Flamboyant coach

Gaudy or Gorgeous? You decide at Portugal’s National Coach Museum

As you might expect from a museum that’s got everything from royal carriages to Popemobiles there’s a fair amount of gold and fancy features on show at the National Coach Museum in Lisbon. While some of them manage to remain pretty and elegant, others are just gaudy times ten.

Like many a girl who read too many fairy tales,  I once dreamed of being a princess riding around in a golden carriage. When I found out about Portugal’s renowned collection of 17th to 19th century coaches, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to step back into fantasy land. The fact that these are not straight off a Disney film set but real, well-preserved carriages carrying a whole load of history with them is a double bonus.

King João V's coach

King João V’s coach

I’d been unable to convince Mike to go so I took advantage of a recent solo trip to Lisbon to satisfy my curiosity. I’ll admit to feeling slightly disappointed when I got there, and not just because I’d arrived at the same time as a pack of Scouts. In order to preserve these elaborate wooden carriages and their ageing upholstery, the lights need to be low, which makes it difficult to appreciate the finer details.

There’s no chance of missing this one, however. Commissioned in 1716 by King João V as part of the fleet of coaches that would bring the Pope and his entourage to Portugal, this is ‘Oceans’.

18th century coach with elaborate statues and finishings

A carriage fit for a Pope!

The gold statues at the front represent the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, watched over by Spring, Summer and Apollo.

Front of 'Oceans' coach

Two oceans meet

The coach underwent extensive renovation between 1995 and 1999 and now looks brand new, with plush upholstery and shiny gold trimmings.

Interior, Oceans coach

Carefully restored to full glory.

The museum is housed in the former royal stables and the ceiling alone is worth going for. Impressive from any angle, it’s best viewed from the upper gallery where you can see the fanciful details such as men with baskets of flowers and fruit on their heads.

National Coach Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

View of the National Coach Museum from the second floor balcony.

detail, ceiling, National Coach Museum, Portugal

Love the hat!

My only other minor moan about the museum is that the coaches on the ground floor are packed really close together, presumably in order to display as many  as possible. I think I’d rather see less of coaches with more space for each one.

Grumblings aside, the good news for iPhone and iPad users is that there’s now an app to make your trip to the coach museum more interactive through stories and a game.

What do you think? Gaudy or Gorgeous? Let me know in the comments.

This post was inspired by Ailsa’s photography challenge, Travel Theme: Gaudy.

Practicalities:

Museu Nacional dos Coches / National Coach Museum is at Praça Afonso de Albuquerque in Belém. 

Check the website: www.museudoscoches.pt for public transport options

It’s open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm and is free on Sundays until 2 pm. Otherwise, it’ll cost you 5 euros.