All Saint’s Day, the morning of November 1st, 1755. As citizens mark the holy bond between the heaven and the living, a destructive earthquake is set off to change Lisbon’s history. With a magnitude estimated by contemporary seismologists to have been around 8.5-9.0, the quake hits the city mercilessly. The resulting tsunami wave and fires across Lisbon take an estimated 10-100 000 people in one of the deadliest quakes in human history.
Remember, Portugal and Lisbon, in particular, played a major role in the Age of Discovery. Portuguese explorers brought maps, travel journals and various precious artefacts from their journeys and the Earthquake destroyed not only homes but also libraries and important cultural sites. The human toll and the socio-cultural damage were devastating.
What survived from the convent is just the backbone of the building with its Gothic arches: a bridge between human-made greatness and the uncompromising nature which surrounds it.
I get chills down my spine just by looking at this skeleton of architectural finesse. The place is fascinating not only because of its looks but also because of the story behind it.
With the destruction of the convent, more than 5000 volumes of precious manuscripts and books were irrevocably lost.
Today, the site has become the Carmo Archaeological Museum and apart from the architectural remains it also hosts a selection of sculptures, artefacts, book collection and a handful of oddities.
The specimens which catch the attention of visitors (and turn their stomachs) the most are two mummified bodies of children brought to Carmo from South America. Ancient Peruvian traditions included mummification as a way of preserving and honouring the dead. The elaborate process was most likely preserved for those with higher social status in the community.
It is quite terrifying to see them up close, indeed.
The small museum and the convent are worth seeing and if you have the time to read up on the specimen and the history. If you would like to learn more about this place and other parts of the city, you can also download this audioguide and enjoy learning while you explore the city.