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The beautiful Basilica da Estrela was constructed as a religious obligation by Queen Mary I of Portugal after she gave birth to healthy heir to the Portuguese throne. The lovingly designed Basilica proved an insufficient offering, as Jose died two years before the final completion of the Basilica da Estrela. Mary grieved till her death and the miserable queen was buried in the basilica dedicated to her son.
The tram infront of the Basílica da Estrela
Today the Basilica da Estrela is regarded as one of the most ornate churches of Lisbon with a detailed front facade and intricate geometric marble patterns that line the interior. On display is a permanent nativity scene that is composed of 500 figures and carved from cork. The Basilica da Estrela lies to the western side of Lisbon and is away from the common tourist trail but visitors who make the short tram journey will be richly rewarded with one of the finest churches in Portugal.
Queen Mary I of Portugal (December 17, 1734 – March 20, 1816) was the first monarch to rule over all of what is considered today as Portugal and Brazil. She foresaw that without a child and heir to the throne the infighting between powerful nobles would divide her country which she had spent her life uniting. Queen Mary I was a deeply religious women and she prayed to God offering to build the greatest church of Lisbon if she were able to bare a healthy child.
Queen Mary’s husband Pedro III was her senior by 20 years but Mary bore a child on the 20th August 1761, José (Prince of Brazil). The pious queen made true on her act of devotion and started construction of the Estrela Basilica in the winter of 1761.
The magnificent size of the Basilica in combination with the delicate marble detail resulted in death of Jose before the completion of the Basilica dedicated to him. José died in 1788 at the age of 27 from smallpox, 2 years before the completion of the Basilica da Estrela and his mother lived for another 28 years.
The Estrela Basilica
The Basilica da Estrela is a fitting memorial to Jose, constructed in the late baroque and neoclassical style, similar to that of the opulent Mafra National Palace. The Basilica is situated at the top of one of Lisbon’s seven hills which extenuates the height of the huge rococo domed roof.
The Rococo style of architecture originated in France and was a branch of the baroque style which incorporated pastel colours in asymmetric designs and patterns, this style can be clearly seen both inside and out of the Basilica da Estrela. The Basilica da Estrela when original constructed was on the very western edge of Lisbon far away from the overcrowded, poverty stricken districts of Alfama.
Basilica of Lisbon
Inside the Basilica da Estrela the walls and floors are lined by Portuguese black and pink marble which has been arranged to form geometric patterns following the ideals of Rococo styling. Situated on the right of the transept is the elaborate empire-style tomb of Queen Mary and it is fitting that she is buried within her beloved basilica.
The other major attraction of the Basilica da Estrela is the 500 figured nativity scene which was sculptured out of cork by the artist Joaquim Machado de Castro. The huge nativity scene is on permanent display. Across the road from the Basilica da Estrela is the delightful Jardim da Estrela Park and is the perfect location to join Lisbon’s residence relaxing enjoy the weather. The park contains sculptures, exotic plants and an attractive wrought-iron gazebo.
The easiest method of transport to reach the Basilica da Estrela is by the traditional tram (trams 25 or 28) which runs between Praça do Comércio and the Basilica da Estrela. The Basilica is open every day from 7:30am to 8pm and is free to enter. The closest metro station is Rato but this involves a 10 minute walk along the Avenue De Alvares Cabral and through the park Jardim da Estrela.