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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Teles da Gama, MA

A Brief History of the Lisboa Story Centre

What is the Lisboa Story Centre?

The Lisboa Story Centre is a museum in Lisbon that charts the City’s history from its founding to the present day.

Lisboa Story Centre

Dguendel, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lisboa Story Centre History

The Lisbon Story Centre is an innovative museum of 2,000 square metres that tells the intriguing history of this 3,000-year-old city from the time of its first inhabitants to the present day. Using multimedia and exciting sensory experiences, the interactive presentation resembles an illustrated book brought to life.

The exhibition is divided into six main areas, naturally following a chronological sequence. You’ll begin with ‘Myths and Realities’, discovering the river, the land, the sea, the sky, the area’s mythology, and its colonisers and conquerors. The many theories about the origins of the city’s name are explored. One of these is that it’s derived from the ancient ‘Alis Ubbo’, Phoenician for ‘Safe Port’, thanks to its favourable location on the Tagus estuary. The founding of the city was attributed by some classical writers to the Greek hero Odysseus, believed to have established somewhere on the Iberian Peninsula a settlement called Olisipo. Later, the Moors from North Africa (‘Moors’ being the European name for Muslim settlers of the Iberian Peninsula), who conquered the area in the 8th century, gave it the Arabic name of Lisbon. The reclaiming of the city from them in 1147, after various failed attempts, resulted in the reign of the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. Lisbon expanded in the Middle Ages, becoming an important port, with prosperous trade routes established to Northern Europe and the coastal cities of the Mediterranean.

It then became a global city, a warehouse showcasing diverse products from the ‘New World’ transported there by caravels – the light sailing ships used on many of the country’s famous voyages during the era of Portuguese maritime discovery. From the 15th to the 17th centuries, dominance at sea brought great wealth and geopolitical power to the Portuguese Empire, which monopolised the trade in gold and ‘exotic’ products from Brazil, India, and the African coast.

A section of the Story Centre is devoted to the truly tragic events of All Saints’ Day, the 1st of November 1755. While the majority of the city’s inhabitants were at church for the religious festival, the greatest natural disaster of 18th-century Europe struck Lisbon. The terrible earthquake is realistically simulated through an immersive display, and this section of the museum is followed by an area that explores the role of the Marquis of Pombal. As chief minister to the king, he set about executing his innovative vision for the post-earthquake city by reorganising its street plan, and reinforcing the masonry of the new buildings with wooden cages called gaiola pombalina (or Pombaline cages) against further seismic shocks.

The many political and cultural events that have taken place in the adjacent Praça do Comércio are then recounted, and a multimedia virtual model explores in detail the city's architecture and layout. A visit to the Story Centre will give you a fresh perspective on the rich history of this city.

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