Suggested visit duration:
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Sights & Landmarks
Lisbon Cathedral is the most important and ancient Catholic church in the capital of Portugal, located in the oldest district of the city, Alfama. Officially, one of the main tourist attractions is referred to as Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa (Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Mary Major). However, you may often hear the locals call it simply the Se Cathedral, due to "Se" being the initials of "Sedes Episcopalis", meaning the bishop's seat. Indeed, it was the bishop's seat a few centuries ago, when it was built back in the period between 1147 and the early 13th century.
The cathedral is said to be erected on the remnants of the Moorish mosque, which existed there before Lisbon was reconquered by the Portuguese and Crusaders from the Moors in 1147. Thus, the first bishop of the Se Cathedral was the Englishman Gilbert of Hastings.
Over the course of the centuries, the Se has undergone many reconstructions and architectural alterations, changing along with the city and different stylistic tendencies. Since Lisbon is, unfortunately, no stranger to the earthquakes, the Lisbon Cathedral witnessed all of them as well and managed to survive even the most tragic of all, the 1755 great earthquake. It left the city in ruins, except for Alfama district, although the large part of the building was destroyed but later renovated. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was given the title of the national symbol.
The exterior of the Lisbon cathedral is rather austere if compared to other churches in the city, especially the Baroque ones. It is Romanesque and looks very much like a fortress with two bell-towers and the classical wind rose in the front indicating that it is a church. In the times of Reconquista, it was actually used as a fortification. However, later the Gothic tombs and an ambulatory were added in the 14th century, the Baroque sacristy with a lot of antique relics appeared in the 17th century and the main chapel was rebuilt in the Neoclassical style in the 18th century, adding the neoclassical and Rococo features to the tomb of King Afonso IV.
The interior of the Se is mostly Baroque, although in the 20th century a lot of baroque elements were removed to restore the medieval atmosphere. Nevertheless, the insides preserve the form of the original layout shaped like the Latin cross.
In the back of the Lisbon Cathedral, there are Gothic cloisters where during the recent excavations the remnants of the aforementioned Moorish mosque were found.
The Lisbon cathedral is surrounded by legends and keeps its own secrets and sacred artifacts which you can see if you visit this magnificent edifice. So, don't waste your time - hop on the Lisbon vintage yellow tram and go see this imposing construction to understand, why Lisbon Cathedral gained the status of the national symbol!
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