Architecture of Portugal

Castle of Guimarães, a tenth century castle in Guimarães known as the 'Cradle of Portugal'.

Architecture of Portugal refers to the architecture practiced in the territory of present-day Portugal since before the foundation of the country in the 12th century. The term may also refer to buildings created under Portuguese influence or by Portuguese architects in other parts of the world, particularly in the Portuguese Empire.

Portuguese architecture, like all aspects of Portuguese culture, is marked by the history of the country and the several people that have settled and influenced the current Portuguese territory. These include Romans, Suebians among other related Germanic peoples, Visigoths and Arabs, as well as the influence from the main European artistic centres from which were introduced to the broad architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassicism. Among the main local manifestations of Portuguese architecture are the Manueline, the exuberant Portuguese version of late Gothic; and the Pombaline style, a mix of late Baroque and Neoclassicism that developed after the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

In the 20th century, Portuguese architecture has produced Fernando Távora, Eduardo Souto de Moura and Álvaro Siza.

Pre-Roman period

Anta (dolmen) in Cabeção, near Mora, in the Alentejo.


The earliest examples of architectural activity in Portugal date from the Neolithic and consist of structures associated with Megalith culture. The Portuguese hinterland is dotted with a large number of dolmens (called antas or dólmens), tumuli (mamoas) and menhirs. The Alentejo region is particularly rich in megalithic monuments, like the notable Anta Grande do Zambujeiro, located near Évora. Standing stones can be found isolated or forming circular arrays (stone circles or cromlechs). The Almendres Cromlech, also located near Évora, is the largest of the Iberian Peninsula, containing nearly 100 menhirs arranged in two elliptical arrays on an East-West orientation.

Celtic villages

Pre-historic fortified villages dating from the Chalcolithic are found along the Tagus river like that of Vila Nova de São Pedro, near Cartaxo, and the Castro of Zambujal, near Torres Vedras.

These sites were occupied in the period around 2500–1700 BC and were surrounded by stone walls and towers, a sign of the conflictivity of the time.

Starting around the 6th century BC, Northwest Portugal, as well as neighbouring Galicia in Spain, saw the development of the Celtic Castro culture (cultura castreja). This region was dotted with hillfort villages (called citânias or cividades) that for the most part continued to exist under Roman domination, when the area became incorporated into the province of Gallaecia. Notable archaeological sites are the Citânia de Sanfins, near Paços de Ferreira, Citânia de Briteiros, near Guimarães, and the Cividade de Terroso, near Póvoa do Varzim. For defensive reasons, these hillforts were built over elevated terrain and were surrounded by rings of stone walls (Terroso had three wall rings). Houses were round in shape with walls made of stone without mortar, while the roofs were made of grass shoots. Baths were built in some of them, like in Briteiros and Sanfins.

Roman period

Architecture developed significantly in the 2nd century BC with the arrival of the Romans, who called the Iberian Peninsula Hispania. Conquered settlements and villages were often modernised following Roman models, with the building of a forum, streets, theatres, temples, baths, aqueducts and other public buildings. An efficient array of roads and bridges was built to link the cities and other settlements.

Braga (Bracara Augusta) was the capital of the Gallaecia province and still has vestiges of public baths, a public fountain (called Idol's Fountain) and a theatre. Évora boasts a well-preserved Roman temple, probably dedicated to the cult of Emperor Augustus. A Roman bridge crosses the Tâmega River by the city of Chaves (Aquae Flaviae). Lisbon (Olissipo) has the remains of a theatre in the Alfama neighbourhood.

The best-preserved remains of a Roman village are those of Conimbriga, located near Coimbra. The excavations revealed city walls, baths, the forum, an aqueduct, an amphitheatre, and houses for the middle classes (insulae), as well as luxurious mansions (domus) with central courtyards decorated with mosaics. Another important excavated Roman village is Miróbriga, near Santiago do Cacém, with a well preserved Roman temple, baths, a bridge and the vestiges of the only Roman hippodrome known in Portugal.

Roman bridge of Aquae Flaviae, today's Chaves.

