Let’s talk about the stone caravels that we find engraved on old façades or on drinking fountains mostly situated in the oldest areas of Lisbon.
In the Portuguese capital we’re frequently confronted with images of boats in different places: on cast iron street lights and sewer covers, or in the Portuguese pavement, in tiles, in brand logos…
It’s no surprise! As we’ve said previously in the article The Symbol of the City of Lisbon, the boat with crows is part of the heraldic representation of the city.
But what’s its meaning and what is the explanation for the existence of different boats carved in stone in the façade of old buildings?
Spread across the city we can observe representations, sometimes fictitious, that look like boats of different types and eras and that are usually called caravels.
Perhaps this designation is justified by the affective connection to the Portuguese caravel, considering the contribution of this original boat in the conquest of the unknown world led by the Portuguese in the 15th century.
What Is the Meaning of the Stone Caravels?
A certain mystery around a topic is usually widespread and magnified by the desire for the unusual. However, the explanation of this type of enigma is usually way simpler.
Because there are different types and because they sometimes don’t feature crows, the stone caravels have been interpreted in many ways.
The variety of shapes of these boats could, at a first glance, make us think that they are representations with different meanings.
Some argue that these engraved boats mean that we’re in the presence of the house of an old sailor or of someone whose job was somehow connected to sailing. Others have interpretations that can be more or less creative than this one.
In truth, they are coat of arms of the City of Lisbon, where the emblematic boat of Saint Vincent is represented. These stones indicated the entry in the city’s territory under jurisdiction of Lisbon, as well as the city’s possession of a specific asset, movable or immovable.
Stone Caravels of the Drinking Fountains of Lisbon
The stone caravels engraved in the drinking fountains of Lisbon are undoubtedly symbols of the property of the City Council, but, interestingly enough, they too are of different types depending on the time they belong to.
That is, throughout the time, the representation of the boat of Saint Vincent suffered variations depending on the taste and on what was in vogue. As we’ve seen in our article about the symbol of Lisbon, a fixed representation was established in the late 1930s.
The oldest representations of these boats are the ones from the drinking fountain of Andaluz and from the drinking fountain of Arroios that is in the Museum of Lisbon – Palácio Pimenta. Through time, these boats were substituted by more recent models, such as the carracks and the caravels.
These are the cases of the representations we see on the drinking fountain of Fonte Santa in Campo de Ourique neighbourhood and in the drinking fountain Bica dos Olhos in Rua da Boavista.
Later on appeared the representations of galleons, probably due to the conflicts with our neighbour Spain.
Lisbon in the 19th century also left us with symbols of sailing ships that remind us of the Frigate D. Fernando II e Glória that is in Cacilhas in the South bank of Tagus river.
This is the case of the drinking fountain no.10 of Armada Square in Alcântara from 1845 that represents a training ship, modern at the time, and crows. The choice of this type of boat might be related to the fact that it is close to the Navy Barracks.
The drinking fountain D’El Rei in Alfama neighbourhood is another interesting example. From the 13th century, this drinking fountain has suffered many alterations through time, having the last one taken place in the 19th century.
Today, in the façade of this drinking fountain there are two identical stone caravels. There can also be observed two older representations of different types in Travessa de São João da Praça, which are most likely the previous ones of the drinking fountain of D’El Rei.
The location of some of the stone caravels may not be the original one. Its meaning has been fading with time, but these boats keep fascinating those who observe them simply because they’re witnesses of the antique.
Now that you know the meaning of the stone caravels, look for them all over the city. You can find more of them in the western zone of Lisbon between Pampulha and Alcântara!
Fun factIn Rua Galé, in Alfama, we’ve seen a stone caravel, which is probably from the first half of the 20th century, that is a reproduction of the undoubtedly old one from Travessa de São João da Praça, next to the drinking fountain D’El Rei.
It might be a suggestion for the symbol of the city that lost against the model of the drinking fountain of Andaluz… who knows? 😉