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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Teles da Gama, MA

A Brief History of Palácio Pimenta in Lisbon

What is Palácio Pimenta?

Palácio Pimenta, or Pimenta Palace in English, is a former palace in Lisbon that’s now the headquarters of the Museum of Lisbon.

Palácio Pimenta

Carlos Luis M C da Cruz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Palácio Pimenta History

Here in Campo Grande, next to the university centre of the city, is the attractive Pimenta Palace, headquarters of the Museum of Lisbon. This was once a summer residence, outside the city limits, built in the first half of the 18th century at the request of Diogo de Sousa Mexia, a significant figure of the time. Successive owners, among them Manuel Joaquim Pimenta de Carvalho (after whom the building is named), took over the palace. Before its acquisition by Lisbon City Hall in 1962, it passed into the possession of Jorge Lobo d’Ávila da Graça, at the beginning of the 20th century, who carried out some distinctive restoration works.

City Hall renovated the former residence, including its beautiful gardens, and installed the City Museum, which had operated in another historic structure in the east of Lisbon since the 1940s. The museum includes a long-term exhibition area, the Black and White Pavilions, dedicated to temporary exhibitions, and an archive. Besides the well-preserved buildings, there’s a formal walled garden and a peaceful wooded area.

The Museum of Lisbon records the evolution of the city, from the initial occupation of the territory during prehistoric times to the end of the 20th century, through a collection that includes archaeological treasures, sculptures, paintings, a model of 18th-century Lisbon and tile art. (In fact, the palace’s staircase and five of the rooms, including the old kitchen and the chapel, feature the original tiles.)

The exhibition is chronological, starting with prehistoric Lisbon, continuing to the Roman and Arab city, medieval Lisbon, the era of expansion in the 16th century with the Age of Discovery, ending with the cosmopolitan city of the 18th century that was destroyed by the natural disaster of the Great Earthquake of 1755. Collection highlights include the epigraphic monuments from the Roman period, the documents with original drawings related to the construction of the Águas Livres Aqueduct, and the piano of Alfredo Keil (composer of A Portuguesa, the Portuguese National Anthem).

Passing through the tranquil cobbled courtyard, you’ll reach the gardens where you can enjoy a cup of coffee by the fountains and watch the peacocks that wander through the greenery, before entering the Black and White Pavilions, which host temporary exhibitions of carefully selected contemporary art pieces that reflect the city of Lisbon and Portuguese crafts.

When the palace was adapted to become a museum, the gardens were enhanced by the addition of sculptures. Since 2010, they have played host to a unique project by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, who represented Portugal at the 2013 Venice Biennale after establishing herself internationally with a solo exhibition at the Palace of Versailles the previous year.

Other artistic works in the gardens include ceramics designed by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, the well-known artist, caricaturist and ceramicist of the 19th century, depicting various animals, insects and plants. Curiously, some of these pieces were part of the decoration of the Portuguese Pavilion at the 1889 International Exhibition in Paris, while others embellished the Estrela Garden in Lisbon. The palace and its gardens are a wonderful celebration of the city's fascinating history, and the many brilliant artists who have called it home.

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