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The Top 5 Museums in lisbon

Updated: Feb 20

View of Lisboa
The bridge "25 de Abril - Photo by Kai_Vogel on Pixabay

If you’re looking for a place to spend your morning, then you should definitely check out some of the top museums in Lisbon. Lisbon is home to a number of world-class art and cultural institutions and as such, it’s no wonder that so many travelers choose to visit the city just for its museums.

The National Museum of Ancient Art

The National Museum of Ancient Art - Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The most important museum of art from the 12th to the 19th centuries in Portugal is the National Museum of Ancient Art (in Portuguese Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga). It houses the country's most significant collection of ancient art. The collections - around 40,000 pieces - include European paintings, sculptures, drawings and decorative arts, as well as Asian and African art from India, China, Japan, and other countries representing the connections that European countries established with the East following the voyages of exploration - which began in the 15th century and were first pioneered by Portugal.

The Museum contains the largest collection of Portuguese painting, and of other European schools, with great emphasis on works dealing with religious subjects, which is due to the fact that the religious class was the main consumer of art in Portugal until the 19th century, from whose monasteries and convents the initial funds of the museum came, at the time of the disamortization (suppression of religious orders) of 1834. This religious presence was further increased when the law of separation of the state and the church was passed in 1911, with a new wave of expropriations of works of art that were still in the possession of the church, either in the Episcopal Palace or in the temples themselves. It also has many pieces of sculpture, goldsmithery, including among other pieces the Custody of Belém and the Custody of Bemposta, ceramics, and other applied arts, allowing a global view of what were the manifestations of Portuguese art, and other European schools, from the Middle Ages to the first half of the nineteenth century. The collection is also completed with a nucleus of oriental and African pieces of European influence, mostly in response to Western orders and destined to these external markets. In these pieces, the theme of the discoveries is always present, illustrating Portugal's connections and relationships with Brazil, Africa, India, China, and Japan.

The collection is composed of about 2200 paintings of national and European origin; 3200 pieces of goldsmithery and jewelry from Portugal, France, and other European manufacturers, from the 12th century to the 19th century. As for furniture, made up of 1,700 pieces, it is possible to find Portuguese, European, and oriental pieces. The ceramics collection includes 7,500 pieces in faience and porcelain of Portuguese, European, and Oriental manufacture. The textiles are also numerous, with 4,500 pieces that due to their material characteristics are exhibited in rotation.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum - Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum contains one of the planet's most precious private art collections. It includes paintings from Egypt to the early 20th century, Asian and Western paintings, René Lalique's jewellery, Impressionist works, and Chinese and Japanese art.

The permanent exhibition and galleries are distributed chronologically and in geographical order to create two independent circuits within the overall tour.

The first circuit highlights Greco-Roman art from classical antiquity, as well as art from the ancient Near East and the Nile Valley. Among the artworks are ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Persian, and Armenian pieces, as well as Persian art from the Islamic period.

The second circuit includes European art, with sections dedicated to the art of the book, sculpture, painting and the decorative arts, particularly 18th century French art and the work of René Lalique. In this circuit, a wide-ranging number of pieces reflect various European artistic trends from the beginning of the 11th century to the mid-20th century. The section begins with works in ivory and illuminated manuscript books, followed by a selection of 15th, 16th and 17th century sculptures and paintings. Renaissance art produced in the Netherlands, Flanders, France and Italy is on display in the next room.

French 18th century decorative art has a special place in the museum, with outstanding gold and silver objects and furniture, as well as paintings and sculptures. This section is followed by galleries exhibiting a large group of paintings by the Venetian Francesco Guardi, 18th and 19th century English paintings, and finally a superb collection of jewels and glass by René Lalique, displayed in its own room.

Some of the works in the collection were bought during the Soviet sale of Hermitage paintings. Of about 6000 items in the museum's collections, a selection of around 1000 is on permanent exhibition. Gulbenkian's motto was "only the best"; hence the museum has masterpieces by several western European artists.

The Berardo Collection Museum

The Berardo Collection Museum - Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Berardo Collection Museum (in Portuguese: Museu Colecção Berardo) is a museum of modern and contemporary art in Belém, a district of Lisbon.

In 2006, after 10 years of negotiations, José Berardo signed an agreement with the Portuguese government to loan art from his collection on a long-term basis to the Centro Cultural de Belém in Lisbon. Under the partnership agreement the Portuguese state incurs the costs of displaying Berardo’s collection. The museum was formally initiated as the Foundation of Modern and Contemporary Art on August 9, 2006 and was inaugurated on June 25, 2007 and is named after Berardo and his collection.

