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Postcard from Lisbon's National Pantheon of Santa Engracia

Picture of Nina Santos
Updated: 18 September 2017

It may be argued that no view better represents Lisbon than the cityscape over Alfama with the National Pantheon’s white dome taking center stage. Listed as a National Monument and used as a burial for important political and cultural figures, it is certainly one of the most noteworthy buildings in the capital. Having survived a rocky history that included destruction, rebuilding efforts, and even a potential curse, the National Pantheon is certainly a building with a story.

Today’s National Pantheon was first built in the 16th century as the Church of Santa Engrácia on the order of Princess Maria of Portugal. The church was vandalized and destroyed in the early 17th century and stories suggest that the man accused placed a curse that would prevent the church from ever being completed. After a couple of failed attempts, reconstruction efforts began in 1681 under the leadership of head architect João Antunes and continued until Antunes’s death in 1712. Ignored by the current King of the time, King John V, and a financial crisis, the building stood partially completed for over 200 years. At the time of Antunes’s death, the majority of the building was finished with the exception of the top dome, and he is credited as having inspired the Baroque style and Greek cross.

The church became a National Pantheon in 1916 but the building, including the dome, was completed by 1966. Today, it is a top tourist spot and gets more attention due to its location in the middle of the Feira da Ladra. It is also located near Lisbon’s largest expression of street art in São Vicente de Fora. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, there is a €3 fee to enter and from the top visitors will be awarded with a stunning view over Alfama. The inside of the church is also breathtaking, especially the symmetrical floor plan and Greek symbology.

Among those buried in the National Pantheon include fado superstar Amalia Rodrigues, a few prominent writers, soccer superstar Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, and a few past presidents.