Begun to be erected in 1598 by the Benedictine order, under the design of Arch. Baltasar Álvares, and in use since 1615, the building originally functioned as Monastery of São Bento da Saúde until 1833 and, by decree of D. Pedro IV, became the headquarters of Portuguese Parliament, welcoming the Cortes from 1834. It was designated as Palace of the Courts during the constitutional monarchy (1834-1910), later as Palace of the Congress of the Republic, following the implantation of the republican system (1910-1933), later as Palace of the National Assembly, at the time of the Estado Novo (1933-1974), and later as Assembly of the Republic or Palace of São Bento (since 1974), with the democratic regime in force.
Due to its long history, which comprises different religious and political moments, this National Monument (classified as such by Decree no. 5/2002, DR, 1st series-B. No. 42 of 19 February 2002) includes a very diversified estate, composed of mobile and fixed heritage, which testifies to the sacred and secular use, however, the latter being the largest component.
In addition to the monastic nucleus and the old background of the Chambers of Deputies, Peers of the Kingdom and Senators, the collection includes works acquired in the scope of successive initiatives for the requalification and dignification of spaces, pieces ordered to honor outstanding parliamentary figures, as well as institutional offers to the Presidents and Secretaries-General of the Assembly, personal offers from artists to the institution and donations of spoils belonging to former members of Parliament.
The main façade, remodeled during the first half of the 20th century, according to the late neoclassical design by Ventura Terra, adapted by Marques da Silva, is characterized by a classic balance of volumes distributed horizontally, with three floors, dynamized by topped rectangular windows by alternately triangular and semicircular pediments on the Noble Floor, simple square windows on the middle floor and vertical rectangular windows on the ground floor.
An advanced body rises centrally, topped by a triangular pediment, built from the galilee space of the church of the Monastery of São Bento da Saúde and resting on a flight of stairs. A perfect round arcade rises above these, with the double inscription of the Latin word Lex – an allusion to the legislative function of Parliament – between the two central arches and four allegorical female statues, seated and worn, sculpted in lioz, of hard cut and layout formal, These represent, from left to right, A Prudência, sculpted by Raul Xavier, A Justiça, by Maximiano Alves, A Força, sculpted byCosta Mota, nephew and A Temperança, by Barata Feio.
The pediment, which tops the balcony, is 30 meters long and six meters high and the tympanum decorated by sculptor Simões de Almeida, nephew, in a symmetrical composition, with an academic character. The iconography used follows the ideological program of the Estado Novo policy, representing, at the center, the homeland, enthroned, identified by the Latin insignia OMNIA PRO PATRIA (“Everything for the Nation”) inscribed on the platform, flanked by 18 figures representing, among others, Industry and Commerce.
The veranda, which accentuates the noble area of the floor, has 12 columns with Corinthian capitals and five arched windows that correspond with those of the galilee, with corbels decorated with lions.
The exterior staircase was built in 1941, according to a project by architect Cristino da Silva, flanked by two lions, by sculptor Raul Xavier, as sentinels of the symbolism of power associated with Parliament.
The visit starts at the south wing of the Palace, where the Cloister is located. Although the space belonged to the old monastery, it has already undergone some renovations. In the center is a fountain with an eighteenth-century figure of a child and a fountain.
The Cloister, located in the south wing of the Palace, is one of four cloisters originally designed for the Monastery, of which two were built and one not completed. It is formed by 12 round arches and eight straight lintel arches based on Tuscan pillars, according to the design inspired by the Serlian treatise that could already be seen in the projects of the 17th century architect Baltasar Álvares.
It has a gallery of doors and windows with an intermediate floor, a garden with four beds with an olive tree in each and, in the center, a fountain placed here in the second half of the 19th century. The fountain is made up of a small circular lake where the bowl rests, from where a putto flanked by dolphins appears, holding a shell, with fountain, supported on the head.
In one of the cloister galleries, busts of three personalities that marked contemporary parliamentary politics were placed: Natália Correia, by João Cutileiro (2000), Alda Nogueira, by António Trindade (2000) and Adelino Amaro da Costa, by Domingos Soares Branco (2000).
The Atrium, which is in the place where the church of the Monastery of São Bento da Saúde once existed. The white and pink marble floors are remnants of the old chapel.
In this space are two bells that belonged to the church tower of the old Monastery. There are also four weapons stones, two funerary tombstones of monks and the statue of D. Carlos I, a work by Teixeira Lopes.
Along the Atrium, there are several busts of great Portuguese parliamentarians, as well as distinguished speakers. In addition, there is a bust of Luís de Camões that was a gift from the Government of Macau to the Assembly of the Republic.
The main atrium of the São Bento Palace has an advanced porch designed by Ventura Terra and is one of the rare original spaces of the old São Bento Monastery.Here the monastic church was located, from which the original white and pink marble floor remains, forming a geometric decoration.
In place of the old side chapels, now closed forming blind arcade that functions as a succession of niches, there are busts by Luís de Camões, authored by José Aurélio (1999), by some illustrious parliamentarians of the Monarchy and the 1st Republic, such as Hintze Ribeiro and António Cândido, both by Maximiano Alves (1950), Bernardino Machado, by António Duarte (1979), António José de Almeida, by Joaquim Correia (1980), and Afonso Costa, by in António Paiva (1980), and also the bust of the President of the 1975-1976 Constituent Assembly, Henrique de Barros, by Lagoa Henriques (2002).
On the left, there is a statue of King D. Carlos, by Teixeira Lopes (1901), commissioned for the niche behind the Presidency table of the Chamber of Deputies’ Room of Sessions.
