Armchair Travel – Lisbon

The Pomp of Portugal – III

It can only be imagined what the appearance of the next coach had on the spectators both papal courtier and Roman commoner. Though we have no way of known what the two lost coaches looked like the sight of the gilded Ocean Carriage glistening in the sun of a Roman afternoon would surely have been the highlight of the procession.

The Quirinale Palace in 1754.
From Guiseppe Vasi’s book on the finest palaces in Rome – courtesy of Roberto Piperno at Rome in the Footsteps of an XVIIIth Century Traveller – a truly remarkable website.

The procession began at the Ambassador’s residence at Piazza Colonna proceeded down the Corso and on to the Quirinale Palace, the residence of the Pope and seat of the Papal Court until 1870. The Palace was to serve as the residence of the King after the Risorgimento and with the declaration of the Republic in 1946 became the official home of the President.

Though we don’t know the exact path it was probably a circuitous route that gave much of Rome the chance to watch in admiration and wonder. The entire procession was meant as an allegorical depiction of the place in Europe that João V felt he was entitled to as “Master of Conquests, Navigation, Commerce and Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India.” And nowhere is that more apparent than in this carriage celebrating a major achievement of Portuguese maritime history: the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope.

The ocean carriage

Again designed in the open “Roman” style the body is gilded wood and iron embellished with silk velvet, silk brocade, and gold and silver thread.

On the front drophead the images of Autumn and Winter flank the coachman’s seat and a cluster of acanthus leaves forms the foot-board.


Unfortunately the photos I took of the Ocean carriage did not turn out all that well and a few ended up in digital limbo somewhere. Where I could I used the photos I had taken but in several cases I have raided the Museo


The coach was restored in 1998 and old skills and techniques were revived to duplicated the rich working in gold thread on the red silk velvet. The straw stuffed seats are covered in cloth of gold silk brocade. Unexpectedly the thick leather straps that suspend the coach body on the carriage works are wrapped in silk velvet embroidered with gold thread. Even without the allegorical statues and carving the body of the carriage proclaims wealth and importance.

The rear drophead celebrates the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias. Though Herodotus claims that a Phoenician expedition accomplished the task around 600 BC the Portuguese triumph is lauded as the first in modern history. It opened the sea route to Africa and Asia for the Portuguese traders. Other European nations were to soon follow.


Continuing the theme on the front of the carriage Autumn and Spring flank the god Apollo. The sun good strikes his lyre, no doubt singing the glory of Portuguese mariners and their achievements. And perhaps the odd word of praise to João himself.


Across a globe that rests at the feet of the god two old men clasp hands: the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

Needless to say the formal entry of the Marquis of Fontes created the desired effect. As did the news he gave Pope Clement after kneeling to kiss his slippers and present his letter of credence. He announced the birth of the new Infante and gave full details on the rescue forces that João was sending to defend the Vatican States against the threat of an Ottoman invasion. It was reported that the Pope gave “great demonstrations of benevolence and joy” and elevated the Archdiocese of Lisbon to the title of Patriarchate. An honour only previously granted to Venice. And Portugal was recognized as a major player on the world stage. João’s 5000 cruzados had been well spent.

The idiom for January 26th is:
Cutting corners
To undertake something in what appears to be the easiest, quickest, or cheapest way, especially by omitting to do something important or ignoring rules.
The idiom appeared in the mid-1800s and appears to be a quick way of plowing several fields by omitting the corners. However there is no advantage and it is often detrimental if part of the crop hasn’t been sown or treat.
João and Don Rodrigo certainly didn’t cut any corners in their efforts to impress the Papal court!

Arm Chair Travel – Lisbon

The Pomp of Portugal – II

João V
Domenico Duprà – 1717
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

Unfortunately I could not find any record of the order of the procession for D. Rodgrio’s formal entry into Rome on July 8th, 1716. Nor could I find any details on the two lost triumph carriages or the ten accompanying vehicles. We can be sure that the attendants, postilions, coachmen and footmen would have been elaborately attired. Though of course the Ambassador, his family, retinue, and lesser mission officials would have outshone everyone in displaying the sophistication, magnificence and royal power of a king who at the time ruled over a vast empire.

As well as celebrating Lisbon the next carriage again was a reminder to everyone at the Holy See, and by extension in Europe, that Portugal was a principle defender of the faith.

The Coronation of Lisbon Carriage

All of the carriages were in the open-bodied Roman style with wood and iron body works. The trappings are leather, bronze, silk brocade, silk velvet, gold and silver threads, gold galloon, and rye straw. The allegorical woodwork sculptures in baroque style show traces of gilt highlights which suggest that perhaps like the Ocean Carriage it was gilded.

The velvet elevated coachman’s seat (no doubt stuffed with rye straw) oversees a cherub or guiding spirit who seems to be urging the horses on. The coachman is flanked by the allegory figures of Heroism and Immortality who are being garlanded by two cherubs.


