Lisbon has many museums, befitting a capital of a great country with rich history and heritage. Without having a specific plan, we explored three “smaller”, but nonetheless very interesting museums, each of them telling one part of a complex story of Lisbon and, by extension, Portugal.
One tells a story of Portugal as a powerful naval nation, a country of fearless explorers and adventurers who contributed to formation of the world as we know it today.
One tells a story of Portugal’s dark period, when it was a country shackled by tyranny.
One tells a story of Portugal as a country of music, melancholy and art.
Each of these stories is so entwined into the essence of Portugal and its people that learning about them becomes a greatly rewarding experience: one that helps you better understand and appreciate the country, its history, culture and heritage.
Museu da Marinha
Museu da Marinha is a large museum located in Belem, in one of the wings of the grand Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. This museum is dedicated to all aspects of the history of navigation in Portugal, a trade that has defined the development and heritage of the country. It is a vast museum: out of 17000 items owned by the museum, some 2500 artefacts are on display as a part of the permanent exhibition: archaeological items, scale models of ships, navigation instruments, maps and more. The oldest and most popular exhibit in the museum is a wooden figure of Archangel Raphael which accompanied Vasco da Gama on his trip to India.
Even though we are not maritime enthusiasts, this museum proved to be a fascinating experience. It educated us on the history of navigation and the many discoveries made by brave Portuguese seafarers whose feats left us in awe. We left the museum contemplating the connection between Portugal and the sea, a connection so deep and significant that every traveler owes it to the country to try to understand is as much as possible. Visit to Museu da Marinha is certainly a right step in that direction.
Museu do Aljube – Resistência e Liberdade
Museu do Aljube is a relatively new museum (opened since 2015), located in a former jail close to Lisbon’s cathedral. It tells the story of dictatorship in Portugal and its colonies which was led by António de Oliveira Salazar, Portuguese prime minister, and lasted for 48 long years (from 1926 to 1974). Salazar’s grip over a total population of 13 million people lasted longer than those of Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler.
This small museum touches on life in both Portugal and its colonies in the period through interactive exhibits, photographs, maps, documents, quotes and more, telling the story of life under dictatorship and the resistance movement that sprang out of it in a moving, reflexive manner. Walking through small rooms and narrow corridors of the former jail seems bleak at times, but for every poignant, tragic, upsetting image you see, there is an antithesis in a form of a hopeful poem or article, demonstrating that people of Portugal never lost their spirit and fighting nature, always believing that change would come. And it did. Museu do Aljube is a moving tribute to all those who fought and risked their lives for the country’s freedom and a poignant reminder of many mistakes humanity made in history, serving as such as a cautionary tale for future generations.
Museu do Fado
Fado is one of the most important cultural legacies of Portugal and we didn’t want to miss the chance to honor it by visiting its museum. Museu do Fado explains the origins of this musical expression, tells the story of historical and cultural circumstances under which it began evolving and presents the influences of this specific, melancholic musical form born in the 1830s in Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood. Among many exhibits in the museum, especially interesting is a section with recordings and biographic information of all major Fado personalities, performers and composers.
With the help of an audioguide, we walked around the museum, immersed in Fado melodies and the feeling of saudade and took that feeling out, onto the sunny, busy streets of Lisbon. Suddenly, the city seemed just a tiny bit different, little less distant and more like a living, breathing, complex and real organism.
The only thing that matters is to feel the fado. The fado is not meant to be sung; it simply happens. You feel it, you don’t understand it and you don’t explain it. (Amália Rodrigues)