The Marquis of Pombal examines the plans for the Reconstruction of Lisbon - Miguel Ângelo Lupi (1883)
The Marquis of Pombal examines the plans for the Reconstruction of Lisbon - Miguel Ângelo Lupi (1883)

Beyond Monuments: The Masonic Legacy in Lisbon and the United States Capital

Despite being a relatively young nation, the United States of America boasts a rich history, full of notable figures and events that have helped shape the country. This month, I had the opportunity of visiting Washington D.C. for the first time.

Ever since I watched ‘National Treasure’ as a child, I was intrigued by the idea of a secret treasure hidden away by the Founding Fathers, who were also members of a secret society known as the Freemasons.

The film centres around a treasure hunt in Washington D.C., where the protagonist, played by Nicholas Cage, seeks to uncover the treasure by deciphering secrets and symbols hidden around the city by the Freemasons.

According to legend, the builders of Solomon’s Temple are believed to have been the earliest Masons. Even if it is just a legend, it is clear that the origins of Freemasonry can be traced back to ancient times. The traditions and practices of Freemasonry can be seen in associations of artists in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and later on in guilds of medieval stonemasons.

Modern Freemasonry, however, was established in England during the 18th century and soon spread to Portugal where individuals gathered in Lisbon to exchange ideas and promote Enlightenment, and their unwavering principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.

The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial

However, the secretive aspect of the society was not tolerated by Salazar, who banned Freemasonry in 1935. Nevertheless, meetings continued in secrecy, with poet and writer Fernando Pessoa being an avid supporter of the society.

However, Fernando Pessoa was not their only supporter. It is rumoured that one of the most prominent Masonic figures in Portugal was the Marquis of Pombal who effectively ruled the Portuguese Empire mid-18th century.

Pombal was responsible for the modernisation and reconstruction of Lisbon after the devastating earthquake of 1755. He used his position to implement reforms and advance Enlightenment ideals, focusing on areas such as education, commerce, and urban planning.

The Masonic presence in Lisbon is, therefore, evident in the city’s architecture with several buildings reflecting the influence of the organisation.

While the Marquis of Pombal’s affiliation with Freemasonry remains a matter of speculation, it is well-documented that prominent Founding Fathers of the United States, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were indeed members of the fraternity.

The influence of Freemasonry can be seen in the architectural choices and symbolism throughout Washington, D.C. The city’s layout, with its wide avenues, intersecting diagonal streets, and grand public spaces, reflects the concepts of harmony, balance, and proportion that are central to Masonic symbolism.

The design of iconic buildings like the U.S. Capitol and the White House drew inspiration from ancient civilisations, showcasing the Masonic interest in connecting to historical tradition.

Print from 1870 portraying George Washington as Master of his Masonic Lodge
Print from 1870 portraying George Washington as Master of his Masonic Lodge

The Lincoln Memorial was one of the most striking monuments and the first one that I visited after arriving in the capital. The size of the statue and the solemn atmosphere of the memorial will leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits, and it is a significant reminder of the profound impact that one individual can have in shaping history.

Whilst the United States is said to have been founded on the principles of equality, freedom and human rights, slavery was still very prevalent at the time. It was Lincoln who later played a crucial role in abolishing slavery in America, a subject that is also engrained in Portugal’s history.

Portugal played a significant role in the history of slavery, particularly during the Age of Exploration and the transatlantic slave trade. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal established a vast overseas empire, including colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The Portuguese were actively involved in the slave trade, capturing and transporting enslaved Africans to their colonies, as well as trading slaves with other European powers.

Whilst history textbooks boast that Portugal was the first European country to abolish slavery in 1761, it was not effectively enforced. The slave trade continued in Portuguese colonies until the 19th century, until it was finally abolished in 1869, making Portugal one of the last European countries to do so.

As I continued my exploration of the American Capital, I had the opportunity to visit several other iconic landmarks such as the Washington Monument that towers over the city’s skyline, the White House, also known as the iconic residence of the President, and the Capitol Building, with its magnificent dome and stately presence that made headlines just a couple of years ago. Each of these landmarks has a unique story to tell and deserves its own article.

From the nation’s tumultuous past to the hidden layers of symbolism and history, Washington, D.C. beckons curious minds to uncover its stories. Whether you’re captivated by the grandeur of iconic monuments or intrigued by the Masonic influence on the city’s design, Washington, D.C. stands as a living testament of the stories and legacies that have shaped the United States and I look forward to exploring the city further in the future.

By Jay Costa Owen

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Jay works for a private charter airline, and is also a UX designer and aspiring author who enjoys learning about history and other cultures