In the hinterland, wealthy Romans established villae, country houses dedicated to agriculture. Many villae contained facilities likes baths and were decorated with mosaics and paintings. Important sites are the Villae of Pisões (near Beja), Torre de Palma (near Monforte) and Centum Cellas (near Belmonte). The latter has the well-preserved ruins of a three-storey tower which was part of the residence of the villa owner.

Germanic period

Saint Frutuoso Chapel near Braga, a Greek cross building of Byzantine influence (7th century).

Roman domination in Hispania was ended with the invasions by Germanic peoples (especially Sueves and Visigoths) starting in the 5th century AD. Very few buildings survive from the period of Visigoth domination (c.580-770), most of them modified in subsequent centuries. One of these is the small Saint Frutuoso Chapel, near Braga, which was part of a Visigothic monastery built in the 7th century. The building has a Greek cross floorplan with rectangular arms and a central cupola; both the cupola and the arms of the chapel are decorated with arch reliefs. The chapel shows clear influences of Byzantine buildings like the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna.

After 711, in the period of dominance of the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors, the Christian Kingdom of Asturias (c.711-910), located in the Northern part of the peninsula, was a centre of resistance (see Reconquista). In addition, many Christians (Mozarabs) lived in Moorish territories and were allowed to practicise their religion and build churches. Asturian architecture and Mozarabic art influenced Christian buildings in the future Portuguese territory, as seen on the few structures that have survived from this time. The most important of these is the Church of São Pedro de Lourosa, located near Oliveira do Hospital, which bears an inscription that gives 912 as the year of its construction. The church is a basilica with three aisles separated by horseshoe arches, a narthex on the façade and mullioned, horseshoe-shaped windows of Asturian influence on the central aisle.

Other preromanesque churches built under Asturian and Mozarabic influence are São Pedro de Balsemão, near Lamego, with a basilica floorplan, and the Chapel of São Gião, near Nazaré, although some authors consider that these buildings may be of Visigoth origin. The inner spaces of these buildings are all divided by typical horseshoe arches. The Visigothic Saint Frutuoso Chapel was also modified in the 10th century, when the arm chapels were given a round floorplan and horseshoe arches.

Moorish period

Main gate (Porta de Loulé) of the old Moorish city centre (Almedina) of Silves.

The invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711 by Moors from the Maghreb put an end to Visigoth rule in Hispania, called Al-Andalus by the newcomers. Moorish presence strongly influenced art and architecture in Portuguese territory, especially in Southern Portugal, where the Reconquista was only finished in 1249. However, in contrast to neighbouring Spain, few Islamic buildings in Portugal have survived intact to this day. Traditional houses in many cities and villages in Portugal have simple, white façades that lend the ensemble of streets and neighbourhoods a distinct Islamic look, similar to that of villages in Northern Africa. Many villages and city neighbourhoods have retained the street layout from Islamic times, like the Alfama in Lisbon. Moorish buildings were often constructed with the rammed earth (taipa) and adobe techniques, followed by whitewashing.


Main article: Castles in Portugal

The Moors built strong castles and fortifications in many cities but, although many Portuguese mediaeval castles originated in the Islamic period, most of them have been extensively remodelled after the Christian reconquest. One of the best-preserved is Silves Castle, located in Silves, the ancient capital of the Al-Garb, today's Algarve. Built between the 8th and 13th centuries, Silves Castle has preserved its walls and square-shaped towers from the Moorish period, as well as 11th-century cisterns - water reservoirs used in case of a siege. The old Moorish centre of the city - the Almedina - was defended by a wall and several fortified towers and gates, parts of which are still preserved.

View of Mértola; the Main Church, formerly a mosque, is on the foreground.

Another notable Islamic castle in the Algarve is Paderne Castle, whose ruined walls evidence the taipa building technique used in its construction. The Sintra Moorish Castle, near Lisbon, has also preserved rests of walls and a cistern from Moorish times. Part of the Moorish city walls have been preserved in Lisbon (the so-called Cerca Velha) and Évora. Moorish city gates with a characteristic horseshoe-arched profile can be found in Faro and Elvas.


