Torre do Tombo

The National Archive of the Torre do Tombo is one of Portugal’s oldest institutions, with a history spanning about 600 years. Guarding documents from the 9th century to the present, it plays a crucial role in the conservation and promotion of Portuguese and global history. Its ever-growing collection features significant works like the 12th-century bull Manifestis Probatum, the Treaty of Tordesillas, and 83,000 documents related to the expansion and the relationship of Portugal with the World. It stands today as a cultural treasure and a symbol of the enduring legacy of Portuguese history.

Portuguese Archives, Anna Auza, Unsplash

History

The Tombo archive’s history begins with its name derived from the Greek “tômos,” meaning a part or volume. Initially, the term referred to significant documents written on papyri and parchments. The Books of Tombo recorded royal possessions and traveled with the court. Over time, a fixed location became necessary for safekeeping.

In 1378, during the reign of King Fernando, the first archive was placed in a tower in São Jorge Castle in Lisbon. It held vital administrative and overseas documents, also detailing international state relations.

After the catastrophic 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the archive’s chief protector, Manuel da Maia, spearheaded the rescue of about 90,000 documents. He secured temporary housing for them and petitioned for a permanent site, leading to their move to the Convent of São Bento, which is now the home of the Portuguese Parliament in Lisbon.

In 1982, plans for a new building specially built to house the national archives commenced, ultimately won by Ateliers Associados. The project, led by architects Arsénio Raposo Cordeiro and António Barreiros Ferreira, included gargoyles by José Aurélio. All items from São Bento were transferred to this modern facility before its inauguration in 1990. In 2011, the building received special classification as a municipal property of interest.

Architecture 

The Torre do Tombo has a fortress-like design spanning 11,265 square meters across seven levels. Three floors house technical areas, reading spaces, an auditorium, and exhibition halls. The top floors have over 140 kilometers (87 miles) of shelving for documents! The structure’s form resembles an “H,” with a central body linking two large wings. These wings rest on hefty bases, symbolizing durability and the safeguarding of collective memory.

The building features gargoyles by José Aurélio on its main and rear faces. These sculptures embody key elements of human history and the archive’s mission, depicting symbolic figures like The Old, The Young, Death, and Good and Evil. Others represent Tragedy, Comedy, War, Peace, and guardians of history like stones and scrolls.

Collections

The Torre do Tombo in Portugal is a repository of twelve centuries of history. It holds documents predating the founding of Portugal and includes the treaty that marked Portugal’s entry into the European Economic Community. Over 36,000 documents from the Inquisition period and records from the International and State Defense Police are also kept there.

Additionally, the archive has valuable collections related to the Age of Discoveries. The Corpo Cronológico, detailing Portuguese explorations, joined UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2007. The Carta de Pêro Vaz de Caminha, depicting an early version of Brazil, received similar honors in 2005. These items shed light on the history of countries touched by Portuguese influence.

Visiting Times

Monday to Friday:

Reference room: 9:30 am to 7:15 pm (summer time: 9:30 am to 5:30 pm)

General reading room: 9:30 am to 7:15 pm (summer time: 9:30 am to 5:30 pm)

Saturday:

Reference room: 9:30 am to 12:15 pm (summer time: closed)

General reading room: 9:30 am to 12:15 pm (summer time: closed)

How to Get There

Address: Alameda da Universidade, 1649-010

If you use the Metro, you can access the Torre de Tombo from the Cidade Universitária station (Girassol line – yellow) or the Campo Grande station (green line – Caravela).

If you prefer to use the bus, you have the following routes at your disposal:

Cidade Universitária – 31, 35, 64, 738, 755, and 768
Campo Grande: 7, 36, 701, 750, 767

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