Ajuda Cemetery, the Third Historic Cemetery of Lisbon

Ajuda Cemetery, main entrance
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We are pleased to be publishing, under the series getLISBON invites, an article by Ema Câmara, historian at the Cemetery Management Division of the Lisbon City Council. In addition to a brief historical overview of Ajuda Cemetery, the author highlights particularly interesting tombs, both architecturally and symbolically, and even mentions some of the personalities that rest there. After reading this article, you’ll certainly become curious and want to visit this historic cemetery, from which you can see a magnificent view over the Tagus River, the south bank and the west side of Lisbon.

The Ajuda Cemetery owes its installation in 1787 to Queen Maria I, who ordered it to be built as the last dwelling for those who served the Royal House and for the poor of the parishes of Ajuda and Belém.

It would be by decree of another queen, Maria II, in 1849 that it would then become a public cemetery, administered by the municipality, limited to the same parishes, and would later be classified as the third cemetery in Lisbon, followed by the second, Prazeres Cemetery and the first, Alto de S. João Cemetery, both built in 1833.

In September and October 1835, one of the most important steps in terms of hygiene and public health had been taken, with the publication of two decrees that prohibited the usual burial in churches, convents and their forecourts and the creation of proper spaces for burial.

The cemeteries were then created, in the middle of the Romantic period, as laic spaces, into which everyone was allowed entry, regardless of their beliefs and religions, a consequence of liberal and pre-Republican ideals.

With an area of ​​4.98 hectares, Ajuda Cemetery is located in the highest part of Calçada do Galvão.

It consists of various types of funerary and burial constructions: temporary graves, perpetual graves, municipal ossuaries, columbarium, municipal and private tombs, in addition to the underground crypt.

The entrance of the Ajuda Cemetery is decorated with four sculptures, whose author is unknown, placed in niches on the backside of the wall that represent Truth and Fortress, flanking the gate on the right and, on the opposite side, the allegories of Justice and Hope.
Allegories: Truth and Fortress; Outside of the entrance; Allegories: Justice and Hope

The entrance to the cemetery is decorated with four sculptures, whose author is unknown, placed in niches on the backside of the wall that represent Truth and Fortress, flanking the gate on the right and, on the opposite side, the allegories of Justice and Hope.

On the outside of the Chapel there are four more allegories: on the left, the sculptural figure symbolises Prayer; flanking the entrance are Faith and Humility; on the right, Charity.
Allegories on the outside of the Chapel: Prayer; Faith and Humility Charity

On the outside of the Chapel there are four more allegories: on the left, the sculptural figure symbolises Prayer; flanking the entrance are Faith and Humility; on the right, Charity.

Evocations and Tributes

Mausoleum in honour of those who succumbed in the Revolt of May 14, 1915; Tomb of the Football Club Os Belenenses in honours the football players Mestre, Pepe e Matateu
Mausoleum in honour of those who succumbed in the Revolt of May 14, 1915; Tomb of the Football Club Os Belenenses in honours the football players Mestre, Pepe e Matateu

A large number of those who died in the former Sanatorium of Ajuda and in the Military Hospitals are buried in this cemetery.

In architectural terms, private tombs are the most interesting constructions.

We highlight as noteworthy the mausoleum in honour of those who succumbed in the Revolt of May 14, 1915, which restored compliance with the 1911 Constitution, deposed the government of General Pimenta de Castro, replaced by the Constitutional Board of 1915 and dismissed Manuel de Arriaga from the position of President. Teófilo Braga was the successor, after the elections.

Three of the most emblematic football players of the last century: Mestre, Pepe and Matateu were immortalised in a tribute tomb of the Football Club Os Belenenses.

A small ossuary tomb evokes the tragic shipwreck in the Barra do Tejo in March 1915, where three pilots lost their lives.

