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Belém Palace

Belém Palace, today the official residence of the Portuguese President, can look back on a long history. The drawing power of the Jerónimos Monastery, the abundance of water and the beauty of the site were the reasons why, in the mid-16th century, the nobleman Dom Manuel de Portugal chose to build, on leased land, a palace which, through indirect inheritance, came into the hands of the Duke and Duchess of Aveiras in the 17th century and was later purchased by João V in the first half of the 18th century. The purchase was very much in line with a general desire for possession of land to the west of the capital, where the cream of Portugal's nobility established estates overlooking the Tagus as places of leisure and recreation.
Following the earthquake and seaquake of 1755, the royal family lived in tents in the Palace gardens for several months for fear of replicas. And it was from Belém Palace that the Marquis of Pombal, as minister of José I, took the first measures towards rebuilding Lisbon. During the reign of Maria I construction work was carried out, with the addition of piped water and the construction of Rococo aviaries for exotic birds in the Jardim da Cascata (Waterfall Garden). The court gave parties with fireworks on the feasts of St. John and St. Peter. The Palace's stables and coach houses were also used, although the queen resided in Ajuda. In 1787, a new riding school was designed by the Italian Giacomo Azzolini, inspired by the future king. Facing Praça de Belém and Calçada da Ajuda, the riding school was housed in a Neoclassic palace building with rocaille decoration: the current Coach Museum.
In 1886 Belém Palace became the home of the heir to the throne, Carlos, and his wife Amélie of Orleans, the future Queen Amélia. For this purpose the Palace underwent remodelling work in which two great names of Portuguese art collaborated: José Malhoa and Columbano. The two sons of the royal couple were also born here: Luís Filipe (1887) and Manuel (1889). Following the death of Luís I (1889), Belém Palace was reserved exclusively for receiving important state guests. In 1905, at the initiative of Amélia, the riding arena became the Coach Museum, which was founded at a time when new transportation means were emerging to conserve a valuable heritage that included, in addition to the royal coaches and carriages, diverse other pieces ranging from harnesses and saddles to musical instruments from the Royal Band.
When the Portuguese Republic was proclaimed on 5 October 1910, Teófilo Braga became the first figure at the head of the Republic to use Belém Palace for the signing of documents and receiving important visiting figures. Ten months later, Manuel de Arriaga became the first President to use the Palace as official residence.
On 5 October 2004 the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic was inaugurated in Belém Palace. It combines the traditional exhibition of a collection of objects related to the political figures who have been Portuguese heads of state since 1910 and interactive information and knowledge systems.

Bibl: História do Palácio de Belém, Mestre Dr.ª Maria José Guerreiro Duarte and Dr.ª Maria Helena Pais de Sousa, website of the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic.

Website: http://www.presidencia.pt/