Carmo ruins


Those who visit Lisbon have to mandatorily see the ruins of Carmo, since they are located in the city’s center. What is left of the Carmo Covent is located at the top of a hill (therefore having a prominent position), not far from Praça D. Pedro IV, better known as Rossio.

If we happen to be there, our eyes will inescapably be attracted by Carmo on one side and the Castle on the other. These are two postcards of the city.

São Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal
São Jorge castle

I recommend that you go up Rua do Carmo, immediately followed by Rua Garrett and finally Sacramento. I live in Lisbon and I often go for a walk in this area, I just love it. When you leave it, if you want to go to Rossio again, make use of the Santa Justa lift, another insurmountable milestone of Lisbon.

Carmo square, Lisbon, Portugal
Carmo square

In my opinion, if you visit the Portuguese capital, you must go to Carmo for 10 reasons.

Do not forget to take the Lisbon Passport and stamp it at the store, which is at the end of the visit! Since I have this passport I decided to visit once a month one of Lisbon’s attractions and write about them. The ruins of Carmo were the 1st stamp!

1 – Connection to D. Nuno Álvares Pereira

There was a king in Portugal who left no offspring, so after his death, Nuno Álvares Pereira, a renowned Portuguese knight, supported his own illegitimate son to ascend the throne. The alternative was the Castilian husband of the king’s daughter, something that would force Portugal to lose its independence.

Amid this context, a Portuguese military knight, Nuno Álvares Pereira, had an extremely important role. He eliminated the Castilian threat, making his illegitimate the king of Portugal. For this reason, he was appointed Constable of the Kingdom, an important military position at that time.

D. Nuno Carmelite habit, GNR museum, Lisbon, Portugal

D. Nuno Carmelite habit, GNR museum

2 – Rivalry with the castle

The initiative behind the Convent’s edification had the intent to compete with the king. The Castle, symbol of the royal power, is on the opposite side of the valley of Rossio. Through the construction of a large convent (72 meters in length and a maximum height of 20 meters), the Constable wanted to show his political power. It almost seemed that he wanted to say that his power could match (having the same importance) the King’s.

The convent also proves the Constable’s faith, also consubstantiated by when he joined the Carmelite friars (who occupied the convent), becoming Friar Nuno de Santa Maria. He spent his last years in the Convent and was buried in it.

3 – An engineering challenge for that time

The Constable chose the hill, that would come to be known as Carmo, due to its strategic location and also because it resembled Mount Carmel, located in Palestine. But the construction on top of a hill implied the existence of some edification issues.

The terrain was sandy and the escarpment extremely unstable, and so the building collapsed two times. Nuno Álvares Pereira had to hire two Jewish master builders, who found a way of dealing with the hill’s instability and led to work until its completion.

After entering the Carmo Convent using the main door, soon after ticket office, you will have to go down a flight of stairs. This was a practical solution to solve the issue related to the difference in height.

4 – Church naves discovered

In 1755, there was an earthquake followed by a tsunami (and a fire), responsible for the destruction of a fair share of Lisbon. The event even created an adagio profusely said by the Portuguese when making reference to something catastrophic: “Caiu o Carmo e a Trindade” (“Carmo and Trindade have fallen”, in English).

Most of the convent’s premises did not suffer major damages, but the roof of the church’s nave eventually collapsed, destroying almost all that was inside the temple. Many people died, since a Mass was being celebrated during that moment.

After the earthquake, the Carmelite community of Carmo declined in numbers and the church was abandoned (due to a lack of money), which gave it an aura of sadness and contemplation, much appreciated at the time. The Portuguese intellectuals of the era walked around Carmo, for extensive periods of reflection and exchange of ideas. The ruins of Carmo eventually became an authentic source of inspiration.

Interior of Carmo Church, Lisbon, Portugal
Interior of Carmo Church

5 – Window of Jerónimos Monastery

When entering the Carmo Convent, you will immediately notice a mullioned window, with a central separation and deeply crafted. This piece was in the Jerónimos Monastery, one of the most important monuments of the city of Lisbon.

Window from the Jeronimos Monastery, inside Carmo church, Lisbon, Portugal
Window from the Jeronimos Monastery, inside Carmo church

7 – The walls that seem medieval are the most recent

Much more recently, already in the 40s, the General Direction of National Buildings and Monuments conducted a wide range of works within Carmo Convent. This is a Portuguese state body.

During that period, coats of arms and tombstones were incrusted in the walls, and walls made of Alcobaça tilery were also edified. When you are walking down the stairs of the Church, you will see these walls ahead, in the place where you will have access to the museum. This is where the window that once was part of Jerónimos Monastery is found.

The appearance given to the wall by this tilery is capable of making us believe that it is an old structure, when, in fact, it is one of the most recent elements. 

8 – First museum of art and archelogy of the country

Already in the 19th century, Joaquim Possidónio da Silva, architect of the Portuguese Royal Family, decided to create the first museum of art and archeology of Portugal. He traveled around the country collecting pieces that were found in abandoned buildings. At that time, the heritage was threatened due to the extinction of religious orders, the French invasions and by some existing tensions in Portugal.

Possidónio took to Carmo lots of pieces that he gathered during several years, throughout the journeys he did around the country. He also created the Association of Portuguese Civil Architects. The most modern headquarters of the Portuguese Association of Archaeologists are still located in Carmo.

9 – The convent is right next to it

Carmo Convent is located immediately next to the ruins of the Church. It goes unnoticed quite easily, since the original door disappeared and is currently occupied by Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR), one of the Portuguese police forces. If you visit the GNR museum, you can get acquainted with a little bit of what was once the premises occupied by the Carmelites. You will able to pass by the staircase of access to the former interim Chapel of the Convent and look at some fragments of the old portal, or also the hood of the Carmelites of D. Nuno.

Stone from the old Carmo Convent, GNR museum, Lisbon, Portugal
Stone from the old Carmo Convent, GNR museum

10 – Great place to have  drink

Right next to the ruins, already facing Rossio, there is a fantastic terrace. It has 1500 m2, with a fantastic view to the São Jorge Castle, the Santa Justa lift and the attics of the houses of Pombaline downtown.

Terrace near the ruins, Lisbon, Portugal
Terrace near the ruins

In my opinion, taking a sit here at the end of the day (when the sun lends a wonderful light to Lisbon) with a gin in hand and the ruins of the Carmo in the back, is an absolutely unmissable program.

And take lots of pictures. This is the most scenic ruin of Lisbon.

Stamp # 1 from my Lisbon Passport! Challenge fulfilled;)

Lisbon Passport with the stamp of Carmo church, Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Passport with the stamp of Carmo church