Many mosques were built all over Portuguese territory during Muslim domination, but virtually all of these have been turned into churches and cathedrals, and Islamic features cannot be identified anymore. Thus, the Cathedrals of Lisbon, Silves and Faro, for instance, are probably built over the remains of the great mosques after the Reconquista.

The only exception to this rule is the Main Church (Matriz) of Mértola, in the Alentejo region. The Mértola Mosque was built in the second half of the 12th century and, even though it has suffered several modifications, it is still the best-preserved mediaeval mosque in Portugal. Inside the church has an approximate square-shaped floorplan with 4 aisles with a total of 12 columns that support a 16th-century Manueline rib vaulting. Even though the roof has been modified and some aisles have been suppressed in the 16th century, the labyrinthic interior with its "forest" of pillars clearly relates to other contemporary mosques in Spain and Maghreb. The inner wall still has a mihrab, a decorated niche that indicates the direction of Mecca. In addition the church has three horseshoe arches with an alfiz, a typical Islamic decorative feature.

Romanesque style (1100 – c. 1230)

A side portal in the church of the Benedictine Monastery of Rates with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic decoration (c. 1096).

Cathedrals and monasteries

The Romanesque style was introduced in Portugal between the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century. The most influential of the first Portuguese Romanesque monuments were Braga Cathedral and the Monastery of Rates. The Cathedral of Braga was rebuilt in the 1070s by bishop Pedro and consecrated in 1089, although only the apse was finished at the time. The bishop's ambitious plan was to create a pilgrimage church, with a three aisled nave, an ambulatory and a large transept. A relic of this early project may be a small Eastern chapel located nowadays outside the church itself.

Building activity gained pace after 1095, when Count Henry took possession of the Condado Portucalense. Count Henry came to Portugal with a number of noblemen and also Benedictine monks of Cluny Abbey, which was headed by Henry's brother, Hugh. The Benedictines and other religious orders gave great impulse to Romanesque architecture during the whole 12th century. Count Henry sponsored the building of the Monastery of Rates (begun in 1096), one of the fundamental works of the first Portuguese Romanesque, although the project was modified several times during the 12th century. The relevance of its architecture and sculptures with diverse architectural influences make this temple a case study that is reflected in the production of further Romanesque art of the nascent kingdom of Portugal.

Façade of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra (begun 1162).

The worshops of Braga and Rates were very influential in Northern Portugal. Extant 12th-century Romanesque monastic churches are found in Manhente (near Barcelos), with a portal dating from around 1117; Rio Mau (near Vila do Conde); with an exceptional apse dating from 1151; Travanca (near Amarante); Paço de Sousa (near Penafiel); Bravães (near Ponte da Barca), Pombeiro (near Felgueiras) and many others.

The spread of Romanesque in Portugal followed the North-South path of the Reconquista, specially during the reign of Afonso Henriques, Count Henry's son and first King of Portugal. In Coimbra, Afonso Henriques created the Santa Cruz Monastery, one of the most important of the monastic foundations of the time, although the current building is the result of a 16th-century remodelling. Afonso Henriques and his successors also sponsored the building of many cathedrals in the bishop seats of the country. This generation of Romanesque cathedrals included the already-mentioned Braga, Oporto, Coimbra, Viseu, Lamego and Lisbon.

Almourol Castle, built c. 1171 on an island of the Tagus by the Templar Knights. The highest tower is the square-shaped keep of the castle.

All Portuguese Romanesque cathedrals were later extensively modified with the exception of the Cathedral of Coimbra (begun 1162), which has remained unaltered. Coimbra Cathedral is a Latin cross church with a three-aisled nave, a transept with short arms and three East chapels. The central aisle is covered by a stone barrel vaulting while the lateral aisles are covered by groin vaults. The second storey of the central aisle has an arched gallery (triforium), and the crossing is topped by a dome. This general scheme is related to that of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, although the Coimbra building is much less ambitious.