I am guessing that the laurel crowned figure on the left is Heroism while the figure on the right wearing a crown much like what is given saints of the period is Immortality. I did search for attributes of these figures in baroque iconography but could find nothing concrete – or even gilt plaster!!!!

The body of the carriage is adorned with red silk velvet inlay with the embroidery on the door panel worked in brass and gold thread. The interior is upholstered in red silk with floral motifs in gold and silver thread.


On the drop-head of the rear wheel set, is the image of Lisbon crowned by Fame and Abundance. At Lisbon’s feet lay the symbols of the defeated Ottoman foe, and the conquered continents of Africa and Asia.


Given that the entire procession was meant as a glorification of João the question may arise why Lisbon is a woman? Simple explanation: in Portuguese Lisboa is a feminine noun. Abundance holds a cornucopia of fruit and flowers indicating the natural wealth of the country. As well as a coronet Fame bears the trumpet that will announce the glory of Lisbon to the Papal court and the watching world. And no Baroque carving would omit cherubs to wreath the scene with garlands.

The imperious Lisbon points her sceptre at a crescent moon being devoured by the winged dragon of the House of Braganza. And at her feet grovel the source of much of her wealth – Africa and Asia.

As splendid as this carriage was – and it does attest to the skill of the Italian wood carvers – there was one even more resplendent yet to come: the Ocean Carriage.

The word for January 15th is:
Galloon/ɡəˈlo͞on/: [noun]
A narrow ornamental strip of fabric, typically a silk braid or piece of lace, used to trim clothing or finish upholstery.
Early 17th century: from French galon, from galonner ‘to trim with braid’, of unknown ultimate origin.

Arm Chair Travel – Lisbon

The Pomp of Portugal – I

Don Rodrigo Anes de Sá Almeida et Meesses (1676-1733)

It will come as no surprise to both my faithful readers that I love a parade. In years past I have shared processions from what was the Golden Age of New Orleans Mardi Gras, Santa Claus Parades from my childhood and even the odd religious procession. However few processions could have outshone the cavalcade that introduced Don Rodrigo Anes de Sá Almeida e Menesses, 3rd Marquis of Fontes and 7th Count of Penaguião as the Kingdom of Portugal’s Ambassador to the court of Pope Clement XI on July 8, 1716.

In late 1711 King João V appointed D. Rodrigo as his representative to the Holy See with the instructions and the means to display the power, wealth, and devotion to the Church of the Kingdom, and more important that of its absolute monarch. D. Rodrigo left Lisboa for Genoa on January 8th 1712 finally reaching that port on March 30th. An eventful and perilous 91 day voyage that proved the strength and ability of Portuguese seamanship. He finally reach Rome on May 21 – a full 142 days after his departure from Lisboa. However the waiting list for public entry into the city was so long that D. Rodrigo had to wait another 1,509 days until he was to dazzle the court of the Pope and the populace of Rome.

And dazzle them he did. Papal Court protocol decreed that only 12 carriages could take part in an entry but somehow D. Rodrigo got away with five triumphal carriages and ten supporting vehicles. Perhaps it was the elaborate entertainments and gifts he had lavished on Clement, his relatives, and Papal officials over that long wait that accounted for their tolerating such lèse-majesté.

It is thought that D. Rodrigo had a hand in determining both the intent and design of the procession. The richly decorated carriages were complete with monumental gilded sculptures that presented the Portuguese conquest of pagan nations as a way of spreading the Roman Catholic faith. The gilt, rich fabrics and precious woods demonstrated the riches of the Portuguese Empire and remind the Pope and foreign ambassadors that Portugal’s possessions predated the emergence of the other European colonial powers. The designs, artistry and allegorical references showed Portugal as a centre of culture, the arts and learning. It was a statement that contrary to popular perception Portugal was still a vital imperial power.

Unfortunately I could not find any depiction of this grand procession, search as I might. However three of the five theme carriages made their way back to Portugal and are now displayed in the Museo National de Carruajtes.

The Ambassador Carriage

No doubt the coach of D. Rodrigo would have been the last of the five triumph cars to appear. In the open “Roman” style the body is constructed of wood and iron. The trappings are ivory, leather, silk brocade, lamé with gold thread , felt, cotton twill, linen, corn straw, rye straw and gilt canvas. The allegorical figures represent aspects of the Ambassador, his illustrious family history as well as the power of the monarch he represents.

The front set of wheels displays the image of Silenus, the tutor of Dionysus, riding a seahorse. He is flanked by the Roman goddess Minerva and the spirit of Hope.

