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Museu de Artes Decorativas, Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal
by Cynthia Sewell

[From Winter-Spring 2008]

The lively Alfama district in Lisbon – with its jumble of steep, narrow, cobbled lanes jammed with houses with lines of laundry strung between them – is more Arabic than European. This neighborhood, rich in Moorish heritage, is the backdrop for Lisbon’s Decorative Arts Museum.
The Museu de Artes Decorativas is both a brilliant museum and school of decorative arts. The Museum displays 15th to 19th century textiles, furniture, jewelry, porcelain and silverware. Its comprehensive collection is housed in an aristocratic 17th-century palace. The Museum is relatively small and intimate and one can browse leisurely through the rooms of the Palace.

The Museum also conducts workshops where artisans practice traditional woodcarving, cabinet making, decorative painting, gilding, bookbinding, rug making, glass making, metal work, and furniture and porcelain restoration. Call ahead to see the artisans practicing their crafts. Visitors may arrange to try out their artistic skills at bookbinding and marbleizing paper.

Once your artistic yearnings have been satisfied, wander across the street from the Museu de Artes Decorativas and have a sunset sip at the Largo das Portas do Sol. The Largo is one of Lisbon’s miradouros, or vantage points, for relaxing, sipping a glass of vinho verde (Portuguese green wine) or a cold beer and watching the light change. This particular miradouro has one of the loveliest views in Portugal.

If you have energy to spare, explore the Alfama’s medina-like streets. This vibrant enclave is Lisbon’s oldest, dating back 400 years. While there are charming churches to visit, it’s just as pleasurable to wander the streets. Drop in to a friendly local grocery store, haggle for bric-a-brac in the flea market and take a lunch in a traditional taverna.

Details: The Museu de Artes Decorativas is located at Largo das Portas do Sol 2, Alfama. The Museum is operated by the Fundação Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva. For details, go to The site is in Portuguese. For a translation, access the site by searching in Google; type in Museu de Artes Decorativas. When the link appears for “FRESS,” click on “translate this page.” Alternatively, go to and click on “museums.”

Cynthia Sewell frequently travels to Europe, Asia and Africa for business and pleasure. Currently, she coordinates field work in East Africa for the Village Enterprise Fund, a micro-enterprise ngo in San Carlos, California. On a recent European holiday, she visited Lisbon’s Museum of Decorative Arts. Cynthia lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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