Lisbon Cathedral (begun c.1147) is very similar to Coimbra Cathedral, except that the West façade is flanked by two massive towers, a feature observed in other cathedrals like Oporto and Viseu. In general, Portuguese cathedrals had a heavy, fortress-like appearance, with crenellations and little decoration apart from portals and windows.

A remarkable religious Romanesque building is the Round Church (Rotunda) in the Castle of Tomar, which was built in the second half of the 12th century by the Templar Knights. The church is a round structure with a central arched octagon, and was probably modelled after the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which was mistakenly believed by the crusaders to be a remnant of the Temple of Solomon. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem may also have served as model.


Main article: Castles in Portugal

The troubled times of the Portuguese Reconquista meant that many castles had to be built to protect villages from Moors and Castilians. King Afonso Henriques sponsored the building of many fortifications (often remodelling Moorish castles as Lisbon Castle) and granted land to Military Orders - specially the Templar Knights and the Knights Hospitallers - who became responsible for the defence of borders and villages. The Templar Knights built several fortresses along the line of the Tagus river, like the castles of Pombal, Tomar and Belver and Almourol. They are credited as having introduced the keep to Portuguese military architecture.

Gothic (c. 1200 – c. 1450)

Central aisle of the church of Alcobaça Monastery (12th-13th century).

Churches and monasteries

Gothic architecture was brought to Portugal by the Cistercian Order. The first fully Gothic building in Portugal is the church of the Monastery of Alcobaça, a magnificent example of the clear and simple architectural forms favoured by the Cistercians. The church was built between 1178 and 1252 in three phases, and seems inspired by the Abbey of Clairvaux, in the Champagne. Its three aisles are very tall and slender, giving an exceptional impression of height. The whole church is covered by rib vaulting and the main chapel has an ambulatory and a series of radiant chapels. The vault of the ambulatory is externally supported by flying buttresses, typical features of Gothic architecture and a novelty at the time in Portugal.

After the foundation of Alcobaça, the Gothic style was chiefly disseminated by mendicant orders (mainly Franciscan, Augustinians and Dominicans). Along the 13th and 14th centuries, several convents were founded in urban centres, important examples of which can be found in Oporto (São Francisco Church), Coimbra (Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha), Guimarães (São Francisco, São Domingos), Santarém (São Francisco, Santa Clara), Elvas (São Domingos), Lisbon (ruins of Carmo Convent) and many other places. Mendicant Gothic churches usually had a three-aisled nave covered with wooden roof and an apse with three chapels covered with rib vaulting. These churches also lacked towers and were mostly devoid of architectural decoration, in tone with mendicant ideals. Mendicant Gothic was also adopted in several parish churches built all over the country, for instance in Sintra (Santa Maria), Mafra, Lourinhã and Loulé.

Flamboyant Gothic in the Monastery of Batalha: church façade (left) and Founder's Chapel (right).

Many of the Romanesque cathedrals were modernised with Gothic elements. Thus, the Romanesque nave of Oporto Cathedral is supported by flying buttresses, one of the first built in Portugal (early 13th century). The apse of Lisbon Cathedral was totally remodelled in the first half of the 14th century, when it gained a Gothic ambulatory illuminated by a clerestory (high row of windows on the upper storey). The ambulatory has a series of radiant chapels illuminated with large windows, contrasting with the dark Romanesque nave of the cathedral. An important transitional building is Évora Cathedral, built during the 13th century; even though its floorplan, façade and elevation are inspired by Lisbon Cathedral, its forms (arches, windows, vaults) are already Gothic. Many Gothic churches maintained the fortress-like appearance of Romanesque times, like the already-mentioned Évora Cathedral, the Church of the Monastery of Leça do Balio (14th century) near Matosinhos, and even as late as the 15th-century, with the Main Church of Viana do Castelo.

Several Gothic cloisters were built and can still be found in the Cathedrals of Oporto, Lisbon and Évora (all from the 14th century) as well as in monasteries like Alcobaça, Santo Tirso and the Convent of the Order of Christ.