A rather odd feature is the old satyr Silenus, who though wise and gifted with prophesy was known to be a drunkard and lecher. However he is balanced by Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, the arts, trade and diplomacy. She was also goddess of strategic war in the defence of one’s country or beliefs – perhaps a reminder of the aid that Portugal had given the Papacy in the war against the Ottoman Empire. Hope was one of the three theological virtues of Christianity, Faith and Charity being the other two. Again a signal to the Pope of the strength of and devotion to the church of João and his Empire.

The open body in “Roman” style is covered in a gold canvas. The interior is also upholstered in gold canvas and the flooring is inlaid with ivory. The carriage doors bear D. Rodrigo’s coat of arms.


The elaborate carvings on the rear of the carriage are a riot of cherubs and allegorical figures celebrating Navigation and Conquest.


Thetis, the goddess of “Navigation”, appears held up by Atlas as she draws routes on a globe. At her feet a Triton emerges from the water holding a mariner’s compass aloft. Opposite her is Bellona, the goddess of War holding a shield bearing D. Rodrigo’s coat of arms. She urges on a lion, symbol of royalty, vanquishing an Infidel.

In the centre, the image of the Adamastor, a mythical giant in Os Lusíadas an epic poem written by Luís Vaz de Camões in 1572.


He guarded the Cape of Good Hope and the passage to India. He symbolizing the dangers of the sea and the formidable forces of nature challenged and ultimately overcome by the Portuguese during the Age of Discovery. Another reminder to the viewer that the Portuguese had been at the game longer and more successfully than its rivals.

If the Ambassador’s Coach sent a message to the spectators on both the street and at the Papal Court it was merely a confirmation of what had gone on before. More about the two remaining carriages in the Museo National de Carruajtes collection as the parade passes by in a few days time.

The word for January 5th is:
Lèse-majesté /ˌlɛzˌmæʒɛsˈteɪ/: [noun]
The insulting of a monarch, ruler or state.
Late Middle English: from French lèse-majesté, from Latin laesa majestas ‘injured sovereignty’

Lisboa VII

A rain day proved to be fortuitous!

The town of Belém (Bethleham) is a short 20 minutes tram ride from the centre of Lisbon. Home of the Monastario de Los Jerónimos, the Pateis de Nata, Belém tower, an important cultural centre and several museums more than worth the detour. Or at least one museum that I can say for us was worth the trip on a rainy, family packed Sunday when the thought of getting soaked wandering through a crowded cloister, as historical as it may be, paled. I can’t speak for the National Museum of Clocks but the National Coach Museum (Museo National de Carruajtes) was a great place to spend a few hours. Once housed in the former stables of the Presidential Palace (where all those clocks are now) it was moved to a modern building several years ago. It has an extensive display of carriages closely linked to the history of Portugal, it’s nobility and royalty.

The oldest coach dates to the late 16th-early 17th century. It was used by King Filipe III of Spain in 1619 for the trip from Madrid to Lisbon for his coronation as King Filipe II of Portugal.

Mariana Victoria, Infante of Spain, became the power behind the Portugese throne on the ascension of her husband Joåo and again as Regent, first when her husband became ill and then when her daughter became Queen. As strong as she was, she had still been used as a political pawn in two “Exchange of the Princesses” in European history. In 1721 the four-year old Mariana was pledged to the ten-year old Louis XV of France and “exchanged” for his sister who had been pledged to Mariana’s brother Carlos. Unfortunately it didn’t work out – Louis’s advisors were not willing to wait until the little Princess was old enough to produce an heir. So she was sent packing back to Spain. Then in 1729 she was once again “exchanged” this time for Portugese Princess Maria Bárbara who was to marry her brother King Fernando VI while Mariana wed Prince José.

This carriage was used in the exchange at the border over the Caia River. Unusually it was equipped with a table. No doubt useful as the young Princesses played their luck at cards and contemplated what their luck would be at the foreign courts.

Though the royal carriages, livery, and accoutrements were fascinating, equally intriguing were the coaches of a later time meant to carry less regal members of Portuguese society.

This stage coach is very much like the ones we saw in the westerns of yore however it was equipped with powerful lanterns for night travel.

This postal coach was built in the 1800s by Jones Frères in Brussels. It served as a mail and passenger carriage between Lisbon and Oporto. The journey took 34 hours with rest stops at 23 stations to change horses and allow passengers to rest. The same journey today take a little under 3 hours on a high speed train!

After all the magnificent royal carriages, landaus, and coaches it’s easy to thing of our modern gas (or electric) powered transportation as rather blah and mundane. However the same cannot be said of one of the first automobiles driven in Portugal in 1895. Made by the firm of Brand, Panhard and Lavassor in Paris it was owned by Jorge Avilez De Sousa Feio, 4th Count of Avilez. The model was called the Trem, had a three horsepower motor and ran on gasoline. To my eyes it looks far more elegant than some lumbering SUV!

On this day in 1612: The Battle of Swally takes place, which loosens the Portuguese Empire’s hold on India.

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