The Belmonte History

since 198 B.C.

The Noble House, A Brief History

The first section of the Palácio was built in 1449, on the top of the ancient fortified Roman and Moorish walls, called “Cerca do Alcáçova” and “Cerca Moura”, by aggregating three towers: a rectangular keep at the western extremity, a corner tower to the north built upon Roman foundations, and a pentagonal moorish tower of the VIIth century to the west, which was built upon a forty meter high rock and makes up an integral part of the “Cerca Moura”.

In 1640, the family enlarged the building, adding the majestic East terrace and five façades in a classical style, giving the Palácio its present look. In 1720 and 1730 the family commissioned two Portuguese master tile-makers, Manuel Santos and Valentim de Almeida, to create a unique collection of Portuguese tiles. The 59 panels of more than 3800 original tiles can be found throughout the building today, and are undoubtedly one of the Palácio’s distinguishing features.

The Restoration: Processes, Materials & Features

Shortly after purchasing the property, landscape collector Frederic Coustols and his wife Maria embarked on the project of a lifetime.

The first phase of the restoration was devoted to understanding the different phases of the construction from 130 years B.C. to 1995. The first two years were spent conducting archeological research, understand light, natural air circulation, building materials, climate and weather, local flora and fauna.

During these two years, under the direction of Architect Pedro Quirino da Fonseca and with the constant help of Architect Felipe Lopes – head of the City Hall rehabilitation department – the lost but efficient virtues were rediscovered. Lime mortar was redeveloped, having been used during the original construction. The lime mortar was then applied to vaulted ceilings and roofs. Roman tiles were also restored,  rebuilt and secured with the lime mortar. All the ceilings “a caisson” have been either restored or redone, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also for air circulation.

After discovering the methods of production of the original lime mortar, the formula was shared, and two factories have since been opened to produce our formula. Today, several national monuments in Portugal use our lime mortar “Cal Fradical” instead of cement. The interest of this lime mortar lies in the fact that Portugal on a coastal front is very humid with huge differences of temperature which are absorbed by the lime mortar. A booklet was published explaining the lime mortar which we offered to architects, contractors, civil servants and universities.

A natural ventilation system was created in all the rooms of the Palácio by constructing air circulation openings in each room with small thick stone encased vents. Three retractable canvas sails were placed above a “greenhouse” terrace, providing a soft pleasant lighting all-around and creating a soft, natural air density, easy to breath.

All tiled floors have been laid in the traditional way, on top of a low temperature water heated system. These tiles are made of red clay (made in Setúbal and 50% baked in the sun).

By the time the restoration was complete, a maximum of 126kwa was required for all 3,700 sqm of the palace, reducing the usual consumption level of energy by 8 times. This was done through the use of lime mortar, natural ventilation, low temperature central heating, sophisticated insulation in the roof, floors and walls; double glazing, a lot of planning of the lighting.

Reusing old construction materials was a top priority in the restoration. Wherever possible, wood, iron, roman tiles, and stone were refurbished and treated creating some of our most memorable design aspects.

Each of the spaces were created in such a way as to maximize the quality of natural lighting and ventilation while also minimizing noise. The garden has been totally redesigned and planted according to organic principles to promote health and diversity of local species of plants, fruits, trees and flowers.

Community: A Sustainable Approach to Culture

Becoming an active member of the local community of Lisbon and of Alfama has been one of our most important goals of the restoration. Rent controlled units within the adjacent buildings were allocated in order to maintain the social fabric of the area helping to keep local families in Barrio Alfama. Each of their 21 apartments have been restored with the financial and technical assistance of the City Hall bringing total modern comfort while keeping the rents at their present level.

Today, the Palacio Belmonte team continue to be a driving force in spreading the arts and culture of Lisbon and Portugal. Exhibitions, artisanal markets and conferences take place regularly to bring attention to the skilled and creative residents of Portugal.

Inquire with our team to see what events are taking place during your upcoming visit.