The Mãe d’Água das Amoreiras reservoir in Lisbon can be found at the end of a extraordinary 18th/19th century 36mile long water structure. So I think it is rather fitting that the end point of this water system is so stunning it was regularly used by Portugal’s nobility for festivities. Unfortunately I have been unable to find in time for this post any paintings of any festivities being held here, which I must admit I do find quite extraordinary given one of the occasions was the 3 day wedding celebrations of Dom Luis I, King of Portugal and Dona Maria Pia of Savoy in October 1862. However I am sure a) it happened and b) they were magnificent as the building which houses the reservoir is splendid.
We had, as many of you may recall, had a marvelous time when we visited the main aqueduct – Águas Livres Aqueduct – and so there was quite a bit of anticipation as we walked to the Praça das Amoreiras (Mulberry Square). It is a small square compared to many in Lisbon, but it is rather lovely with its Mulberry Trees and during the week very quiet. I have since learnt that Mulberry Trees have been here since at least 1759 when 331 of them were planted as part of Marquis of Pombal’s plan to reinvigorate Portugal’s silk industry. Now the current trees may be replacements, but the silk worker houses and factory are still here. You can go inside the building which once housed the factory as it is an art museum.
Two sides of the square are dominated by the Águas Livres structure, and as you approach the reservoir you immediately begin to see why it was a favoured event venue of the nobility. Not only is it in a glorious setting but it is huge!
It was incredibly tranquil when we first arrived which made it feel even more like a church inside. At the far end, almost like an altar under the vaulted cupola ceiling, water spouts from the mouth of a dolphin onto a fern covered stone cascade before eventually dropping into the 24ft deep water chamber.
A tunnel takes you under the cascade and around to a flight of steps. Irresistible for me! I soon found myself above the dolphin. There are two views to enjoy one looking north-west into the aqueduct which brings the water to the reservoir, and then the other looking down into Mãe d’Água das Amoreiras reservoir. The latter a fabulous view but not one for anyone who has a fear of heights.
And now the surprise – the steps don’t stop here! They keep going up to the roof of the reservoir, where we discovered a magnificent roof terrace. I had totally missed this in all the descriptions I had read. It was wonderful up there. In fact I’ve decided it is so glorious the terrace deserves a post of its own. So I am really sorry but you are going to have to wait a little bit longer for the finale!
There is a small helpful information display by the exit, and outside a small garden and bust which are also worth looking at. At the time of the visit, not recalling the architect’s name, I presumed the bust was of the reservoir’s architect. However it isn’t! The reservoir was designed by a Hungarian architect named Carlos Mardel, and this bust is of Manuel da Maia. The two architects would have known each other as they were both involved in the reconstruction of the city of Lisbon following the great earthquake of 1755. However why commemorate Manuel here and not Carlos? The bust suggests it was because Manuel, Portugal’s Chief Engineer in the 18th century, oversaw the construction of the Águas Livres Aqueduct, but I suspect the real reason was that he was Portuguese and Carlos of course was Hungarian!
As you will see from the Museu da Água map below the reservoir and aqueduct are not the only historical water structures you can visit in Lisbon, there is also a steam pumping station, another reservoir and underground tunnels. The tunnels we decided not to attempt last week as we spotted that if we were to enjoy it we would need wellington boots! However we did visit the Patriarcal Reservoir, and so I will share a post on that marvel very soon, and of course last year we visited the Barbadinhos Steam Pumping Station. None of them I guess are high on the list of places to see for tourists only staying a few days in Lisbon, but if you fancy visiting lesser known national monuments that combine extraordinary engineering with social history and marvelous views then we highly recommend them all.