Museums in Portugal: Belém

I know I’m one day late.. When I say “next Sunday” it should be next Sunday indeed. Not Monday…

I’m trying to be better this week.

Now if you are visiting Lisbon you probably are thinking about going to Belém. Unless you live in this area, there’s only two reason to visit Belém: Pastéis de Belém and the museums… About the food I’m not the right person to talk, all I can say is that it’s delicious and you have to queue for a long time.

About the museums I know a little bit more. So here are my favorite museums in Belém.

Oh a little pro tip. On the first Sunday of the month all museums are free in the Lisbon area!


MAAT Museum

AL_A Studio 2016


You probably not surprise to see the New MAAT museum here. Everyone is talking about this place and taking pictures here. Well… Obviously I did the same. I wanted to know what everyone was so hyped about.

MAAT stands for Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology and I’m very happy a place like this now exists in Portugal.

If I had to describe the new museum in a word I would say it reminds me of a wave. Yes, a wave… Which makes sense since the museum is located near the Tejo River.

This “wave” building is covered in… well I didn’t counted but I’m guessing A LOT of tiles. Not complaining, tiles are very special in portuguese architecture so I’m glad that the studio decided to continue this tradition and didn’t built another concrete museum. Also the way this 3D tiles catches the light and changes its color during the day it’s just stunning!


A little critic… The building is beautiful, there’s no doubt but it still feels so unfinished! There was only the main gallery opened and a lot of places were still interdict. Even some finishes in the exterior part of the building were not done… Unless it’s supposed to look like that… If it is.. not cute, makes it look sloppy.

Phase two of the project is complete in March of this year – we will see if that happens  – with the opening of four galleries below ground level, a restaurant and more public spaces. Including a park designed by Vladimir Djurovic and a bridge that connects the waterfront with the roof.

Directed by the former curator of contemporary architecture of the MoMA in New York, Pedro Gadanho.


Side story:

On my first year at University I was going to have Pedro Gadanho as a teacher. Actually I chose a specific subject, Contemporary Architecture and Culture, because I knew he was the teacher. However, that same year, Pedro Gandanho got the job at MoMa and left. I still did the subject but let me just say it was my lowest final grade, ever.


All this to say that I been following Pedro Gadanho’s work for the past years so I’m curious to see what he does in the MAAT Museum.

Finally, I don’t have much more to say about this museum. I will wait to form a proper opinion when it’s all ready. So if you really REALLY want to visit the MAAT Museum you should but it’s better to wait a few months until the second phase is complete.

Oh and please don’t forget that the brick building next door, Electricity Museum, is also part of the MAAT organization. It’s a Power Station and it’s industrial architecture heaven!


Museu da Electricidade


Industrial architecture heaven, right?

The Electricity Museum opened first to public in 2006. Relaunched later in 2016 as part of the MAAT Museum. However  the building was in Belém way before it became a museum. The complex that is now a must to visit used to be the Power Station that supplied electricity to Lisbon. 

Built between 1908 and 1951, the Central Tejo  suffered several expansions. Today is considered  as one of the finest examples of Lisbon’s industrial architecture of the first half of the 20th century. Easy to understand, it’s a beautiful building made of iron and brick!


Well.. The exhibition is basically the Power Central Station itself. Yet don’t feel discourage to not visit the Electricity Museum. Even though there’s no paintings or sculptures like in a more traditional museum… There’s art there, I like to see it as industrial art! The long windows, the machines, the iron..

Maybe I will regret saying this but when it comes to architecture I think i prefer the Electricity Museum compared to the new MAAT Museum. At least for now.


New National Coach Museum

Paulo Mendes da Rocha, MMBB arquitectos, Ricardo Bak Gordon


Just across the MAAT Museum, on the other side of the railways, there’s another famous museum. The New National Coach Museum, designed by also a well-known architect, pritzker winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha.

