The Museu Nacional dos Coches in Lisbon is one of this Portuguese city’s premier attractions. It isn’t hard to see why. It’s filled with sights that can be seen nowhere else in the world. The museum displays a wide variety of coaches from the 16th through the 19th centuries, along with much of the associated gear for the horses and riders.
It began in 1726 as the stables for a riding academy commissioned by Joao V. Connected to the Belem Royal Palace, it later served to house the royal horses and the coaches they drew. Nearly two centuries later Queen Amélia, the wife of Carlos I, established the museum to display many of the royal coaches collected over the intervening years. Today, those coaches are the featured attraction.
There are simple sedan chairs, which transported royals and important visitors thanks to the labor of those men who carried them. There are cabriolets and chaises and litters. There are even small coaches built for the royal children. But even these relatively ordinary vehicles clearly show the magnificence that was the royal court of Portugal at the time.
A trip upstairs rewards visitors with a view of the many harnesses and other gear used on the horses. Far from mundane bits and bridles, they are works of art. Delicately carved silver and leather display the care that went into making even these most utilitarian of objects.
On the second floor there are also a number of costumes on display, examples of what the well-dressed royal would wear on a coach trip. The walls hold several portraits that allow one to easily imagine the entire scene.
But the piece de resistance is unquestionably the royal transports themselves.
The oldest is one from the 16th century used by Phillip II on his journey from Madrid to Lisbon to review one of his 17 territories. The interior is a fine example that neatly shows the origin of the phrase ‘traveling in royal style’.
The center of the entire exhibit is widely agreed to be the three coaches commissioned by Joao V for the Portuguese ambassador to Rome. Built in Rome in 1716 during the time of Pope Clement XI, they would have impressed even the ruler of the Vatican. Highly decorated, these gilded coaches make it easy to believe that the Portuguese monarchy was then among the richest in Europe.
Located in the Belem district of Lisbon, the museum is easy to reach by bus or tram.