welcome to emmas housethought

the best of portuguese architecture my top ten – part one

Sometimes someone comes out with an opinion so contrary to your own that it provokes you to revisit the foundations of your beliefs.

I was at a BBQ the other day and was asked to explain my reasons for coming to live in Portugal. The English host took offence that one of my reasons was the “great architecture”. “What architecture?” he blurted, revealing not just a strong opinion, but just how many drinks ahead of us he was.

So, just in case I’ve somehow come to live in Portugal under false pretences, let’s take a tour of those “foundations” I mentioned…

1. Gare do Oriente (Lisbon)

Gare de Oriente (Lisbon)

One of the major train stations in Lisbon. Its audaciousness reminds me of the Opera House in Sydney. Part space ship, part electric tree…and if train stations are your thing then feast your eyes on the restored 19th Century Neo-Manueline Rossio Station in Lisbon and the extraordinary tiled history of São Bento in Porto.

Gare do oriente

2. Avenida Infante Santo (Lisbon)

lisbon street

This particular street is just one example of the juxtaposition of architectural styles in Lisbon. New-Old, Ornate-Modern, Renovated-Dilapidated. It’s a funky, bold, exuberant city. Lisbon was completely flattened by an earthquake in 1755, and much like many modern European cities it’s a mish-mash of styles and additions from the 18th-21st centuries. Lisbon just pumps with character, wherever you go, as every little neighbourhood has it’s own fierce personality.

3. Churches of Bom Jesus de Monte (Braga) and Santa Maria (Obidos).


Yeah I know, it’s two, but they are examples of the same thing. Small, not particularly significant churches with super-sublime decoration. Santa Maria is Baroque and 18th Century, and Bom Jesus Neoclassical and 19th Century. But what they have in common is almost every interior surface is decorated. You might think that the effect would be gaudy but it’s elegant and lovely. Multiple patterns against pattern, it makes me speculate whether the harmony is inspired by genius or created by pure chance.


4. Mosteiro Santa Maria da Vitoria (Batalha)

She rises from a boring landscape like a gigantic hairy spider; this monastery is so much in contrast to the environment that it seems alive. It’s a radical, fantastic building that reminds me of the audacious Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Except Vitoria was built in the 14th and 15th centuries (and the Sagrada still isn’t finished). It’s sharp and scary from the Gothic Style, and it’s curly and knotted in the Manueline Style. The interior is just gob smacking. Full on.

batalha cathedral

As a whole, it seems an imposing, serious building, but one of the secrets of Portuguese Ecclesial architecture is the funny little details. The stonework is full of cheeky little critters, alien faces and naughty mythical beasties. It’s playful. So un-churchy!

5. Kitchen at Alcobaça
The Mosteiro Santa Maria da Alcobaça is, like Batalha, an UNESCO world heritage site, and is also an awesome piece of work. My favourite bit is the kitchen, very simply finished with grey/white fired glass tiles and trimmed with blue and white azulejos. It has a elegant Moorish quality with long curved lines and an infinite ceiling.

alcobacaalcobaca kitchen

The Cistercian monks who lived in the monastery and were famous for their culinary decadence. A stream from the local river diverts into a pool in the kitchen, providing a water supply but also fresh fish! The massive fireplace and chimney could cook a small herd of cows.


  1. Kristie June 17, 2009 6:28 pm Reply

    I couldnt agree with you more. The it is so beautiful there. I had to comment though because the pictures were so amazing. Did you take those yourself? Beautiful. Also your website layout and template are great. I really love your site. I just found you on expat-blog.com. Thanks for the beautiful pics!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 24th, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Hi! yeah the pictures are mostly mine, so easy when the subject is so gorgeous and stands still…

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Laura June 22, 2009 5:11 pm Reply

    I couldn’t agree more either. Lisbon is a beautiful city.
    Lovely pics

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 24th, 2009 at 2:11 am

    Yeah, she’s a winner, and I like Porto too. Thanks laura.

    [Reply to comment]


  3. tony August 20, 2009 12:47 pm Reply

    Hi Emma,
    Great site. I visited Lisbon for the first time a couple weeks ago. it looks like there’s some great modern architecture sprouting up. I checked out a new waterfront hotel and spa down in Belem.
    You should go see it.

    [Reply to comment]

  4. Rachelet October 16, 2010 4:37 am Reply

    Hey Emma! Just stumbled upon your great website.
    Two things.
    1) I suggest you also take some time to explore the modern architecture from that whole former Expo area – which I suppose you kinda did already, since Gare do Oriente is right by it. Great to take a few walks by the Tejo and have a picnic closer in the area to the Vasco da Gama bridge.
    2) Your pics are gorgeous! I read somewhere you don’t use any fancy schmancy cameras, so… what do you use? And what kind of editing software, if any? I’m thinking of replacing my Lumix, so any advice is well received.

    Cheers and hope to see you in Porto soon!

    [Reply to comment]


  5. Délio Faria May 8, 2012 7:57 pm Reply

    I totally agree with you, Emma.

    Just one correction though: Mosteiro Santa Maria da Vitoria (Batalha) was never finished, you can read about it (and see a picture) here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batalha_Monastery

    [Reply to comment]

  6. Monika May 27, 2015 9:34 pm Reply

    Yes, this is fantastic choice so far! Batalha and Alcobaca – I have seen these and they are really stunning! We have been to Lisbon but did not see the station – amazing!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 28th, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    thanks monica… more things to see next time!

    [Reply to comment]


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin