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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Teles da Gama, MA

A Brief History of the Museu Nacional dos Coches in Lisbon

What is the Museu Nacional dos Coches?

The Museu Nacional dos Coches, or National Coach Museum in English, is a collection of elaborately decorated coaches that are displayed within a former royal riding school and a purpose-built cultural centre.

coach at national coach museum

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Museu Nacional dos Coches History

The history of this spectacular collection dates back to 1905, when the Museu dos Coches Reais (or Royal Coach Museum) was inaugurated in the frescoed hall of Lisbon’s former Royal Picadeiro (or Riding School). The museum, the first of its kind in the world, was the initiative of Queen Amélia of Orléans and Bragança, Princess of France and wife of King Carlos I. Five years later, on the 5th of October 1910, the First Portuguese Republic was established, which saw the collection increased by the arrival of a set of richly decorated state carriages from the abolished royal house, alongside former state vehicles that had belonged to the church. The following year, in the democratic spirit of the time, the museum was renamed the National Coach Museum.

In total, over 70 sumptuous vehicles are on display here, the oldest dating from the 16th century and the most recent a ‘Mala-Posta’ vehicle from the 19th, used to transport mail. Other exhibits include carriages used in gala parades, objects linked to equestrian arts and games, and a magnificent collection of portraits of the Portuguese royal family.

Of particular interest are the three ceremonial carriages that were part of the embassy of King John V to Pope Clement XI in 1716. Magnificently carved and gilded, to reflect the power of the Portuguese monarchy, they ferried the nation’s diplomats and envoys. The pope had gifted the king a stunning ceremonial carriage a year before, which is on display in the museum, along with ‘blessed ribbons’ intended for the baptism of King John’s first son. Also part of the collection is an extraordinary campaign bed from the 18th century, used on military expeditions and for long-distance travel.

row of coaches at the national coach museum

Although a new hall was designed in the 1940s, the lack of space in the former riding school continued to be a problem. In 2015, a second venue was opened, designed by Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, that now serves both as an extension to the museum and a cultural centre for the surrounding area. In the words of the architect: ‘[T]he museum has no doors and relates to all of its surroundings’. The new building includes giant galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions, and a conservation and restoration workshop – it’s an excellent contemporary addition to the museum’s ever-expanding and historic collection.

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