Comerço Square

Comerço Square (33)

Without any doubt, the “Comerço” square, “Praça do Comerço” in Portuguese, is one of the prime symbols of the city and a favourite of many of its inhabitants. This is not only because of its charming porticos or the vibrant colours of its facades but for its history, meaning and the fact that it is the most beautiful of Lisbon’s city entrances, standing next to the river Tajo. 

Despite having the name “Praça do Comerço”, most people know it as “Terreiro do Paça” which means ´Palace Square`. This is because until the 1755 earthquake which destroyed the city, this large square was home to the “Ribeira” Palace, the king’s residence. 

The earthquake not only destroyed the palace but also a priceless library with over seventy-thousand items. King José I was in Belém at the time of the earthquake and was not one of the fifteen thousand people who lost there lives. However, frightened of the possibility of another disaster, he decided to move to the “Ajuda” palace, far from Lisbon’s centre. 

Despite this, the king commissioned the Marquis of Pombal to undertake reconstruction and the “Terreiro do Paça” became an indispensable emblem of a project which involved rational, well-shaped streets coming together to the north, in the “Praça do Rossio”.  

The equestrian statue erected in the centre is of King José I and can be seen from the “Triumfo” arch which connects the square to the “Rúa Augusta”. It was built in 1775 by Machado de Castro, considered the greatest Portuguese sculptor of the 18th century.

Strangely, this bronze statue caused the square to have a third name, ´Black Horse Square`. Yes, black! No, neither you nor we are mistaken, the original colour was black but over time it developed a green tinge. If you look closely at the monument’s plinth, you will be able to admire the bronze medallion dedicated to the Marquis of Pombal. 

The other colours connected to the square are saffron yellow and pink. The first, associated with the monarchy, covered the square’s facades until 1910 when the republican revolution meant it was replaced with the republicans’ own identifying colour, pink. However, today the colour yellow dominates even though the country still has no monarchy.

On three of its sides, the square is surrounded by arcades that are home to “alfarrabistas”, the name given to old and antique booksellers. On its fourth side to the south, the square faces the wide mouth of the Tajo and is flanked by two elegant, square towers.

In the distance, facing the river, you can make out the 25th of April Bridge and further off, the silhouette of Cristo Rei. This view is also available to passengers on the ferries that link Lisbon with the neighbourhoods on the opposite bank and leave from terminals close by. If you come here in late afternoon during rush-hour you will see crowds of office workers and business people on their way home, going in the opposite direction to that of ambassadors and royalty in the past.

The latter, however, did not arrive from the Tajo’s opposite bank but from far away seas and looked on the impressive sight of beautiful Lisbon as they scaled the marble steps beside the river.

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