Some Relevant Figures that Rest in Ajuda Cemetery

José António Jorge Pinto; Maria Benedita Mouzinho de Albuquerque Faria Pinho; Rocha Martins; José Ribeiro dos Santos; Plácido Abreu; Gago Coutinho
José António Jorge Pinto; Maria Benedita Mouzinho de Albuquerque Faria Pinho; Rocha Martins; José Ribeiro dos Santos; Plácido Abreu; Gago Coutinho

Among the most relevant figures that are buried here, whether in family tombs or homage mausoleums, we list a few:

Gago Coutinho (1869-1959), admiral, historian and cartographer who was a pioneer in Portuguese aviation by making the first crossing of the South Atlantic in the Lusitânia seaplane, together with the aviator Sacadura Cabral.

Next to it, we find the last address of writer and journalist Rocha Martins (1879-1952) who donated his bibliographic collection to the association Voz do Operário.

Plácido Abreu (1903-1934), military and aviator pilot who died prematurely after a plane crash during a world air acrobatics championship in France, is buried in a family tomb.

Little known, but not forgotten, Maria Benedita Mouzinho de Albuquerque Faria Pinho (1865-1939), writer, teacher, republican activist, suffragist, friend of Ana de Castro Osório and granddaughter of former minister Mouzinho de Albuquerque.

Walking along streets lined with olive trees, we reach the ossuary where the ceramic painter José António Jorge Pinto (1875-1945) is located, author of many of the Art Nouveau tiles that beautify various buildings, particularly in the metropolitan area of ​​Lisbon.

In another ossuary, located in one of the beautiful areas of the cemetery overlooking the Tagus River, is the student, José Ribeiro dos Santos (1946-1972), murdered by PIDE (dictatorship police force) in 1972, at just 26 years of age.

Ajuda Cemetery: Tombs of Álvaro de Brée and Américo Tomás
Tombs of Álvaro de Brée and Américo Tomás

In the field of arts, the modernist sculptor Álvaro de Brée (1903-1962) stands out, whose tomb, in neo-Gothic style, a very interesting architectural work, is embellished with small owls.

In turn, Admiral Américo Tomás (1894-1987), the last President of the Estado Novo Republic (dictatorship regime), is buried in a family tomb that has the particularity of being decorated with small bats on the sides of the pediment.

Ajuda Cemetery:  Tomb in honour of Domingos Parente da Silva
Tomb in honour of Domingos Parente da Silva

Domingos Parente da Silva (1836-1901), municipal architect, responsible for remodelling projects for the Jerónimos Monastery, the Ajuda Palace and the Lisbon City Hall, among other works of his authorship, the magnificent portico of the Prazeres Cemetery. It rests in a tribute tomb, perhaps one of the most interesting in this cemetery.

Decoration and Symbols at Ajuda Cemetery

Decorations with work tools, alluding to different professions
Decorations with work tools, alluding to different professions

There are several buildings, decorated with work tools, alluding to different professions, such as blacksmith, mason, butcher or merchant.

The curious tomb of King Luís I’s hunter, the only known specimen, with details alluding to this practice, such as the dog, the hare, the pheasant, the trumpet, the torch and the rifle, all carved with great quality.

The curious tomb of King Luís I's hunter, the only known specimen, with details alluding to this practice, such as the dog, the hare, the pheasant, the trumpet, the torch and the rifle, all carved with great quality.
Decoration of the tomb of King Luís I’s hunter

Other constructions are embellished with symbolic elements linked to death and immortality, such as skulls, hourglasses that can be represented with angel or bird (day) or bat (night) wings, inverted torches, ouroboros, sickles, among others.

Also noteworthy, symbols linked to classical mythology, such as the caduceus of Hermes, the messenger of the gods of Olympus.Religious representations, such as angels, Our Lady of Conception, Our Lady of Fátima, Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony, allegories to the three virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity) and even a Queen Saint Elizabeth of Portugal with roses in her lap.

Decoratif and symbolic elements in Ajuda Cemetery
Decoratif and symbolic elements in Ajuda Cemetery

Like the other historic cemeteries in Lisbon, Ajuda Cemetery is a true open-air museum that shows us some of the most interesting stages of our history from the last two centuries to the present day.

Discover curious facts, activities and guided visits to historic cemeteries on Grupo de Cemitérios de Lisboa.

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