The museum consists of basically  two buildings connected by a passageway. A larger one containing two huge exhibition rooms with a beautiful metal structure – you can tell by now that I like metal-  and a smaller one. Unfortunately, the smaller building was closed when I visited. I don’t know if this was only temporary or if it’s always closed. The exposed concrete structure and the reflective glass on the top definitely make this building  stand out. On the contrary, the larger building is a lot more sober. A big concrete elevated volume sported by thick pilotis ( in essence, modern pillars) with a few long but short windows.

The game composed by the two buildings creates a public space, somewhat like a square. However I have to say there’s something off about this exterior area. It’s not inviting, did not make me want to stay there. I think it’s because you feel confined in the space and the view is mostly white walls , not that appealing..

The New Coach Museum is a lot controversial, some people like it some people don’t. In my humble opinion I like it but could be better. The interior of the building is very well designed and it’s nice to see architecture fulfill it’s purpose. I love that it has a higher gallery so you can see the coaches from above. This is a museum, the main focus should be the exhibition not the building. In that aspect I appreciate how sober the building is.

On the other side, the exterior is just blah. Where’s the Portuguese tradition? This building could be here in Portugal or in Japan, it wouldn’t matter. There’s nothing on it that makes it unique. It’s like the opposite of the Old National Museum that I’m talking about next.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still worth a visit and  I like the building, that’s why it’s here. Not to mention the stunning exhibition.


Old National Coach Museum – Picadeiro

Giacomo Azzolini, Rosendo Carvalheira, Raul Lino

Ok.. So this one is not exactly my favorite museum and I don’t have many pictures of this one. However it’s here so I can make a point.

Built in 1726, the Old National Coach Museum was first a Royal Circus Ring. Later adapted to a museum in 1905 by the court architect Rosendo Carvalheira. It still is one of the most visited museums in Portugal.

Long story short, the National Coach Museum wasn’t  enough to shelter so many coaches. In 1944 a new room was built, designed by the architect Raul Lino – so you know it’s a real good portuguese architect- that allowed to exhibit more coaches. Again not enough space and that’s why the New National Coach museum that a wrote about previously exists.

Now, here’s why it’s not my favorite and this is a very debated theme. I think the building it else is beautiful – my one photo doesn’t do it justice at all. The paintings, the natural and artificial light, it truly is special… as a building. As a museum? Not so much. When I was there, almost didn’t noticed  the coaches because I was looking at the architecture of space. Museums are supposed to make the exhibition pieces pop, not steal the show.

If you are in Belém and like architecture go visit this space. However if you actually want to see the Coaches just go to the New Coach Museum.


CCB – Centro Cultural de Belém

Vittorio Gregotti e Manuel Salgado 1988 – 1993


Finally,  time for my favorite museum in Belém! The CCB is not only a museum but it’s also composed by several offices, rooms for meetings and conferences, an auditorium, a hotel and shops. Although I’m not sure if the Hotel still exist.

Here’s the thing: amazing exhibition + amazing building = win win.

The project for this building had strict guidelines, since it’s near to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and in front of the Praça do Império. I’ts a horizontal building and from the main entrance, a series of patios appear. This scheme is intersected by narrow streets that reminds of the typical streets in Lisbon. Vittorio Greggotti and Manuel Salgado – the architects – didn’t create just a building. They created a micro neighborhood – if I can call it that – with streets, patios, a garden and the actual building. Even thought it’s a massive mass and looks like a fortress covered in limestone – the typical stone of Lisbon – it still works because of those extra details that I mentioned.


However if you look at the interior, it still is sober and the exhibition still is the main attraction. Although it’s far from being a plain jane interior. Notice how the ceilings sometimes are low and when it’s necessary they are huge! And the light…  You have artificial lights, high windows and even zenithal light (basically when light enters the building from the top, from the sky (zenith) .

After this I hope you can understand why it’s my favorite. As an architecture student I know it isn’t easy to combine all these different elements and make it work. Combining tradition with modern, the interior with the exterior, the function with the character… Somehow the CCB nailed it!


I hope you enjoyed this second post about Lisbon. Again sorry it was late!

Tell me your opinions and if you liked the post! Also what would you like to see here next?

See next Sunday! ( I promise)



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