Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon

Elevadores e Funiculares de Lisboa
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Conquering the hills was one of the problems of accessibility in Lisbon in the 19th century. The lifts and funiculars of Lisbon solved this problem and the ones that still exist today are classified since 2002 as National Monuments.

Lisbon’s relief is characterised by hills separated by valleys where once streams flowed in direction to the Tagus River. This characteristic is so accentuated that Lisbon is known as city of the Seven Hills. With time, the city conquered space from the streams, but if we observe in detail we can see their marks. You might even be surprised if we tell you that the Avenida Almirante Reis, the Avenida Liberdade or the Avenida Ceuta are situated today where streams used to flow. However, it is evident that all these avenues are located in valleys that separate hills.

When the transport of people and goods were exclusively made on foot or in animal-powered transport, we can imagine that what was close seemed far away when having to go up steep slopes.

Get to know Lisbon’s historic neighbourhoods in a guided tour and discover unmissable places of this magnificent city.

Raoul Mesnier Ponsard

The urban expansion of Lisbon from the end of the 1870’s, associated to new technologies and to the cast-iron architecture, allowed the solving of this problem. In 1882 the City Council of Lisbon approved a license of construction and exploitation of lifts and funiculars driven by mechanical traction to the engineer from Porto, but with French roots, Raoul Mesnier Ponsard (1848-1914).

He was the responsible engineer for the project of all the lifts and funiculars of Lisbon, as well as of identical projects in Braga, Porto, Nazaré and Funchal. Contrary to what is usually said, there is no written proof that this engineer was a student from nor worked with the famous Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923). Either way, Ponsard knew Eiffel’s work and it’s even likely that he met him. Both because Ponsard studied in Paris, and because Eiffel lived in the north of Portugal between 1875 and 1877 and left there a vast number of works.

In any case, what is certain is that Raoul Mesnier Ponsard was responsible for the conception of the lifts and funiculars of Lisbon.

Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon

There used to be nine lifts and funiculars of Lisbon:

  • Lavra Funicular – 1884
  • Glória Funicular – 1885
  • Camões/Estrela Funicular – 1890 /dismantled in 1913
  • Chiado Lift – 1892; private initiative, it was located inside the building of the old Armazéns do Chiado (Chiado Department Store) and connected the Rua do Crucifixo to the Rua Nova, nowadays Rua do Carmo
  • Bica Funicular – 1892
  • Graça Funicular – 1893 /dismantled in 1909
  • São Julião Lift – 1897 / dismantled in 1915
  • São Sebastião Funicular – 1899 / dismantled in 1901
  • Santa Justa Lift – 1902

The operation of the funiculars consisted in a system of a rack and a cable counter balanced by water. This system was not very effective because the city of Lisbon suffered from frequent cuts in water supply which led to the constraint of the use of this equipment.

It was for that reason that the system was first replaced by a steam engine and shortly after, from 1912, permanently electrified.

Some of this equipment didn’t last very long, having been replaced by trams. This is the case of the Camões/Estrela, Graça and São Sebastião Funiculars.

The 4 National Monument Equipment and Their Route

Lavra Funicular

Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon: Lavra Funicular, 2018
Lavra Funicular

The Lavra Funicular is situated in Calçada do Lavra and connects upwards the Largo da Anunciada and the Rua Câmara Pestana in Santana Hill.

It is the oldest of the lifts and funiculars of Lisbon.

Glória Funicular

Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon: Glória Funicular, 2018
Glória Funicular

The Glória Funicular is situated in Calçada da Glória and connects upwards the Praça dos Restauradores and the Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara in Bairro Alto.

In 1926, the exploitation of this equipment passed from the Companhia de Ascensores Mechanicos de Lisboa to the Companhia de Carris de Ferro de Lisboa. At that time was built, on the side of Praçados Restauradores, a shelter for the passengers of which today unfortunately only photos remain.

Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa; Shelter and ticket office of the Glória Funicular; 1931; Eduardo Portugal (1900-1958); PT/AMLSB/POR/019504

The shelter was removed in 1937, allegedly because it was criticised by the public opinion.

