LISBON COACH museum, Museu dos Coches, considered one of the finest in the world, is celebrating its centenary this year.
As part of the celebrations, an exhibition entitled ‘Lisbon 100 Years Ago’ opens on May 23 and traces aspects of the city’s social and cultural life in 1905, through original documents, posters and photographs. The coach museum, attached to Belém Palace in its former riding school building dated 1726, was founded in 1905 by Queen Dona Amélia de Orléans, daughter of the Count of Paris and wife of King Carlos I.
The museum contains around 100 royal, ecclesiastical and aristocratic horse-drawn vehicles from the 17th to the 19th centuries – most in superb condition and working order.
The collection gives a comprehensive idea of what travel was like before the advent of the train (1840s onwards) and motorcar (1905 onwards).
There are Berlins (18th century long-distance carriages), Sedan chairs (the Georgian equivalent of the short distance city taxi), gold gilt ceremonial carriages of state, barouches (the up-and-dashing Dandy’s early 19th century sports car equivalent), and even children’s carts designed to be pulled by sheep around the grounds of aristocratic gardens.
Among the highlights of this magnificent collection are three ornate carriages that belonged to King João V and a coach belonging to King Philip III of Portugal (Philip II of Spain). There is also the magnificent collection of coaches used in the Portuguese Embassy for Pope Clement XI, built in Rome in 1716. These vehicles, unique in the world, are perfect examples of the carroza romana, lavishly decorated with cherubs and symbols of Portuguese maritime, imperial power.
The collection boasts the present from the Pope given to King João V in 1715, on the birth of his heir Prince José. Another unique piece is an example of the so-called ‘table coaches’, used to convey princesses to foreign countries to cement marriage treaties. The princess would be taken to the border, stripped of her clothes and redressed in the clothes of her new land, and then handed over like a possession, unlikely to ever see her native land again. The example on display is the coach that was used to take Princess Maria Bárbara, daughter of King João V, to the Spanish border at the Caia River, to marry the future King of Spain Fernando VII.
By Chris Graeme