de Santa Justa costs €5.30 but is included in the 24-hour public transport ticket (€6.40 purchased from any metro station).
At the top of the lift is a wonderful viewing platform, which provides panoramic views over central Baixa and is a great location to see the city by night. The entrance fee to the viewing platform costs €1.50.
The Convento da Ordem do Carmo was founded as a convent for the Carmelite Order in 1389 by the Portuguese knight Nuno Álvares Pereira. He won favour with the king of Portugal, King John I, after leading a deceive victory against the Castilian army in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. This victory helped ensure Portugal's independence from Spain and provided the pious Nuno with the fiance to found the Convento da Ordem do Carmo.
The Carmo church and Elevador de Santa Justa as seen from the Baixa district
The Igreja do Carmo was constructed during the same period. In 1404 Nuno donated his entire wealth to the convent and became a full brother in 1423. On the 1st November 1755, Lisbon was ravaged by a massive earthquake. The 1st of November is the feast day of "All Saints" and the Igreja do Carmo was packed with worshippers celebrating the festival. The 8.9 earthquake rocked the church causing the huge roof collapsed crushing hundreds of worshippers. The arches which once supported the massive roof still remain clearly visible from Rossio. The church survived the tsunami which flooded the Baixa district but the candles light for the celebrations toppled and burned.
The skeleton shell of the Igreja do Carmo was converted to a wood store but in 1864 was donated to Association of Portuguese Archaeologists Igreja do Carmo. The association reinforced the damaged walls and transformed the church into the museum which exist to the present day. The Carmo Convent was rebuilt by the military and the complex became a central city base for the army. During the liberation from the of the communist Salazar government the Carmo Convent was the last stronghold of the President and the military loyal to him. The old Carmo Convent has retained its military presence and is now one of the central buildings for the Municipal Guard (Guarda Republicana).