Portugal's Manueline architectural style is named after its key influencer, King Manuel I, who served as Portugal’s head honcho from 1495-1521. This wasn’t a bad time to hold the reigns, as it was during this period that Portugal held the power of the pepper.
As you might remember from my post A brief history of Portugal, the Portuguese were incredibly influential during the Age of Discovery. Portugal’s brave seafaring souls proved it was possible to sail across the world without dropping off the end, and in a fortuitous twist, discovered you could become rather wealthy if you collected and traded spices from lands you stumbled upon along the way.
Feeling suitably minted, King Manuel decided to put his country’s spice taxes to good use by constructing some spiffy buildings that flaunted Portugal’s maritime prowess. These buildings would later be described as Manueline.
Now, what actually constitutes Manueline-style architecture isn’t particularly clear cut. Some scholars claim the Portuguese drew influence from their international jaunts to exotic lands like India, while others say it’s a load of claptrap given many of the architects never actually set foot in India themselves.
It’s generally agreed however that Manueline buildings incorporate maritime and religious references, plus a smattering of plants and animals. Hence it’s common to see lengths of seaweed and rope twisted around shields, crosses and fish.
The strongest identifiers of Manueline style are the armillery sphere and Military Order of Christ cross, which were close to King Manuel (and Portugal’s) heart. The armillery sphere – a navigational instrument – was the king’s emblem and is also the yellow object you see on the Portuguese flag. The cross is the big red symbol stamped on the sails of Portugal’s ships. (Once you start looking out for the sphere and the cross you’ll see them all over Portugal.)
Two good examples of Manueleine style are the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (top image) and Torre de Belém (below) just outside Lisbon’s city centre in Belém (both are UNESCO World Heritage listed).
The torre (meaning tower) was constructed by Manuel to serve a military function at the mouth of the Tagus River, while the mosteiro (monastery) was more about showing off.
Given the monastery was constructed on *ahem* Portuguese time, King Manuel couldn’t hang on long enough to see its completion 100 years after he’d commissioned it, so he’s honoured with a statue of his stately self by the main portal. He’s also buried inside.
Other strong examples of Manueline architecture can be seen in the Convento Cristo in Tomar and Igreja de Jesus in Setúbal.
Unfortunately there aren’t many remaining examples of Manueline architecture in Lisbon’s city centre following the city’s devastating earthquake of 1755 ... which provides a nice segue to my next post. Stay tuned.
The Portugal Wire is the blog of Australian travel writer, copywriter and photographer Emily McAuliffe.
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Lovely Lisbon: my top picks of where to eat, drink, visit and stay in Portugal's capital city
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The best places to visit in Lisbon: 5 of my favourite neighbourhoods
Big waves in Nazaré: my favourite beach town in Portugal
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Portuguese wine: yes, the wines of Portugal extend far beyond port
Portuguese architecture part I: Manueline style