In the early 15th century, the building of the Monastery of Batalha, sponsored by King John I, led to a renovation of Portuguese Gothic. After 1402, the works were trusted to Master Huguet, of unknown origin, who introduced the Flamboyant Gothic style to the project. The whole building is decorated with Gothic pinnacles (crockets), reliefs, large windows with intrincate tracery and elaborate crenellations. The main portal has a series of archivolts decorated with a multitude of statues, while the tympanum has a relief showing Christ and the Evangelists. The Founder's Chapel and the Chapter House have elaborate star-ribbed vaulting, unknown in Portugal until then. Batalha influenced 15th-century workshops like those of Guarda Cathedral, Silves Cathedral and monasteries in Beja (Nossa Senhora da Conceição) and Santarém (Convento da Graça).

View of Bragança Castle. The large keep tower was built in the 15th century.

Another Gothic variant was the so-called Mudéjar-Gothic, which developed in Portugal towards the end of the 15th century, specially in the Alentejo region. The name Mudéjar refers to the influence of Islamic art in the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, specially in the Middle Ages. In the Alentejo and elsewhere, Mudéjar influence in several buildings is evident in the profile of windows and portals, often with horseshoe arches and a mullion, circular turrets with conical pinnacles, Islamic merlons etc., as well as tile (azulejo) decoration. Examples include the portico of St Francis Church of Évora, the courtyard of the Sintra Royal Palace and several churches and palaces in Évora, Elvas, Arraiolos, Beja, etc. Múdejar eventually intermingled with the Manueline style in the early 16th century.

Castles and palaces

During the Gothic era, several castles had to be either built or reinforced, especially along the border with the Kingdom of Castille. Compared to previous castles, Gothic castles in Portugal tended to have more towers, often of circular or semi-circular plan (to increase resistance to projectiles), keep towers tended to be polygonal, and castle gates were often defended by a pair of flanking towers. A second, lower wall curtain (barbicans) were often built along the perimeter of the main walls to prevent war machines from approaching the castle. Features like machicolations and improved arrowslits became also widespread.

Starting in the 14th century, keep towers became larger and more sophisticated, with rib vaulting roofs and facilities like fireplaces. Keep towers with improved residential characteristics can be found in the castles of Beja, Estremoz and Bragança, while some later castles (15th century) became real palaces, like those in Penedono, Ourém and Porto de Mós. The most significant case is the Castle of Leiria, turned into a royal palace by King John I. Some rooms of the palace are decorated with splendid Gothic loggias, from which the surrounding landscape could be appreciated by the King and Queen.

Manueline style (c. 1490 – c. 1520)

Main article: Manueline
Manueline nave of Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.

Portuguese Late Gothic architecture is characterised by the development of a sumptuous style called Manueline in honour of King Manuel I, under whose reign (1495–1521) most buildings of the style were built or begun. Manueline mixes aspects of Late Gothic with Renaissance architecture and decoration, revealing influences from Spanish (Plateresque, Isabelline), Italian and Flemish contemporary art, as well as elements borrowed from Islamic (Mudéjar) tradition. Manueline buildings are also often decorated with naturalistic motifs typical of the Age of Discovery, like spiralling motifs that remind of ropes used in ships, as well as a rich array of animal and vegetal motifs.

The first known building in Manueline style is the Monastery of Jesus of Setúbal. The church of the monastery was built from 1490 to 1510 by Diogo Boitac, an architect considered one of the main creators of the style. The nave of the church has three aisles of equal height, revealing an attempt to unify inner space which reaches its climax in the nave of the church of the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, finished in the 1520s by architect João de Castilho. The nave of the Setúbal Monastery is supported by spiralling columns, a typical Manueline feature that is also found in the nave of Guarda Cathedral and the parish churches of Olivenza, Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Montemor-o-Velho and others. Manueline buildings also usually carry elaborate portals with spiralling columns, niches and loaded with Renaissance and Gothic decorative motifs, like in Jerónimos Monastery, Santa Cruz Monastery of Coimbra and many others.

