The Carmo Convent sits high on one of the 7 hills of Lisbon. Anyone wandering the downtown Rossio area of Lisbon will notice the large Gothic arches of the Convent rise high above the buildings around it. As they rise above the buildings they quickly catch your eye as you scan the surrounds This is what drew us to explore the convent. I had never seen anything like it before. Usually, this type of Gothic architecture is hidden under a roof not exposed for all to see.
History of the Carmo Convent
Officially titled The Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, The convent is located in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon. The Convent was founded in 1389. In 1407 the Presbytery and apses of the Convent Church were finished. By 1551, the Convent sheltered 70 clergy and 10 servants.
The earthquake of 1755 and the subsequent tsunami that practically destroyed the downtown Lisbon area did not spare the Carmo Convent. The earthquake caused major damage to the Gothic structure and library at the Convent containing a reported 5000 plus books was lost.
While most places would be restored or knocked down it was decided to keep the ruins as they were, with some repair work,as a reminder of what happened. This really brings home the enormity of what happened to the city of Lisbon on that day and just how much it affected the entire city.
Visit the Carmo Archaeological Museum
Entry to the Carmo convent and the museum is just off Square Largo Do Carmo. You will see the big heavy doors that will lead you to the ticket booth and they look so sturdy. When you first walk into the building it certainly has the wow factor. I found myself standing just starting at this amazing Gothic design of the building. The Arches seemed to rise out from all places in the building with the perfect blue sky as its backdrop. There are steps to walk down but they are also used to sit and ponder. Ponderwhat the convent would have looked like before it was destroyed.
I loved walking around and seeing what had been saved. There were so many things carved into the walls like in any church you would see on your travels. I loved walking between them all and finding out what they were and what their significance to the church was. It also made me think of all the people who would have perished in the church as it collapsed. The church would have been very full as it was All Saints Day and people were all out to celebrate this Holy day.
On numerous occasions, I was pleased that the church has been left the way the earthquake made it. I was also surprised at how well some of the pieces they had out in the open air had stayed so preserved. As you make your way down to the back of the church where the nave used to be, there is now a museum.
Meet the Mummies of Carmo Museum
The museum is a unique array of artefacts that have been collected over the years. They have been assembled together in what used to be the main altar of the building. Artefacts from prehistoric time to modern day are on display. For my kids, the main attraction was the two South American mummies and some shrunken heads that are well preserved, behind glass, on display for all to see. It was one of those things for small kids, they were both interested, intrigued and scared by the display all at the same time. Our eldest daughter was intrigued by the mummies but this was just a little too much for our youngest. One of the ladies behind the desk noticed me trying to calm Marley and answer her questions about what the mummy was.
The museum attendant came over and although her English was not great reassured Marley enough to go and sit near the small shop so I could see the rest of the artefacts that were there. The museum also houses some tombs most notably the largest one is of King Ferdinand I. The most prominent ancient find on display is a Roman tomb with carvings depicting the Muses. You could spend plenty of time looking at the beautifully carved scenes. Sculptures, engraving and coins from the 13th century and bust of King D. Afonso Henriques were interesting to look at. The museum also hosts travelling exhibitions from time to time.
Carmo Convent is well worth a visit
We spent around 30-45 minutes in the Carmo Convent and Museum looking around. You exit out a side door that places you right next to the top of the Santa Justa Lift. This provides you with some amazing views over Lisbon. If you are visiting Lisbon it is a must see. Our whole family found something interesting in the museum. It is still a place the girls talk about when we are chatting about Lisbon. Carmo Convent along with The Castles of Sintra and Belem are certainly places not to be missed in Lisbon
When in Lisbon we Choose to stay at Lisbon Historic Centre Apartments.
These apartments are 100 meters away from Carmo Convent and Square Largo Do Carmo
A full-time worker in Disability support and part time traveller when time, money and kids schooling allow.
Next up for Wyld Family Travel is 10 weeks in Europe from November 2016 till January 2017. We will be visiting Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland, Iceland, Denmark, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia
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