Stuart Forster reports from Portugal’s National Museum of Archaeology in Lisbon.
Few museums can claim to be housed in such a magnificent setting as Portugal’s National Museum of Archaeology.
The Museu Nacional de Arquelogia, as the National Museum of Archaeology in called in Portuguese, is located within the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the building better known to English speakers as the Hieronymites Monastery. The early sixteenth century building is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site and often cited as the best example of Manueline-style architecture.
Archaeological finds from pre-history
Wandering through the archaeology museum, I couldn’t help but look up at the ribbed vaults of the ceiling to stare at details sculpted into the stone bosses. The venue provides a grand setting for this collection of archaeological finds, many of which were excavated from around Portugal and tell a story of the peoples who have lived here since pre-historic times.
The museum’s permanent exhibition includes a variety of Roman era artefacts, including mosaics, altar pieces, sarcophaguses and inscribed grave stones.
Frequent travellers might find the tiny statuettes known as mercurioli fascinating, for these were kept by people journeying on land and at sea in the hope of winning Mercury’s protection. Mercury, best known for his role as the messenger of the gods, was also the god of travellers. The legends in this section of the museum are written in both Portuguese and English and visitors can learn that Mercury was also the god looked to by thieves, traders and those seeing eloquence.
Lusitania and Lusitanian warriors
Finds relating to religious life in Lusitania, as this part of the world was known to Romans, and towering sculptures depicting Lusitanian warriors holding round shields are also on show.
The treasure room, protected by a metal detector scanner, contains finds including torques, bracelets and coins from the Bronze Age and period of Roman occupation. The size and excellent condition of the golden torques is remarkable and, I couldn’t help but think, that modern technology could be utilised more effectively to bring to life story of the people who once wore these eye-catching items.
The Egyptian room contains a collection of mummies, masks and sarcophaguses brought to Portugal by collectors. Foreign visitors might find the artefacts fascinating but may struggle to interpret the Portuguese-only legends.
To the left of the ticket desk in the main hall, which contains the museum shop, stands the temporary exhibition hall.
See the National Museum of Archaeology for information about opening time, entry fees and exhibitions.
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