Renaissance and Mannerism (c. 1520 – c. 1650)

The adoption of the austere Renaissance style did not catch on well in Portugal. Introduced by a French architect in 1517, it was mainly practiced from the 1530s on by foreign architects and was therefore called estrangeirada (foreign-influenced). In later years this style slowly evolved into Mannerism. The painter and architect Francisco de Holanda, writer of the book Diálogos da Pintura Antiga ("Dialogues on Ancient Painting"), dissiminated in this treatise the fundamentals of this new style.

Nave of Church of São Roque in Lisbon (1565–1587).

The basilica of Nossa Senhora da Conceição in Tomar was one of the earliest churches in pure Renaissance style. It was begun by the Castilian architect Diogo de Torralva in the period 1532–1540. Its beautiful and clear architecture turns it into one of the best early Renaissance buildings in Portugal. The small church of Bom Jesus de Valverde, south of Évora, attributed to both Manuel Pires and Diogo de Torralva, is another early example.

The most eminent example of this style is the Claustro de D. João III (Cloister of John III) in the Convent of the Order of Christ in Tomar. Started under the Portuguese King João III, it was finished during the reign of Philip I of Portugal (also King of Spain under the name of Philip II). The first architect was the Spaniard Diogo de Torralva, who began the work in 1557, only to be finished in 1591 by Philip II's architect, the Italian Filippo Terzi. This magnificent, two-storey cloister is considered one of the most important examples of Mannerist architecture in Portugal.

However, the best known Portuguese architect in this period was Afonso Álvares, whose works include the cathedrals of Leiria (1551–1574), Portalegre (begun 1556), and the Church of São Roque in Lisbon. During this period he evolved into the Mannerist style.

This last church was completed by the Jesuit architect, the Italian Filippo Terzi, who also built the Jesuit college at Évora, the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon and the episcopal palace in Coimbra. He had an enormous production and, besides churches, he also built several aqueducts and fortresses.

In his wake came several Portuguese architects:

Plain style (1580–1640)

View of the Monastery of Tibães with the church façade, near Braga

During the union of Portugal and Spain, the period between 1580 and 1640, a new style developed called "Arquitecture chã" (plain architecture) by George Kubler.[1] Basically mannerist, this style also marked by a clear structure, a sturdy appearance with smooth, flat surfaces and a moderate arrangement of space, lacking excessive decorations. It is a radical break with the decorative Manueline style. This simplified style, caused by limited financial resources, expresses itself in the construction of hall churches and less impressive buildings. In resistance to the Baroque style that was already the standard in Spain, the Portuguese continued to apply the plain style to express their separate identity as a people.

When king Filipe II made his Joyous Entry in Lisbon in 1619, several temporary triumphal arches were erected in the Flemish style of Hans Vredeman de Vries. The tract literature of Wendel Dietterlin[2] also increased the interest in Flemish Baroque architecture and art. This influence can be seen in the façade of the S Lourenço or Grilos church in Porto, begun in 1622 by Baltasar Alvares.

This was also the period of the rise of the azulejos and the use of carved gilded wood (talha dourada) on altars and ceilings.

Restoration architecture (1640–1717)

The Baroque style follows naturally from and is the expression of the Counter-Reformation, a reaction of the Roman Catholic Church against the upcoming Protestantism. But since the ideas of Protestantism did not take root at all in Portugal, the Baroque style did not really catch on at a time when it was the prevailing style in the rest of Europe. Furthermore, this style was too much associated with the Jesuits and Spanish rule.

Instead a new style, a transition from the Plain Style to Late Baroque, was adopted when Portugal regained its independence in 1640. It was a period of declining economic and military power, with fewer projects and lesser opulence as a consequence.

José Fernandes Pereira[3] identified the first period from 1651 to 1690 as a period of experimentation.

Church of Santa Engracia, Lisbon

The next period, between 1690 and 1717, saw the cautious introduction of the Baroque style in Portugal. The Church of Santa Engrácia (now the National Pantheon of Santa Engracia), begun in 1682 by João Nunes Tinoco and continued by João Antunes is a centralised structure, built in the form of a Greek cross (a cross with arms of equal length), crowned with a central dome (only completed in 1966 !) and the façades are ondulated like in the Baroque designs of Borromini. . It goes back to a design by the Italian architect Donato Bramante of the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is perhaps the only truly Baroque building in Portugal. This time Rome, instead of Flanders, became the example to be followed for the construction of buildings.

