Black Horse Square (Praça do Comércio)

The real name of this square today - Praça do Comércio in Portuguese - is Trade Square in English. The portugues also call it Terreiro do Paço, which in English mean Palace Coutyard. What is curious is that none of these names has anything to do with the square nowadays - no commerce is carried out, there is no palace or courtyard and there is no black horse any more. There are, however, historical reasons for all three names.

As we know, Lisbon became the richest city of europe at the beginning of the 16th cebtury when the Portuguese cornered the spice markets of Africa and Asia. As he wanted to be where everything was happening, near the docks where the ships unloaded their precious cargoes, King Manuel decided to build a palace where the square lies today, hence the name Palace Courtyard. The House of India, from where the spice trade was controlled, was also constructed here and the square became the commercial centre of the city.

But this place and square were completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and the present square was laid out immediately afterwards and given the name of Trade Square. But when the bronze statue was erected in the middle of the square, English sailors started calling it Black Horse Square, because that was the colour of the statue when seen from the middle of the river, and the name stuck.

For many centuries this square was Lisbon´s entrance hall, as the onlyb practical way of reaching the city was by sea. it was only with the advent of modern roads and motorised transport that it lost the privilege of receiving all of Portugal´s distinguished visitors.

As already mentioned, the square that we see today was built after the great earthquake of 1755. The square and a great part of downtown are not built on terra firma but on thousands of stakes that rest on the river bed.The stakes are actually pine trunks, of trees that were cut down while still green. The sap that is contained in these trunks prevents them from rotting, even in salt water. A large part of the city of Amsterdam was built in the same way. Most of the beautiful arcaded buildings around the square house various ministries and the stock exchange, plus a post-office and the famous Martinho da Arcada café, one of the intellectual centres of Lisbon.

The bronze statue in the middle of the square is of King Joseph, who was reigning at the time of the great earthquake. It was made in the army arsenal - the present Military Museum - by Machado de Castro. it was the first bronze statue of this type to be made in one piece in Portugal. The Statue and its pedestal weigh 30 tons. A special vehicle was constructed to carry the statue of the square. It was pulled by thousand people and the journey took three days. The statue depicts the King´s Horse treading on a snake which represent the enemies. The sculptures on each side of the pedestal represent Triumph an Fame.

On the side facing the Tagus is a medallion of the Marquis of Pombal and on the side facing the Downtown an allegory symbolizing the royal generosity in the rebuilding of Lisbon.

The Triumphal Arch that leads us into Rua Augusta was built in the Second half oh the 19th century. The fous statues on the columns represent Nuno Alvares Pereira, Viriato, the marquis of Pombal and Vasco da Gama, while the two allegorical figures flanking them depict the rivers Tagus and Douro. The allegoric group topping the arch, executed by the Frenchman Calmels, represents Glory crowning Genious and Valor.

Two important political events have taken place in Black Horse Square this century. The first was the assassination of King Charles and his son and heir in 1908, two years before the republic was proclaimed. Charles was the only Portuguese King to be assassinated. His son, Luis Filipe, has his name in the Guiness Book of records as the shortest-reigning monarch in history. When his father died he automatically became king, but unfortunately he also expired some five minutes later. The second event took place on April 25th 1974, when the military that overthrew the old dictatorial regime launched their coup d´etat from here.