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  • Writer's pictureFrancisca Gigante, MA

A Brief History of the Centro Cultural de Belém in Lisbon

What is the Centro Cultural de Belém?

The Centro Cultural de Belém is a Cultural centre in Lisbon that opened in 1992 and holds artistic events and exhibitions ranging across art forms and media.

Centro Cultural de Belém

Therese C, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Centro Cultural de Belém History

This fortress-like complex currently houses the Centro Cultural de Belém (or Belém Cultural Centre), known by the acronym CCB. The Centre was originally conceived to host the headquarters of the Portuguese presidency of the European Community, in 1992, an important moment for the country, which had only come out of the isolation of dictatorship in the 1970s. As part of that presidency’s legacy, the Centre was to remain and develop into a hub of cultural and leisure activities.

The design, by architects Manuel Salgado from Portugal and Vittorio Gregotti from Italy, was selected following an international competition in which 57 proposals were submitted. It was decided that the new structure would be built on the site of a former cultural centre, the 1940 ‘Pavilion of the Portuguese in the World’ for the Portuguese World Exhibition.

Of the five distinct parts of Salgado and Gregotti’s design, only three were eventually erected: the Conference Centre with both a large and small auditorium; the Performing Arts Centre with its rehearsal room; and the Exhibition Centre, with four galleries and plenty of space dedicated to the treatment and storage of works of art. The sober and minimalist straight lines, reminiscent of a contemporary take on the ancient castle form, make this rectangular building with staggered volumes visually striking. Part of its capacity to catch the eye comes from symmetry: in its dimensions the building’s centre is a cube measuring seven and a half metres in length, width and height. The interior furniture was the work of Daciano da Costa, a leading figure in modern Portuguese design who contributed to some of the country’s landmark buildings, including the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the National Library, and the Casa da Música in Porto.

The building and its enormous interior is covered by a rough-textured, rustic limestone, and is supported with metal columns. But there are also outdoor spaces, which include work by famous figures such as Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. The Exhibition Centre also currently houses the Museu Coleção Berardo, a modern and contemporary art museum, whilst the Library and Reading Room contains more than 30,000 titles.

Today, the centre hosts an eclectic artistic program, including events in the fields of music, theatre, dance, cinema, photography, visual art and installation. The centre also hosts conferences and seminars on a range of cultural themes, and other events of international relevance. Here in Belém, you can find a cultural centre full of life, suitable for all ages. It serves as an open city, where access to culture and the arts is as transparent and democratic as possible.

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