Esferas Armilares, Padrão dos Descobrimentos

Armillary Spheres: Misconception Uncovered!

As you can see by the title Armillary Spheres: Misconception Uncovered!, we’re going to clarify a situation related to someone’s statement that many are repeating without reflecting and without observing.

getLISBON’s proposal is to approach peculiar, lesser-known, underappreciated (or that we simply appreciate) aspects of Lisbon, but we’ve also been investigating, discovering and revealing unknown or forgotten facts about our city.

We’ve had the opportunity to find out that the discreet Nossa Senhora da Oliveira Church, which is situated in Rua de São Julião and is one of the unjustly unknown places of Catholic worship in the city of Lisbon, was in fact, contrary to what is usually said, rebuilt after the dreadful earthquake of 1755, in its original location.

We’ve also shared with you the curious project of 1913 of the WC kiosks of Lisbon, as well as revealed the exemplar of the Príncipe Real Garden that has already been demolished and that was already forgotten by the people of Lisbon in the meantime.

This time we’ll be uncovering a misconception related to armillary spheres!

The Protagonists of the Misconception

The protagonists of this story are two buildings:

  • The Cine-Teatro Monumental, a film and play venue whose controversial disappearance is an open wound in the memory of not only the people of Lisbon, but also of every Portuguese;
The Cine-Teatro Monumental, a film and play venue whose controversial disappearance is an open wound in the memory of not only the people of Lisbon, but also of every Portuguese.
Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa; Cine-Teatro Monumental; 195-; António Passaporte (1901-1983); PT/AMLSB/PAS/002976
  • The Monument of the Discoveries, a symbol of the city honouring the overseas expansion carried out by the Portuguese, built according to the style of the totalitarian regime Estado Novo.
Monument of the Discoveries in Belém built in 1960
Monument of the Discoveries in Belém

These two buildings have a common decorative element, an armillary sphere.

This element that we see represented everywhere, such as in decorations of the portals from the 16th century, as well as on the national flag, gave rise to a big misconception.

Someone once said that the armillary sphere that was placed on the top of Cine-Teatro Monumental, demolished in 1984, is now next to the Monument of the Discoveries in Belém.

We were always sceptical, seeing that the Cine-Teatro only had one sphere on top of its corner tower and the Monument of the Discoveries has two. It would’ve been bizarre if an identical sphere had been produced in order for the pair to flank the famous monument.

The sphere of the Cine-Teatro Monumental and the two armillary spheres by each side of the Monument of the Discoveries
The sphere of the Cine-Teatro Monumental and the two armillary spheres by each side of the Monument of the Discoveries

On the other hand, the simple comparison of the two photos shows the differences between these pieces.

Thus, it seemed obvious to us that this statement wasn’t true, but we needed to know more.

This is the Truth about the Armillary Spheres!

In order to find out the whereabouts of the unfortunate sphere of the Cine-Teatro Monumental, we reached out to the municipal department of culture of the City Council of Lisbon.

We can thus reveal you that, just like the Statues of the Garden of Praça de Londres, it was recovered from the debris from the demolition of the building by the City Council of Lisbon. Today, it is kept in the depository of the Museum of Lisbon, duly referenced as being the work of Carlos Mota, dated 1946.

Mission accomplished, Armillary Spheres: Misconception Uncovered! 😉

Armillary Sphere, Symbol of Portugal

The armillary sphere is a representation of the cosmos according to the vision of Ptolemy, the famous scientist of Greek origin born in Egypt in the 1st century.

He defended the Aristotelian cosmology based on geocentrism, a theory maintained until the 19th century. When it was replaced by Copernicus’s heliocentrism.

Thus, in the armillary sphere the earth is represented in the centre and the rings around it represent the celestial meridians, vertically, and the equator and the polar circles horizontally.

This conception of the cosmos, which didn’t separate astronomy from astrology, also presents the zodiac ring diagonally. This is usually freely placed but it should be tangent to both tropical circles and inclined 23.5 degrees to the equator.

It was during the reign of King Manuel I that the armillary sphere became a symbol of political, economic and maritime power and was gradually adopted as a symbol of Portugal.

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Other Missing Decorative Pieces

Perhaps the globe, symbol of the newspaper O Mundo that was located in Rua da Misericórdia in the building that today belongs to the 25th of April Association and that was removed after the restoration of the property, is also deposited.

Or perhaps the imposing angel and the two statues that flanked it, observing Saldanha from the top of the already demolished building that used to be in front of the Cine-Teatro Monumental.

Attention, we are not saying that these decorative pieces are deposited, we‘d like to think they are… if one day we find out their whereabouts we will, surely, share it with you. 😉


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