The best independent guide to Lisbon
The best independent guide to Lisbon
The Largo do Carmo plaza is one of the hidden gems of central Lisbon.
This charming plaza is very different from most of Lisbon’s grand plazas, and offers a calm ambience, set amidst the shade of the ancient jacaranda trees.
The Largo do Carmo is slightly off the main tourist routes, but the fascinating monuments, relaxed atmosphere, and a selection of outstanding restaurants, make the plaza a favourite with visitors.
The Chafariz do Carmo fountain in the Largo do Carmo
The Largo do Carmo is named after the Igreja do Carmo and convent which once took centre place for the plaza.
Today the church is poignant memorial to the devastation of the 1755 earthquake, which just the skeleton form of the arches remaining.
The ruins of the Igreja do Carmo Church in Lisbon
The convent attached to this once mighty church has been repurposed as the GNR police headquarters.
This complex is historically important as it was here that Estado Novo surrendered power after 50 years of dictatorship during the 1974 Carnation Revolution.
Housed within the church and the convent are two small but informative museums, with the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo in the ruins of the church and the Museum of National Republican Guard, a military museum in the GNR headquarters.
To the rear of the Igreja do Carmo is the Elevador de Santa Justa, an industrial age marvel, which transport passengers up the 42m from the Baixa district. At the centre of the Largo do Carmo, is the ornate Chafariz do Carmo fountain, which once provided fresh water for the entire district.
The square is a popular location for an alfresco dining experience, and the open-air restaurants are shaded by the ancient Jacarandas trees, with their long-lasting violet flowers.
The terraces in front of the Igreja do Carmo have become one of Lisbon’s trendiest evening hangouts, with cocktails and views over the city.
The remainder of the article will explain in detail each of these sights and include entrance fees, opening hours and tourist information.
One of the trendiest hangouts in Lisbon is the Topo Chiado, on the terraces behind the Largo do Carmo
One of the best ways to discover Lisbon and to meet fellow travellers is to join a guided tour. We have worked with Getyourguide.com for the last six years, and some of the best tours of Lisbon include:
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.
To view the interior of the church a ticket to the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo must be purchased.
Note: The full history of the Igreja do Carmo is given at the end of this article
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.
Before being donated to the Archaeologists Igreja do Carmo in 1864, the ruins of the Igreja do Carmo was used a wood store. The museum is open 10:00-19:00 (10:00-18:00 winter) and the admission fee is €5.00, further information can be seen on their website:
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 is a small but interesting museum and the entrance fee is only €2.
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.
The Comando Geral and a guard in full uniform
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 (€6.60 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).
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