Lisbon's Basílica da Estrela
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
If you've toured the popular must see sites of Lisbon, now it's time to dig deeper and find some hidden gems. One of Lisbon's most impressive and remarkable landmarks is the neoclassical Basílica da Estrel.
Set proudly on a hill, the basilica anchors the Estrela neighborhood of Lisbon. It's a bit off the main city center and hence not swarming with tourists. The stately white building seduces and its rooftop offers splendid views of Lisbon.
the stately white dome of the Basílica da Estrela, which can be seen from afar
History of the Basilica
Built from 1761-90, the basilica was the passion project of Queen Maria I of Portugal. She swore she'd build the best church in Lisbon if she gave birth to a male heir. In 1761, she became a mother. Construction began that year.
Unfortunately, her child, José Prince of Brazil, died of smallpox 2 years before the basilica was finished. Queen Maria lived out her life in grief. Her tomb is in the church.
The basilica was the first church to be dedicated to the Sacred Heart.
The Palace of Mafra, the inspiration for the Basílica da Estrela
The Architecture of the Basilica
The 18th century basilica was modeled after the Convento de Mafra, a palace monastery, constructed between 171-55. The basilica was built by Mafra School architects in a Neoclassical and Baroque style, made entirely of sugar white marble.
The basilica features a curvaceous white dome and commanding twin belfries. The facade is decorated with marble statues and flanked by two twin bell towers.
It's one of the more ornate churches in Lisbon. Much nicer than the more famous Sé Cathedral in Alfama, if you ask me.
one of the exterior statues on the Basílica da Estrela
the interior with pink, gray, yellow, black marble
If you found the basilica stunning from the outside, wait until you step inside. While the outside is made of pristine white marble, the interior is awash with pink, gray, yellow, black marble. When light pierces the dome, there's a captivating kaleidoscope effect that's quite stunning.
The basilica is filled with paintings by Pompeu Botoni and Pedro Alexandrino. In the right transept, lies the tomb of its benefactor, Queen Maria. It's a fancy Empire style tomb. Maria was not embalmed, just sprinkled with herbs and sealed in three enclosed caskets.
Locked in a room nearby, and only lighted up with a 1 euro fee, is an incredibly elaborate Nativity Scene, one of the world's best nativity scenes. It was created by celebrated 18th century sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro. It's composed of 500 figures made out of cork and terracotta.
Tomb of Queen Maria I in the Basílica da Estrela
At Basílica da Estrela, unlike many churches, you can actually climb to the roof. 112 stone steps later, you can inspect the dome and bell towers at close range. The bells are loud! Check to see if the door to the dome is open. If it is, you have a great view of the interior from on high.
You'll also have sweeping views over Lisbon from the roof. Here's a great video showing you what to expect.
After your visit, reward yourself with a relaxing visit to the Estrela garden. Laid out in the 19th century, the garden is a picturesque haven from the hustle and bustle of the azulejo clad city.
You can check out my other Lisbon articles here.
nativity scene at the Basílica da Estrela