If we wanted to put some the history of Chiado into some kind of order, we would say that it has gone through three major phases: first, as a privileged location for the clergy, with its convents and churches; then as a place where the gentry and nobility settled; and, lastly, and especially after the 1755 earthquake, when it became particularly prevalent, the era of the bourgeoisie.
Of all the buildings in the Chiado that have made history and whose memory has been passed down to us, the one which we could choose as being representative of the various phases of the Chiado, its pulse, its way of life and successive transformations is, undoubtedly, the building which is now occupied by the “Armazéns do Chiado”. Even the disasters and cataclysms – the earthquakes and the fires – that this area has gone through are reflected here.
Today, there is nothing to remind us of its previous functions as a convent or palace. The changes were many and the different remodelling and restoration works, undertaken for a variety of reasons, gradually erased its distinctive traits, even though, here and there, a few features may have been replaced that an attentive and knowledgeable eye would have no difficulty in recognising as having connections to its history and past splendour.
No matter how it has been changed by passing time, there can be no denying that this respectable old building is a treasure trove of history and memories.
It is not known when buildings first began to be built in the area, although we do know that a chapel and a hospital of the Brotherhood were under construction in 1279.
In 1971, the facilities were donated to the Oratorian priests of the Congregation of St. Philip Neri. Among the famous Oratorians who lived here, were the founder of the Order in Portugal, Bartolomeu de Quental, and Father Manuel Bernardes.
The devastating earthquake in 1755 was merciless in its destruction.
The rebuilding project was the work of José Joaquim Ludovice, son of the architect from Mafra who completedit in 1792, a beautiful example of late-Baroque with a mixture of the Mafra, Pombaline and neoclassical styles.
According to historian Pinheiro Chagas, the building was sold off cheap.. In 1836, it was bought by Manuel José de Oliveira, a rich businessman from Madeira known as Manuel dos Contos, who received the title of Baron of Barcelinhos from D. Maria II. At this time, the Baron of Barcelinhos, ordered the columns to be moved to the facade of the National Theatre, but they actually ended up adorning the entrance to the former Escola Politécnica de Lisboa.
After the Baron’s death, the building housed hotels and various shops.
The hotels which occupied it were the Hotel Embaixador and the Hotel Europa, also known as Hotel de l'Europe, where Sarah Bernhardt stayed when she travelled to Lisbon on the 1st of April 1888;
The Hotel Gibraltar from whose windows the first experience of electrical lighting in the Chiado could be witnessed on the night of the 31st of October 1878;
And the most famous of all – the Hotel Universal – where Opera was performed and where Camilo Castelo Branco and Elisa Hensler, future countess of Edla, second wife of King Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg stayed, and which Eça de Queiroz, one of Portugal’s greatest writers, used as the setting for some scenes in his novel “A Capital”.
Among the various shops, and they were many in terms of number and commercial speciality, the most famous were the tailor João Keil, father of the composer of Portugal’s National Anthem, and the photography studio of Royal Photographer J. Camacho.
The 1st Fire
On the 29th of September 1880 most of the interior, including the Europa and Gibraltar Hotels, was destroyed when fire swept through the building. The Chapel was lost forever.
Rebuilding was completed in 1894, the year in which the “Companhia dos Grandes Armazéns do Chiado” began trading there. The company was jointly owned by two Frenchmen, Luis Bonneville and Émile Phillipot, who exchanged their original motto, “Do right and fear no man” for a new one, “Sell cheaper than everyone else”, in a vain attempt to stand up to their competitors and neighbours “Armazéns Granella”. In an unequal struggle, the Frenchmen were forced to close their department store, stocked mainly with clothing of French origin, jewellery and perfumes, three years later
Just before the end of the century, in 1899, a new tenant moved into the Palace, one who was to make an indelible mark, lasting more than a century, not only on the building, but on the Chiado and the city itself, and who was to become known throughout the entire country, such was its influence and importance. That tenant was the department store “Grandes Armazéns do Chiado”.
In April 1888, the Joaquim Nunes dos Santos brothers founded the company “Nunes dos Santos e Companhia”.
In a clear demonstration of meticulous management, they sought to take solid steps forward, steering clear of adventurous moves.
“All the shopping done in our Department Store will be delivered to our customers’ homes, free of charge, using our well set-up Peugeot car service."
In: “Grandes Armazéns do Chiado” Catalogue, 1905-1910.
“CHIADO Champagne, pure, natural, absolutely delicious - No Drugs. It doesn’t give you headaches; on the contrary, drinking it is a safe way to avoid them”.
In 1935, the management ordered a vast glassed-in terrace to be built along the entire length of the building’s roof, to be used as the restaurant. The interior was remodelled with new galleries and escalators. This space is currently occupied by the Premium Rooms’ garden area and the Hotel do Chiado’s Panoramic Restaurant and Bar.
The 2nd Fire
In the early hours of the 25th of August, 1988 a devastating fire broke out, completely destroying the building and those adjacent to it, along with a large part of the Chiado, in what was considered as one of the biggest tragedies ever seen in the area.
A century after opening for business, the “Grande Armazéns do Chiado” were simply wiped off the map.
Twenty years later, the Chiado would regain its soul at the hand of famous architect Siza Vieira, whose unique reconstruction plan was yet another example of his genius.
The architect explains: “When I draft a project, my primary focus is on the building’s function, but I never lose sight of the fact that the process of drafting the project also means a release from this care, this service, this function which cannot be ignored. At that point, there is a type of release... The architecture is used by the power. Architecture is done, or not, depending on who is buying. In the end, it is not autonomous. A painter easily takes the canvas and does his work… an architect depends on the person making the order. His expression is not autonomous, like a painting, a sculpture…”
The Chiado was reborn and regained its status as Lisbon’s main commercial artery. It is once again the meeting point for intellectuals and artists, a popular walking area for tourists and a gateway to the lively nights of Bairro Alto.