Alright, we have been inside the museum’s exhibition and I talked a bit about the palace’s history in Part 1. Oh, and I explained why it is pink!
So let’s take a stroll through the gardens before we check out the inside of Belem Palace.
The yard just in front of the entrance shed some light on a rather nasty entertainment of the noble people in Europe a couple of centuries ago. Wild animals from the former colonies were brought to the palace to create a sort of zoo. After all, traveling to every corner of the world within hours wasn’t possible back then. Sometimes, however, dwarfs were put among the exotic creatures and not all of them made it out alive. Luckily the space was turned into the staff car park and the cages were vacant!
Just like the palace, its gardens were beautiful. Box trees were perfectly arranged culminating in a grotto framed by two bird breeding rooms. The focus was obviously the fountain of Hercules fighting the Lernean Hydra. Amazing! What a sight it was all together.
Since there were no more animals kept in the palace, the breeding rooms have been turned into an exhibition space. At the time of my visit it told the story of President Sidonio who was assassinated in 1918. The second murder of a state leader within ten years. Once again it was extremist republicans who were responsible for the killing. Sidonio developed a strong leadership, liked by both the people and the monarchists who hoped for the restoration of the kingdom. Unknowingly he had created exactly the political and social environment that made Salazar possible just a few years later.
I mentioned before that my guide Bruno told me a few things about the Portuguese Republic. When I live abroad Im always interested in knowing how things work there. Honestly though, I would never go and actively research the country’s political system. But once an opportunity presents itself, I take it!
The Portuguese Republic was established in 1910 and went through three phases since then. The initial establishment, the dictatorship under António de Oliveira Salazar and since 1974 the democracy. It consists of four bodys of power. The National Assembly or parliament, the government, the courts and the president, who is elected directly for five years and can be in office for two consecutive terms. The president’s main responsibility is keeping the balance between the other three organs. Further, they approve or veto laws, instate and dissolve the parliament and swear in the ministers.
Actually quite similar to Germany, I believe.
The current President Marcelo Sousa also calls special attention to the problem of homelessness in Portugal. Something I witness every day and is especially severe now during winter when it gets cold and rainy. As a tourist it might not be that obvious, but if you are outside the popular areas you see quite a lot of homeless. Just last week when I locked my bike at a lantern in Parque Eduardo to go and film my video there, a homeless lady was sitting on a bench closeby. She had some bags next to her and hadn’t moved an inch when I came back later. Probably she was just waiting for nightfall to look for a “nice” spot to spend the night. Seeing these things every day, I am glad that the topic of homelessness is addressed on the highest level.
Marcelo Sousa’s closeness to the people makes him a remarkably popular figure. You might actually just run into him in the streets of Lisbon. Curiously, his predecessor Aníbal Cavaco Silva was apparently the most unpopular president ever.
Back to the palace!
After the establishment of the republic, it was decided for several reasons that Belem Palace would be the official residence of the president. For the last three decades, however, office holders have opted for living in their homes, using the palace merely as an office and representative space. Why is still a mystery to me. Who wouldn’t want to live in such an incredible palace?
Of course, the building’s exterior was well kept and looks wonderful. But it was nothing compared to the inside! Every room of the public area had a different style. One more beautiful than the other! Each also had a different purpose, but I’ll leave these explanations to Bruno and his colleagues.
In the Empire Room I finally learned about the origins of this decorative style. I came across it in other museums before, but never concerned myself much with it. I just enjoyed the beautiful art and craftsmanship. It was Napoleon, though, who created this style and spread it around Europe, more or less violently.
The palace, was the perfect example of how all the museums complement each other. I had already learned that Portugal was invaded at some point and the King and his court fled to Brazil. By explaining a painting on the wall, Bruno extended on this part of Portuguese history. It was Napoleon who came conquering all the way from France in 1807 and was convinced to leave six years later when the Portuguese asked England for help.
The chandelier on the picture below actually had a quite entertaining backstory, connecting the palace with both the Russian Tsar Alexander II and the German Ferdinand II, King of Portugal. Before being brought to Belem Palace, the magnificent piece was part of the decorations at the Necessidades Palace in the neighbourhood of Prazeres, where you can also find the beautiful Prazeres Cemetery. Although the Necessidades Palace is a government building today, it has a nice public garden, which not many people know, I think.
After watching Portuguese news every now and then, the room above should be no stranger. It’s where the president meets guests and gives medals to Cristiano Ronaldo. And so it was great to stand right there by the president’s desk instead of just seeing it on TV. Every time since then, when the room is shown, I have this amusing feeling of “Hey, I’ve just been there!”.
The same with his office. Well, his official office, which he uses for special occasions and not his day to day work. Interestingly, the decorations here as well as around the palace are not actually chosen by the president but by the museum staff.
Although the decorators did a great job in every single room, the so called Golden Room stole the show!
Not much of a mystery why it had that name. Every single element was gold, making it an impressively exquisit space. I won’t lose many words about the room. It speaks for itself.
Stunning! I was left breathless when I walked in and didn’t hear much of Bruno’s explanations while I admired the baroque decor.
Well, what can I say to close this off? I had an amazing experience! Partly because of Bruno, of course. But if you want to learn about Lisbon and Portugal and hear some amusing stories about their history, then Museu da Presidência is the right place.