It doesn’t seem likely that, on the one hand, the public opinion was relevant at the time, and on the other hand, that the users of the equipment would have preferred to be subject to the bad weather. Perhaps the shelter needed maintenance works and it was easier and cheaper to remove it. In one way or another, a magnificent piece of urban furniture, which certainly enriched and embellished the city, was lost.

Later on a simple shed was placed, that besides being unsightly, didn’t fulfill its functions.  Today, there is no shelter anymore.

Bica Funicular

Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon: Bica Funicular , 2018
Bica Funicular

The Bica Funicular is situated in Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo and connects upwards Rua de São Paulo and the Largo do Calhariz in Bairro Alto.

This funicular, which crosses one of the considered most beautiful streets of the world, suffered during its electrification, in the 1910’s, an accident that left it inactive for many years. But in 1923 the City Council of Lisbon demanded the company that exploited this equipment to resume its operation.

Santa Justa Lift

Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon: Santa Justa Funicular, 2018
Santa Justa Funicular

The Santa Justa Lift is located in Rua de Santa Justa and connects upwards the Rua do Ouro and Largo do Carmo.

It is currently one of the rare exemplars of Cast-Iron Architecture in Lisbon. It stands out not only because it is a high tower, all in iron, implanted in the middle of the sober buildings of Pombaline Downtown, but also by the magnificent neo-Gothic revival style decoration. In addition to being a lift, it constitutes a viewpoint itself.

Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon: Decorative Details of the Santa Justa Lift, 2018
Decorative Details of the Santa Justa Lift

This lift has lost its function some time ago. It’s true that it still connects Baixa to Carmo, but today only tourists frequent it, waiting in long queues to enter the beautiful cabins covered with wood and mirrors, in order to enjoy a privileged view over the historic centre of the city and the river on the top floor.

If you don’t have the patience to wait, you can access the walkway via the Carmo Terraces and, although you won’t be reaching the top, you can still be dazzled by the centre of Lisbon at your feet.
For a more functional connection there is a new lift, the Carmo Lift that connects the Rua do Carmo 79 and the Carmo Terraces for free.

The 21st Century Brought More Lifts

Castelo de São Jorge-Baixa Lift

In 2013 was inaugurated a new equipment that helped conquer the highest elevation of the city, the hill of the Castle. It consists of two lifts that complement each other and that, without a doubt, facilitate the steep slope to the zone of the São Jorge Castle. They were ordered by the City Council of Lisbon and projected by the atelier of the architect João Pedro Falcão de Campos.

Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon: Castelo de São Jorge-Baixa Lift
Castelo de São Jorge-Baixa Lift

Going upwards, we find a first lift inserted in a building of the Rua dos Fanqueiros 178 that makes the connection to Rua da Madalena. A second lift that is located in the old market of the Chão do Loureiro’sbuilding takes us, in turn, to Costa do Castelo. They are both free of charge.

Lifts and Funiculars of Lisbon: Castelo de São Jorge-Baixa Lift
Castelo de São Jorge-Baixa Lift

Santa Luzia Lift

Also located inside a building, which was restored for this purpose, this discreet lift connects the Santa Luzia Viewpoint and the Rua Norberto de Araújo in Alfama. It was inaugurated on June 10, 2015, at the same time as the Carmo Terraces next to the Carmo Ruins. This free of charge equipment, allows the locals and tourists to get around more easily.

Santa Luzia Lift connects the Santa Luzia Viewpoint and the Rua Norberto de Araújo in Alfama.
Santa Luzia Lift

Curious Fact

A new way of overcoming the hills has recently been implemented. Through escalators, the steep and long Escadinhas da Súde, which connect Martim Moniz Square to the Rua Marquês de Ponte de Lima, are no longer an obstacle and have even become a curious attraction for locals and tourists.
Escadinhas da Súde Scalators connect Martim Moniz Square to the Rua Marquês de Ponte de Lima
Escadinhas da Saúde Scalators

Stroll through the hills of Lisbon taking advantage of the lifts and funiculars of Lisbon. This equipment helps you conquer slopes and, at the same time, constitutes a curious experience with so many stories to tell.

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