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.
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’.
The gold statues at the front represent the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, watched over by Spring, Summer and Apollo.
The coach underwent extensive renovation between 1995 and 1999 and now looks brand new, with plush upholstery and shiny gold trimmings.
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.
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.
*Update: The lack of sufficient space has now been addressed with the opening of new museum premises. Part of the collection is still in the beautiful riding school but most of it is now contained within the shiny new premises just across the road, next to the gardens
Museu Nacional dos Coches / National Coach Museum is at Praça Afonso de Albuquerque and Avenida das Indias in Belém.
Check the website: www.museudoscoches.pt for public transport options, exact addresses and current prices.
It’s open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm.