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Pombaline style

 
Typical building in Baixa Pombalina in the Pombaline style

The Pombaline style was a Portuguese architectural style of the 18th century, named after Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquês de Pombal who was instrumental in reconstructing Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755. Pombal supervised the plans drawn up by the military engineers Manuel da Maia, Eugénio dos Santos and Elias Sebastian Pope (later succeeded by Carlos Mardel). The new city (mostly the Baixa area now called Baixa Pombalina) was laid out on a grid plan with roads and pavements fixed at 40ft wide. The previously standing royal palace was replaced with the Praça do Comércio which along with square Rossio defines the limits of the new city. Maia and Santos also outlined the form of the facades that were to line the streets, conceived on a hierarchical scheme whereby detail and size were delineated by the importance of the street. These were in a notably restrained neoclassical style partly the result of limited funds and the urgency of building but also thanks to the enlightenment concept of architectural rationality adhered to by Pombal. A standardized system of decoration was applied both inside and out with a distinctively reduced application of azulejo tiling.

The Pombaline

The Pombaline is again, like the plain style, the result of a necessity and made by Portugal’s spirit of initiative. It’s named Pombaline in memory of Marquis of Pombal, King D. José’s powerful minister and the kingdom’s true ruler. His willpower made such work possible. It’s important to make a reference to architects Manuel da Maia and Carlos Mardel, authors de facto of the main ideas and projects.

It’s an intelligent architecture, proposing the first anti-seismic system and the first pre-manufactured method in the world for construction on a large scale. Its a flexible wooden structure implanted on the walls, floors and roofs, later covered by pre-manufactured building materials, which "shakes but doesn’t fall". Lisbon’s downtown, called Baixa, the most affected area, is build over unstable ground, and it is necessary to reinforce the whole area. Another anti-seismic system was needed, made with a real forest of buried poles. Because they are exposed to salty water, there is no danger of rotting, for the reason that it keeps the wood’s natural elasticity. A city is protected, for the first time in the world, with such a big-scale revolutionary method.

The pre-manufactured system is completely new. The building is entirely manufactured outside the city, transported in pieces and then assembled in situ. For the first time, a city is build like this. While the reconstruction works of the city last well into the nineteenth century, a few years later, still in the king’s life, the population was adequately lodged in conditions that were nonexistent before the earthquake. Lisbon is completely changed. The medieval streets give place to an orthogonal city, organizing the area between the city old squares, Rossio and Terreiro do Paço, now with a modern design. Large spaces, gorgeous light and good ventilation, missing in the medieval city, are now features of the city. The Terreiro do Paço, with a new name – Praça do Comércio, without the Royal Palace, moved west, is open to the Tejo River and is planned to receive governmental buildings. It’s dominated by two twin towers, inspired by the former Royal Palace tower, with a statue of King D. José, by Machado de Castro, and receives a triumph arc, built only in the nineteenth century, following a different project, symbol of the triumph over the earthquake. The Rossio square lost the old and destroyed Hospital de Todos os Santos, and remains the city "Forum", trying to keep its popular character, despite the elegant buildings. The buildings’ typology depends of the streets’ significance.

The Pombaline building is a structure with up to four floors, with arcades on the ground floor to allow for shops, balconies on the first floor and attic. All buildings follow the same typology. The small decorative details in the façade depend on the significance of the place. The buildings are isolated by walls, to stop possible fires from spreading, and respect the maximum dimensions imposed - four floors were the ideal size to prevent further disaster. The construction of the palaces is also regulated, and forced to be unostentatious (a very unpopular situation among the aristocracy), allowing for decoration only in the portal. Their windows are just a little more elegant than those of the lodging building. The churches follow the spirit of the time. The number is severely reduced, following the same construction orientation. Some architectural decoration outside and a very clear typology. Single room buildings with side altars, internal decoration following Rococo taste, simulated materials in wood and plaster, several paintings (Pedro Alexandrino de Carvalho made the best works) and some sculpture. The spaces are nice and light despite the pre-manufactured construction and the Rococo taste. The most important churches are Santo António da Sé (at the place where St. Anthony was born), Incarnação, São Domingos, Madalena, Mártires and many others. Keeping the aesthetic vocabulary and decorative pre-manufactured elements they all have an individual character. In buildings less wrought by destruction, the idea was to match pombaline shapes with the old decoration.

Vila Real de Santo António on the Algarve is an example of a village built after the Pombaline way.


The simplicity is total. This functional spirit, eliminating all extras, including decoration, and imposing a rational soberness, is not, in fact, completely Rococo. It reflects the illuminist spirit and a strong neoclassical character, even without classical architectural shapes. The importance of the Reason for Pombaline architecture has been systematically ignored by the European art history, wishing to see French Rococo or neoclassicism in all countries. It’s almost too modern for its time.