The church of Senhor da Cruz in Barcelos, built by João Antunes in 1701–1704 is an unusual experiment because of its four-leaf clover plan.

Baroque style (1717–1755)

The year 1697 is an important year for Portuguese architecture. In that year gold, gems and later diamonds were found in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Mining exploration was strongly controlled by the Portuguese Crown, which imposed heavy taxes on everything extracted (one fifth of all gold would go to the Crown). These enormous proceeds caused Portugal to prosper and become the richest country of Europe in the 18th century. King João V, who reigned between 1706 and 1750, tried to rival the French king Louis XIV, also called the Sun King, by engaging in a large number of expensive building activities. But the French king could rely on local experience for the glorification and his name and of France. The Palace of Versailles was transformed for Louis XIV into a marvelous palace by architect Louis Le Vau, painter and designer Charles Le Brun and the landscape architect André Le Nôtre. The Portuguese king, on the other hand, had to make up the lack of local experience and tradition with foreign artists who were lured to Portugal with huge amounts of money.

King João V squandered his money lavishly, starting numerous building projects, many of which were never finished.

The Mafra National Palace is among the most sumptuous Baroque buildings in Portugal. This monumental palace-monastery-church complex is even larger than the El Escorial, an immense 16th-century Spanish royal palace north of Madrid to emphasize the symbolic affirmation of his power. The king appointed Johann Friedrich Ludwig (known in Portugal as João Frederico Ludovice) as the architect. This German goldsmith (!) had received some experience as an architect, working for the Jesuits in Rome. His design for the palace is a synthesis of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, the Jesuit Sant'Ignazio church in Rome and the Palazzo Montecitorio, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

This design was in line with the king's desire to imitate the Eternal City, and with his ambition to found a "second Rome" at the river Tagus. His envoys in Rome had to provide the king with models and floor plans of many Roman monuments.

One of these was the Patriarchal palace in Lisbon. The Piedmontese architect Filippo Juvarra was brought to Lisbon to draw up the plans. But this project was also toned down because Juvarra only stayed for a few months and left – breaking his contract – for London.

Other important constructions were :

Intricately worked façade of the Palácio do Raio in Braga

His most spectacular undertaking was however the building in Rome of the St John the Baptist chapel with the single purpose of obtaining the blessing of the pope Benedict XIV for this chapel. The chapel was designed by Luigi Vanvitelli in 1742 and built by Nicola Salvi in the church S. Antonio dei Portoghesi. After the benediction, the chapel was disassembled and transported to Lisbon. It was assembled again in 1747 in the S Roque church. It is opulently decorated with porphyry, the rarest marbles and precious stones. Its design already foreshadows the classical revival.

A different and more exuberant Baroque style with some Rococo touches, more reminiscent of the style in Central Europe, developed in the northern part of Portugal. The Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni designed the church and the spectacular granite tower of São Pedro dos Clérigos in Porto. One of his successors was the painter and architect José de Figueiredo Seixas, who had been one of his disciples. The sanctuary Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, built by the architect Carlos Luis Ferreira Amarante is a notable example of a pilgrimage site with a monumental, cascading Baroque stairway that climbs 116 metres. This last example already shows the shift in style to Neo-classicism.

The Palácio do Raio (by André Soares) is an outstanding Baroque-Rococo urban palace with richly decorated façade in Braga. Several country houses and manors in late-Baroque style were built in this period. Typical examples are the homes of the Lobo-Machado family (in Guimarães), the Malheiro (Viana do Castelo) and the Mateus (Vila Real).

Pombaline style (1755–1860)

Main article: Pombaline style
Praça do Comércio with the arch leading to Augusta street, in Lisbon

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and fires destroyed many buildings in Lisbon. Joseph I of Portugal and his Prime Minister Sebastião de Melo, Marquis of Pombal hired architects and engineers to rebuild the damaged portions of Lisbon, including the Pombaline Downtown.

