Sessions Room, São Bento Palace

The Sala das Sessões, opened in 1903, was designed by the architect Ventura Terra after a violent fire in 1895 that destroyed the first room of the Chamber of Deputies, designed by the architect Possidónio da Silva.

The room was built on the site of one of the four monastic cloisters, still occupying a chapel that was attached to it.

With a semicircular layout and an amphitheater layout, which is why it is called the Hemicycle, it has oak wallets worked in the English style, ordered by simple benches, where the 230 deputies sit according to the parliamentary tradition after the French Revolution, on the left to the right, facing the presidential platform.

The zenithal lighting of the room is made through a skylight with an iron and glass structure, revealing, as in the Sala dos Passos Perdidos, the avant-garde Parisian influences of the architect-engineers, mitigated here, by Miguel Ventura Terra’s neo-classicism (in contrast with the bold modernism of José Marques da Silva that punctuated, at the time, the architecture of Porto).

Decorating the room, behind the grandstand of the Presidency, is a full-body statue representing the Republic, with an armillary sphere in hands, by the sculptor Anjos Teixeira, dated 1916.

Above, there is a large telescope painted by Veloso Salgado, representing the Constituent Courts of 1821 – which drafted the 1822 Constitution, the first in Portuguese constitutional history – gathered at the Library of the Convento das Necessidades in Lisbon. This theme was chosen, after the evaluation of the two proposals presented by the painter in 1923, and the painting was carefully studied in numerous sketches of composition and portrait, existing in the Museum of the Assembly of the Republic. At the center of the composition, arranged around the Presidency table (in which is the archbishop of Bahia, Frei Vicente da Soledade), the figure of the speaker Manuel Fernandes Tomás stands out, considered one of the greatest mentors of the Liberal Revolution of 1820.

This large semicircular canvas is framed by coats of arms with the arms of the districts and the former overseas provinces, evocative of the circumscriptions where deputies were elected, painted by Benvindo Ceia.

The three ceiling paintings, distributed around the large skylight, were executed by Alves Cardoso and represent allegories of Science, Arts and Industry; Homeland, Peace and Fortune; Trade and Agriculture. Like the composition of the telescope, these were carried out after carrying out preparatory studies, taken to tender in 1921.

Above the tribunes destined for the diplomatic corps and the high individualities are sculptural groups with allegorical figures, by Moreira Rato and Teixeira Lopes, and, above the Presidency table, by the latter.

On the balcony of the central gallery on the top floor, there is a monumental stone clock, refurbished in 1990, with an electromechanical machine with a quartz control system from the German manufacturers Bürk and Kienzle.

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The galleries on the first floor, intended for the public, are punctuated by six plaster statues, identified by the inscriptions on the respective plinths: the Constitution, by Simões de Almeida, nephew, the Law, made by Francisco Santos, the Jurisprudence, by Costa Mota, uncle, Eloquence, shaped by Júlio Vaz Júnior, Justice, by Costa Mota, nephew and Diplomacy, by Maximiano Alves, allegorical symbols linked to the art of legislating and the exercise of power. The total capacity of the galleries is 660 seats.

Between August 2008 and March 2009, remodeling works were carried out in the Assembly of the Republic’s Session Room, a period in which plenary meetings were held in the Senate Room, specially adapted for this purpose.

These works made it possible to provide the room with the most appropriate conditions for parliamentary work. However, the original architecture of the space, as designed by the architect Ventura Terra at the end of the 19th century, maintained its essential characteristics.

In this room, plenary sessions of the Assembly of the Republic are held, that is, meetings with the 230 deputies elected in the legislative elections. All plenary sessions are public and are usually held on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 3 pm and on Fridays at 10 am. Solemn sessions are also held in this room, such as the commemorative session of the 25th of April or the inauguration session of the President of the Republic.

In addition to the plenary sessions, meetings of the Permanent Commission (the organ that functions outside the effective period of the Assembly of the Republic) and meetings of parliamentary committees in which the debate on the specialty of the State Budget and the Grand Plan Options, takes place are also held in this room.

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.