I suddenly realised yesterday that my last three posts were all located within a few miles of Olhão. I wonder if it is because I am missing being there! Anyhow I thought I’d take you further afield today and do something completely different.
Perhaps not a Monty Python skit, but certainly a unusual place which looks and feels completely different to my recent wildflowers and 19th century mansion posts! The Tejo Power Station in Lisbon isn’t a working power plant. Like Bankside Power Station in London the Tejo Power Station has been turned into a museum. Unlike the Tate Modern though here they have retained all of the boilers, turbines and transformers , and so you can really appreciate the building and the industrial archaeology. I think that the turbine room at Bankside looks forlorn now, and in our view missed an unusual opportunity when they stripped it of everything. After all turbines are not that different to some modern sculptures and one day fossil fuel power stations could be unheard of.
Only last week for four days all of Portugal’s electricity supply came from renewable resources. Quite an incredible achievement, and we hope in a few years it is becomes the norm for Europe as a whole to only use hydro-power plants, wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels and geothermal heat. We are though I guess a few years off, if not decades from no longer relying on fossil fuels, and so for now there will be working fossil fuel power stations somewhere. There won’t however be many museums of them!
The Museu da Electricidade isn’t on everyone’s ‘to do/see’ lists when in Lisboa, and with so many other beautiful places to explore in this wonderful city I can understand that. We both though really enjoyed this museum. For me it was the unexpected beauty to behold inside and the glimpse of our industrial past. For Robert it was the chance to see the mechanical workings up close, and we noticed families thoroughly enjoying the hands-on science section. I must admit though I did get to a point when I was no longer taking in anything I was reading. There are also only so many close ups of machinery this girl can take! Fortunately not long after my brain overload I found the photographic archives, and that was it I was re-energised, intrigued and happy again.
One of the unexpected things we learnt and has stayed with me was about its construction. Portugal had only just ordered all of the equipment for when the first world war broke out. None of it was coming from Portugal. Much of the machinery for the boiler rooms was from a company that began life in 1867 and is still going today – Babcock and Wilcox. They are an American company and so in 1914 their order duly arrived. However the turbines and other associated equipment was ordered from AEG, which of course is German. And in the First World War the Portuguese weren’t neutral, transportation was difficult and consequently the German order was delayed. Whilst they were able to operate the power station during the intervening period using the engine rooms from the pre-existing power station, it was apparently touch and go!
Have I convinced you to visit yet? I hope so as it is fascinating place in between all the usual tourist haunts in Belem. Best of all it is free to walk round and offers unique views of the Rio Tejo. See below!
I’ve realised I’ve hardly said anything about how the Tejo Power Station actually worked! No space here but Robert very kindly has agreed to write a more detailed post for those more technically minded. For now though, and just in case his post takes a while to appear, here is a four minute video I took of how it all works.