First, let me admit that Lisbon is one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. From the grandeur of Commerce Square to the shopping along Rua Augusta, the nightlife and restaurants in Bairro Alto, the winding passageways of the Alfama and the incredible views from the Castle of Saint George the entire city beckons me. And the relatively low cost of food and lodging just adds to the enjoyment.
Most cities in Europe offer at least one site that casts a spell of calm retrospect that is not soon forgotten. Such is the case in Lisbon with the magnificent ruins of the Carmo Church and Convent (located at spot #240 of our Discovery Walk in Lisbon).
In front of the church is a quiet tree-lined square known as the Largo do Carmo. The fountain in the square is an 18th century creation with a domed roof resting on four columns and featuring four dolphins. Although its peaceful surrounding gives the square a tranquil feeling today, in the past this same square was the scene of one of the most important gatherings in the history of Portugal during the Carnation Revolution of 1974.
But the church structure adjacent to the square is the main reason for being at this site. This imposing Gothic structure was originally built in 1389, sitting on a hill that is now in Lisbon’s Baixa district overlooking the lower section of the city and opposite the castle and the Se cathedral on the opposite side.
This was the largest and richest church in all of Lisbon, and on All-Saints day in the year 1755 it was filled with worshippers. At 9:20 that morning, in the middle of services, a great earthquake changed the face of Lisbon forever. The fierce strength of the quake caused the roof of the church to collapse, dropping tons of masonry and killing most of the congregation that had gathered for the day’s worship.
Today, the soaring walls are left open to the sky above the roofless nave, a stunning reminder of the grandeur that was destroyed that day in 1755. The main altar area of the church as well as its chancel survived the earthquake intact and today that portion of the church complex houses the small and somwewhat disorganized Carmo Archaeological Museum.
But the real reason to visit the ruins of the church is not to see the historical artifacts in the museum but to feel first hand the beauty and grandeur that those citizens of Lisbon must have felt when they sat here in worship on that fateful morning.
To download A Discovery Walk in Lisbon or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.