Sunday, 19 October 2014

I have been to … the Portuguese Army Military Museum of Lisbon, Portugal: The building

The Portuguese Army Military Museum of Lisbon (Exército Português Museu Militar de Lisboa) is located in a wonderful old building near the seafront of Lisbon on the Largo do Museu de Artilharia 1100-366, Lisboa.

The present building stands on the site of an earlier building that was used to store war materials as well has having a gunpowder mill and cannon foundry. The earlier building – which was known as the Tercenas das Portas da Cruz – was damaged by fire in 1726 and then destroyed by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The only part of the original pre-1755 building that survives is the porch on the Western entrance, and work on the present building began in 1760.

In 1842 the Baron of Monte Pedral proposed the creation of a military museum, and it was housed in the Arsenal Real do Ezersito. The museum was originally called the Artillery Museum (Museu de Artilharia), but its title was changed to the Portuguese Army Military Museum of Lisbon (Exército Português Museu Militar de Lisboa) in 1926.

When we entered the Museum we were first directed into a very ornately decorated room on the ground floor. It contained a large collection of early cannon barrels.

Our path then lead us up the stairs ...

... to the first floor. The recommended route through the Museum then took us into a room dedicated to the role of the Portuguese Army during the Napoleonic Wars.

As was the case with almost all the rooms on this floor of the Museum, it had a very impressive ceiling and ornate decoration.

This room lead directly into a larger pair of rooms which dealt with the Portuguese involvement in the First World War.

Having spent some time in these two rooms, we made our way back across the landing to a series of rooms that made up one side of the building. The first was full of displays of early weaponry and armour ...

... and led to another room that held similar displays.

We then passed through a series of rooms ...

... each of which seemed to be more sumptuously decorated than the previous one.

One room contained a small but very interesting collection of small arms ...

... and this was followed by one dedicated to military head wear.

The next room contained models of two Portuguese forts that were built in Goa (a former Portuguese colony in India that became part of India in 1961).

As befits a Museum that was formerly an artillery museum, there was a room full of models of artillery pieces that had been used at some time by the Portuguese Army.

At this point our progress through the Museum took us to the left, through two galleries that were devoted to the Os Lusíadas (the Lusiads), an epic and fantastical poem about the Portuguese Voyages of Discovery during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The poem was written by Luís de Camões, Portugal's greatest poet, and quotations from Os Lusíadas were featured in these galleries on panels underneath paintings.

One of the rooms also housed a statue of Henry the Navigator (who is better known in Portugal as Infante Dom Henrique de Avis, Duke of Viseu)

At the end of these galleries there was a small room devoted to objects brought back from the Far East.

Our route then took us out into a courtyard that contained a number of old cannon barrels, and which had walls covered with panels of typical Portuguese blue and white tiles. These tile panels commemorated famous Portuguese victories.

(Please note that the apparent distortion in these photographs is due to the fact that they were taken using the panoramic function on my camera.)

We left the courtyard by a door that took us into an undercroft area that was full of ancient cannon barrels and pieces of artillery, ...

... some examples of horse-drawn vehicles, ...

... and an exhibit devoted to Joaquim Augusto Mouzinho de Albuquerque, a Portuguese cavalry officer who captured Gungunhana in Chaimite and who pacified Mozambique.

The final room contained a variety of objects ...

... including a statue of Dom Nuno Álvares Pereira, a Portuguese general who played a decisive role in the 1383-1385 Crisis that led to Portugal's independence from Castile. He later became a mystic and was canonised in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.

When we exited this final room we were back at the Museum's entrance.

I have seldom visited a museum whose rooms were almost as interesting as their contents ... and I shall be covering the various exhibits in a future blog entry.


  1. Feeling a bit spooky today Bob.

    I'm just painting some Portuguese infantry as part of my Anglo-Portuguese force for the Peninsular War.

    I'm just about to research to see whether the Portuguese had any artillery of their own which fought alongside the British.

    I have, of course, been to Lisbon and I did discover this museum on a walkabout. Unfortunately on that day it was shut and we had no other day in hand to return to that part of town.

    I can see that I just have to visit Lisbon again and this museum in particular.

  2. Jim Duncan,

    It is rather a coincidence, isn't it! I don't know if my photographs will be of any help; I doubt it ... but you never know.

    It is a very nice museum, but the lighting was not ideal for taking photographs and we both found it very humid inside. That said, I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who visits Lisbon.

    All the best,


  3. It seems as if you were the only visitors that day. What a fantastic building!

    Regards, Chris.

  4. Chris Kemp,

    On the day we were there we only saw three other visitors in the museum, although there were a couple of soldiers in the courtyard moving a table and a practical course about medieval combat taking place in part of the undercroft. (We were asked not to photograph the course as it was being run privately by the course tutor.)

    It is a lovely building, and was more like a stately home than any other military museum I have ever visited.

    All the best,


  5. Simply amazing decoration of the walls, ceilings, etc. Did the building have an earlier State function of some kind?

  6. Gonsalvo,

    As far as I know the building was used as an arsenal and military storehouse until it was converted into a museum. I assume that the ornate rooms were probably used as offices by the officials who worked there.

    All the best,


  7. I visited a few years ago and it was almost deserted then too. I especially enjoyed some of the Goan made bronze canon. There didn't seem to be a decent guide book available which was a shame. A large format book just illustrating all those blue and white tiled panels would be worth having, IIRC they went from the retaking of Lisbon (1190?) to one showing and infantry square fighting in Angola in 1915.

  8. Nigel Drury,

    This museum is not as well-known as it should be ... and the lack of a guide book does not help matters.

    I agree that the tile panels are magnificent, and I only wish that I had had the time to photograph them all.

    All the best,



Thank you for leaving a comment. Please note that any comments that are spam or contain phishing messages or that come from Google Accounts that are 'Unknown' will be deleted.