Since its opening, the collection has been located at the Exhibition Center of the Centro Cultural de Belém, with over 1,000 works of art on permanent display and temporary exhibitions.

The collection is arranged in strictly linear fashion, leading visitors though a line of line of rooms with austere white walls on which are displayed examples of notable works of modern art with explanatory text offering a textbook-like survey of modern Western art from surrealism to pop art, hyper-realism, minimalist art to conceptual art in chronological order.

The museum has an extensive permanent collection and also hosts temporary exhibitions that change on a regular basis.

The National Coach Museum

The National Coach Museum - Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The National Coach Museum (in Portuguese Museu Nacional de Coches) has the most significant collection of royal carriages and coaches from the 16th to the 19th centuries. In 1905, the National Coach Museum (Museu Nacional de Coches) was established in the Riding Arena of the Royal Palace of Belém in Lisbon. Today, it consists of two buildings: the former riding arena of the Palace of Belém (Praça Afonso de Albuquerque) and the new building opposite (Av. da India), which was inaugurated in 2015. The museum displays a collection of more than 9,000 objects, which includes predominantly gala or show coaches from the 16th to the 19th centuries and cavalry accessories. The Riding Arena of the Royal Palace of Belém has been the most popular national museum in Portugal, with 382,593 visitors in 2016. Paulo Mendes da Rocha (Pritzker Prize 2006) designed the new building, in conjunction with Ricardo Bak Gordon and the Ricardo Bak Gordon studio, in partnership with Paulo Mendes da Rocha.

The Museum gathers a unique collection in the world of gala and fancy coaches, from the 16th to the 19th century, mostly from the Portuguese Royal House, to which were added vehicles from Church property and private collections, after the implantation of the Republic in 1910. This excellent set of vehicles allows the visitor to understand the technical and artistic evolution of the animal-drawn means of transport used by the European courts until the appearance of the automobile. The collection includes coaches, sedans, carriages, seges, strollers, children's carriages, sedan chairs, and carriages. The collection also includes shooting harnesses, cavalry harnesses, car accessories, uniforms, musical instruments, an armory, and oil portraits of the monarchs of the House of Bragança.

When the Museu dos Coches Reais opened its doors in 1905, the collection was made up solely of pieces belonging to the Crown's property, collected from various storerooms, coach stables and stables in the Royal Palaces of Belém, Ajuda and Necessidades. Later, members of the Royal Family enriched the collection with objects related to the Museum's theme, where they were deposited indefinitely. The collection includes some exotic harnesses such as a Mexican hunting harness (in silver), two Algerian harnesses - given to Queen D. Amélia by Colonel Ben-Daoud -, a gaucho saddle (Brazilian), a harness with silver applications, given to D. Carlos by the president of the State of Rio Grande do Sul. Carlos by the president of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, an Indian harness (Goa) offered in 1872 by the Hindu chief of the Sinai Dempó family to Prince Dom Augusto, son of Maria II, and also Moroccan harnesses offered by the Sultan of Morocco Muley Hassam to King Dom Luís, together with Arabian horses, in 1878.

Lisbon City Museum

Lisbon City Museum - Palacio Pimenta
Lisbon City Museum - Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Lisbon City Museum (in Portuguese Museu de Lisboa) covers Lisbon's history from ancient times to the present day. It's situated in numerous locations throughout Lisbon, including Pimenta Palace in Campo Grande, the Praça do Comércio in the Lisbon Baixa, and the Casa dos Bicos in Alfama, among others. The network was created to honour Lisbon's history from prehistoric times to the present day.

In 1930, the city purchased Palácio da Mitra, a former Patriarch of Lisbon's palace, to remodel it into a municipal museum. Mário Tavares Chicó, the museum's creator, was the director of the Museu da Cidade (City Museum).

In 1962, the museum purchased Pimenta Palace to serve as its home, because of its more central location and larger facilities. However, the museum only inaugurated the new facilities at Pimenta Palace in 1979, after more than a decade of renovations.

In 2009, a new museological direction for the museum was formulated, along with a new public image plan, which resulted in the transformation of the Museu da Cidade (City Museum) to the Museu de Lisboa (Museum of Lisbon), in 2015. Similarly, the new museological direction decentralized the museum and led to the creation of multiple poles of the museum across the city.

The Museu de Lisboa currently has the following locations:

  • Pimenta Palace (the museum's core location)

  • Casa dos Bicos in Alfama

  • Santo António Church in Alfama

  • Praça do Comércio in the Lisbon Baixa

  • Roman Theatre of Lisbon in the Lisbon Baixa

  • Roman Galleries of Rua da Prata in the Lisbon Baixa


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