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The space

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History and architecture

The MACAM Museum and MACAM Hotel currently occupy the building formerly known as the Palace of the Counts of Vila Franca – later the Palace of the Counts of Ribeira Grande.

The palace is one of 265 palaces in Lisbon recognised for their architectural heritage. This area is notable for its stately homes overlooking the River Tagus.

Since its construction in the early 18th century, the building has undergone many transformations and served various purposes, which are reflected in its architecture.

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From the Lisbon Earthquake to the Nobel Prize for Literature

The building was commissioned in 1701 by the Marquis of Nisa, Francisco Baltazar da Câmara. In 1752, it was acquired by José da Câmara Telles, Count of Ribeira Grande, who renamed it accordingly.

The palace survived the terrible earthquake of 1755. Traces of the former owners can still be seen on the pediment, which bears the inscription ‘Pela Fé, pelo Príncipe, pela Pátria’ [‘For Faith, for the Prince, for the Homeland’].

A historical curiosity is that João Zarco da Câmara, the first Portuguese person to be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1901, was born in this building. The MACAM Hotel library was named after him.

Use and changes over time

From the end of the 19th century, the owners moved into the section of the palace on the corner of Travessa do Conde da Ribeira. They rented out a large part of the main building to private schools, such as Colégio Arriaga and Colégio Portugal. Later it housed a public school, the Liceu D. João de Castro, and between 1960 and 2002 (when it closed to the public), the Liceu Rainha Dona Amélia.

Alterations and conservation

The building has undergone many alterations over the years, especially due to school reforms, with the result that little of the original interior has been preserved. Nevertheless, the following noteworthy features have been retained:

  • South façade, flanked by two large terraces
  • Rear north façade
  • Stately staircase
  • Vaulted ceilings
  • Archway of the old stables
  • Former chapel
  • Library
  • Fountain in the rear garden
  • Old well
@Estudio Peso
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Architecture and structure

The building has an extensive façade, measuring some 110 metres long. It has undergone several alterations over a period of more than 300 years.

The south façade comprises several elements:

  • The main Palace building, a three-storey building with a central entrance that divides the right and left wings roughly symmetrically. A monumental staircase connects the ground floor to the first floor.
  • The former Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, located between the main building and the block at the end of the left wing
  • An adjacent block of apartments

Restoration, rehabilitation and new construction

Painstaking restoration work has rescued some original paintings in the old chapel by removing the accumulated dirt. On the central staircase, the restorers uncovered original paintings that had been hidden under more recent works.

The exterior and interior stonework, iron balconies and balustrades have all been restored, along with the original wooden structure of the library roof and the room shutters.

The new building features white, clean-lined façades, with diagonal shading panels on the balconies of the rooms and glazed ceramic cladding on the Museum wing, crafted by artist and ceramicist Maria Ana Vasco Costa.

The Palace and the new wing are connected by a tunnel that extends to the MACAM car park, and by an outdoor area with a large staircase that leads to the garden. A mirror-like expanse of water runs alongside the Museum building, reflecting the ceramics and enhancing the garden.

Both the renovations and the new wing were designed by architecture studio MetroUrbe. The work entailed the usual challenges of restoring an old building, such as reinforcing the partition walls with metal structures due to Lisbon’s risk of seismic activity.

The aim of such interventions was to maintain, restore or reconvert the traces of what history has left us.

The resulting complex will comprise:

  • Around 2,000 square metres of exhibition space
  • 64 hotel rooms
  • A multi-purpose space for performing arts and music in the former chapel, called àCapela
  • Small auditorium for meetings, events and workshops
  • Shop
  • Cafeteria
  • Restaurant to be called Contemporâneo

The interiors were designed by Andrez&Andrez and the lighting by Lightware.


A notable example of repurposing is the current floor of the old chapel, which is made from original wood from the building that could not be retained as a structural element. This wood was cut, treated, resized and converted into flooring

Recent refurbishment

The building was acquired by the current owner in 2006 and the rehabilitation and expansion work began in late 2018.