In the corridors of access to the Noble Staircase, there is one of the bells that belonged to the church tower of the Monastery of São Bento and five other busts of distinguished parliamentarians: Francisco Margiochi (1812-1879), by Anatole Calmels (1880), Anselmo Braamcamp Freire (2010), replica of the original bust of sculptor Teixeira Lopes, José Maria Alpoim, by Costa Mota, nephew (1918), Francisco Salgado Zenha and Francisco Sá Carneiro, both by Carla Gonçalves(1997). On the passage to the Cloister, the crown is exposed, in red and gold monochromatic carving, which topped the canopy of the old Chamber of Peers.
In the background, in the access to the interior garden, there is the replica of a pattern of the Discoveries performed by the sculptor João da Silva for the 5th centenary of the death of Infante D. Henrique in 1960.
The garden, located at the back of the São Bento Palace, was designed by Cristino da Silva, characterized by a French-inspired symmetry in the layout of the beds and statues, with four small steps of steps that create the effect of terraces in a shape to overcome the steep slope of the terrain.
It is separated from the Prime Minister’s official residence by a 50-meter long wall with 16 niches and respective fountains and a double staircase built in the 1940s leading to the upper garden, topped by two sphinxes with the corners, by Leopoldo de Almeida.
On each side of the staircase, advanced in relation to this, there are two statues representing Force and Justice, two female allegorical figures that correspond ideologically with the Latin inscriptions LEX (Law) and JVS (Right) in front of the building. Carved in identical lioz and within the same monumentality as the statues on the façade, they present, however, differences in relation to these in terms of size, formal plasticity and richness of expressive resources.
The Noble Staircase was initially designed by the architect Ventura Terra and reformulated in its layout by the architect António Lino, in the years 1936-1937. It came to replace the old staircase of the Monastery, originally lined with ashes of tiles dated from 1630, and with profuse mannerist decoration of ferroneries, brutish, putti and cards with heraldic symbols of the Order of S. Bento (today in the National Tile Museum).
The tops of the eight doors to which the staircase gives access are crowned by triangular pediments with sculptural groups by Leopoldo de Almeida, representing the eight provinces of Portugal at the time (Estremadura, Minho, Beira Alta, Trás-os-Montes, Algarve, Alentejo, Douro and Beira Baixa), identified by the coat of arms of the respective capitals (Lisbon, Braga, Viseu, Bragança, replacing Vila Real, Faro, Évora, Porto and Castelo Branco) and by the economic activities that best characterized them then (Agriculture and Fisheries).
The walls of the upper floor of the staircase are decorated with six large canvases with paintings of a historical genre grouped into two triptychs, integrated in round arches, by Martins Barata, made between 1940 and 1943 and entitled “The defense of the motherland” and “The prosperity of the nation”, as determined by the order. However, by direct reference to the representations chosen by the author to deal with the themes, they are commonly known as “As Cortes de Leiria” and “Allegory to the productive forces of the nation”.
Painted on the right wall, next to the Sala das Sessões, the first triptych recreates the historical episode of Cortes de Leiria (1254) – the first in which, alongside the clergy and nobility, the representatives of the people, the procurators of the councils, all together, for the consolidation of national sovereignty. On the central panel, in a palatial background, D. Afonso III can be seen, enthroned, surrounded by the officials of the Paço and by district attorneys. In the left panel, there is the clergy leaving the Chapel of São Pedro and in the right panel, the Nobility with the Leiria Castle in the background.
On the left wall, next to the Corporate Chamber (now the Senate Hall), an allegory was painted to the productive forces of the Nation in the 15th century. The Arts and Crafts were represented in the central panel, Agriculture and Livestock in the left panel and Commerce in the right panel (ships, sailors and merchants).
São Bento Palace
The São Bento Palace is a palace – style neoclassical located in Lisbon, being the seat of the Parliament of Portugal since 1834. It was built in the late sixteenth century (1598) as a monastery Benedictine (Monastery of St. Benedict Health) for traces of Baltazar Álvares, with a mannerist and baroque character. The National Archive of Torre do Tombo was installed there. With the extinction of religious orders in Portugal it became the property of the State. In the 17th century, the crypts of the marquises of Castelo Rodrigo were built.
After the establishment of the liberal regime in 1834, after the Portuguese Civil War, it became the headquarters of the Cortes Gerais da Nação, becoming known as the Palácio das Cortes. Following the changes in the official name of the Parliament, the Palace was also given several official names: Palácio das Cortes (1834-1911), Palácio do Congresso (1911-1933) and Palácio da Nacional Assembly (1933-1974). In the mid-twentieth century, the designation of Palácio de S. Bento started to be used, in memory of the old Convent. This denomination remained after 1976, when it became the seat of the Assembly of the Republic.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Palace underwent a series of major remodeling works, both interior and exterior, which made it almost completely distinct from the old Monastery, of which the remodeling by Ventura Terra and in 1936 the monumental staircase, added by António Lino and completed by Cristino da Silva. The Palace has a central body with arcades on the ground level and over these colonnaded gallery, topped by a triangular pediment decorated with stuccoes. The interior is equally grand, full of wings, and the Chamber of Deputies’ Room of Sessions, the Room of the Lost Steps, the Noble Hall, among others, as well as works of art from different periods in the history of Portugal. The Palace also includes a Historical Museum, having been classified as a National Monument in 2002.
In 1999, the new building was inaugurated, which supports the Assembly of the Republic. Located in the square of S. Bento, the new building, a 1996 project by the architect Fernando Távora, although connected to the palace by direct interior access, was purposely built in order to be an autonomous structure in order not to compromise or mischaracterize the palace layout.