Belém Cultural Centre

Belém Cultural Centre (7)

Set in a neighbourhood known for its foreign conquests, between the much explored ocean and a landscape of beautiful manueline architecture, this Belém based modern building has become a driving force of Lisbon’s cultural life.

When it was first constructed in 1998, a controversy arose among Lisbon’s inhabitants. This came from the building’s location between the river Tajo and the “Jerónimos” monastery, and the fact that it had a very modern design made from limestone. For many of the city’s more conservative citizens its contemporary style did not fit in with the classic old worldliness of the rest of the area. 

The centre’s construction came about from the city’s need to contain an architectural stage from which to run Portugal’s European Union presidency in 1992. Following the six months that this would last the building was intended to become a focal point for Lisbon’s cultural activities and there was the hope that the Belém cultural centre could be a reference for the whole city. 

After an international competition, the project presented by Portuguese architect Manuel Salgado and the Italian Vittorio Gregotti was chosen. This included five proposed sections, three of which were finally built.

The centre is like a small city, compact, with interior passages, stairs, olive tree terraces, geometrically shaped gardens, ponds, bridges, inclines, and in the middle of it all is the square called “Praça do Museu”. The centre also houses the Design museum which displays some of the greatest creative trends, with pieces on view from 1937 up to the present day.

The three sections that were finally built are the meeting centre, event centre and exhibition centre. The first of these was designed to hold congresses, conferences and all types of meeting. The second, the event centre, is one of the most important in the whole city. It consists of an area for the production and presentation of cultural and artistic activities, anything from showing a film to the hosting of an opera.

The last, the exhibition centre, is divided into four galleries that display works of design, photos and plastic arts, as well as much more.

Even though it looks rather austere, reminding some of a fort, if you visit at the weekend you will be sure to enjoy its hustle and bustle and can contemplate fascinating street artists while sitting over a coffee. 

Despite the initial controversy over its construction, the Belém cultural centre is an essential visit if you want to experience Lisbon’s unique atmosphere and cultural life. It is an oasis of modernity amidst the fine neighbourhood that it calls home.

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