Praca do Comercio Lisbon

Praca do Comercio: A lesson in the History of Lisbon

Praca do Comercio or, in English, Commerce Square, facing the River Tagus, should be every visitor’s first stop when they visit Lisbon. The history of this huge square is fascinating, dating back to before the great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 which, together with a tsunami and widespread fire, virtually destroyed the entire area.

Praca do Comercio Lisbon area to this day is still called Terreiro do Paço (or Palace Square) by the locals as, before the earthquake, the Royal Ribeira Palace had been built on the site.

Development of the area began early in the 16th century, with the construction of the Palace and later a port to service trade between Lisbon and its African colonies, as well as Europe, America and Asia. After its destruction, the entire square was rebuilt into what one sees today – without a palace. All this rebuilding was co-ordinated by the Marquis of Pombal whose name was given to the rebuilt area – Pombaline Downtown – also known as Baixa.

The renowned Portuguese architect, Eugénio dos Santos, designed the new square in a symmetrical U shape, with the open end of the design facing the Tagus River. The Praca do Comercio Lisbon area, as it was then named, measures 170m by 170m and all the buildings surrounding it housed government and port authority offices. Each end of the U terminates in a large tower and in the centre of the U is the beautifully sculpted Triumphal Arch which was only completed in 1875. It comprises sculptures of Glory, Ingenuity and Valour; Vasco da Gama, Nuno Alvares Pereira and Viriatus; the Marquis of Pombal and a clock. A magnificent bronze sculpture of King José I on his horse, measuring 14m in height, stands proudly in the centre of the square and was unveiled in 1775.

The Praca do Comercio Lisbon area also played an infamous part of Portugal history when King Carlos I (the second last King of Portugal) was assassinated there in 1908, by Republicans who were, in turn, also shot. Two years later the monarchy was overthrown by the Republicans to end royal rule in Portugal.

Today Commerce Square Lisbon area has commercial businesses at street level in all the buildings surrounding it and the Lisbon’s Welcome Centre (Tourist office) is to be found in the northwest section. Martinho da Arcada, the oldest cafe in Lisbon, is located opposite, on the other side of the Triumphal Arch and is a worthy visit for its history of gathering place of  some of the most famous ancient Portuguese writers, politicians and artists.

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