The Pombaline style is a secular, utilitarian architecture marked by pragmatism. It follows the Plain style of the military engineers, with regular, rational arrangements, mixed with Rococo details and a Neo-classical approach to structure. The Baixa district of Lisbon was rebuilt by Eugénio dos Santos and Carlos Mardel. The Marquis of Pombal imposed strict conditions on the rebuilding. Architectural models were tested by having troops march around them to simulate an earthquake, making the Pombaline one of the first examples of earthquake-resistant construction. The Praça do Comércio, the Augusta street and the Avenida da Liberdade are notable examples of this architecture. This Square of Commerce was given a regular, rational arrangement in line with the reconstruction of the new Pombaline Downtown, the Baixa.

The Pombaline style of architecture is also to be found in Vila Real de Santo António (1773–4) a new town in the Algarve, built by Reinaldo Manuel dos Santos. The style is clearly visible in the urban arrangement and especially in the main square.

In Porto, at the initiative of the prison governor João de Almada e Melo, the Rua de S João was reconstructed (after 1757), and the Relação law court, the Court of Appeal Gaol (1765) and the prison were rebuilt. The British colony of port traders introduced the Palladian architecture in the Praça da Ribeira (1776–1782), the Factory House (1785–1790) and the S Antonio Hospital (1770).

Portuguese modern architecture: buildings at Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Modern Architecture

Portugal’s longstanding traditions, geographic isolation, extended period under an authoritarian government, along with a group of very talented architects, have kept Portuguese architecture clean of capricious imitations. Portugal has an architecture that carefully evolved within the local tradition through a balanced process of absorbing universal influences, until slowly emerging onto the center stage of the architecture world.

One of the top architecture schools in the world, known as "Escola do Porto" or School of Porto, is located in Portugal. Its alumni include Fernando Távora, Álvaro Siza (winner of the 1992 Pritzker prize) and Eduardo Souto de Moura (winner of the 2011 Pritzker prize). Its modern heir is the Faculdade de Arquitectura (School of Architecture) of the University of Porto.

Although Portuguese architecture is usually associated with the internationally accredited Alvaro Siza, there are others equally responsible for the positive trends in current architecture. "Many Portuguese architects are sons of Siza, but Tavora is a grandfather to all of us." The influence of Sizas own teacher, Fernando Tavora, echoes across generations.[5]

The Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, built in 1960s and designed by Rui Atouguia, Pedro Cid and Alberto Pessoa, is one of the very best, defining examples of 20th-century Portuguese architecture.

In Portugal Tomás Taveira is also noteworthy, particularly due to stadium design.[6][7][8] Other renowned Portuguese architects include Pancho Guedes and Gonçalo Byrne.

Carrilho da Graça’s Centro de Documentação da Presidência da República (Documentation Archive of the President of the Portuguese Republic), is one of Lisbon’s best-kept architectural secrets.

See also


  1. "Portuguese Plain Architecture: Between Spices and Diamonds, 1521–1706" (ISBN 0-8195-4045-5)
  2. "Architectura von Ausstellung, Symmetrie und Proportion der Säulen" (Architecture of Exhibition, Symmetry and Proportion of Columns) (1591)
  3. José Fernandes Pereira. Arquitectura Barroca em Portugal. Instituto de Cultura e Língua Portuguesa. 1986.
  4. Morrogh, Andrew (March 1998). "Guarini and the Pursuit of Originality: The Church for Lisbon and Related Projects". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 57, No. 1. 57 (1): 6–29. doi:10.2307/991402. JSTOR 991402.
  5. Modern Portugal- Architecture in the Age of Masses
  6. (Portuguese) Estádios de Tomás Taveira e Souto Moura premiados, Diário de Notícias (July 8, 2005)
  7. Tomás Taveira, Geoffrey Broadbent (introduction), Publisher: St Martins Pr (February 1991)
  8. (Portuguese) Tomás Taveira desenha estádio do Palmeiras no Brasil,


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