The Machado de Castro National Museum (in Portuguese, Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro) is one of the largest and most important fine arts museums in Portugal. Installed in the building of the former Bishop’s Palace of Coimbra, the museum is part of the area listed as World Heritage in 2013!
The Machado de Castro National Museum’s collection includes notable examples of sculpture, painting, and decorative arts. In fact, the museum itself was named after Joaquim Machado de Castro, one of the most prominent Portuguese (and European) sculptors in the 18th and early 19th centuries!
So, do you want to know more about the Machado De Castro National Museum: Best Tips For Visiting In 2023? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of the Machado de Castro National Museum
- How to Get to the Machado de Castro National Museum
- What to See at the Machado de Castro National Museum
- More Posts about Portugal
- More Posts about Museum Guides
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Brief History of the Machado de Castro National Museum
The Machado de Castro National Museum opened to the public on October 11th, 1913, although it was founded two years earlier. Originally classified as a regional museum, it was elevated to the category of a national museum in 1965 by the Portuguese State.
As I mentioned earlier, the Machado de Castro National Museum occupies the former Bishop’s Palace. In 2006, it closed for renovation and expansion works, which included the construction of a new building designed by Gonçalo Byrne. Six years later, the museum reopened on December 11th, 2012.
Did you know that the Machado de Castro National Museum (and the University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia) was part of Portugal’s eleventh set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 37th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Phnom Penh (Cambodja), between June 16th and 27th, 2013.
Nowadays, Portugal is the ninth country in Europe and the eighteenth country in the world with the most UNESCO sites, tied with Poland. It has seventeen heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit fourteen of them:
- Alto Douro Wine Region (2001)
- Convent of Christ in Tomar (1983)
- Cultural Landscape of Sintra (1995) – Chalet of the Countess of Edla, Convent of the Capuchos, Moorish Castle, National Palace of Pena, National Palace of Sintra, Palace of Monserrate, Quinta da Regaleira, Villa Sassetti
- Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (2012)
- Historic Center of Évora (1986)
- Historic Center of Guimarães (2001)
- Historic Center of Porto, Luiz I Bridge, and Monastery of Serra do Pilar (1996)
- Monastery of Alcobaça (1989)
- Monastery of Batalha (1983)
- Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon (1983)
- Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley (1998, 2010)
- Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden, and Hunting Park (Tapada) (2019)
- Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga (2019)
- University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (2012)
How to Get to the Machado de Castro National Museum
Regardless of where you are in Coimbra, it’s very easy to get to the Machado de Castro National Museum. This is because the museum is right in the middle of the University of Coimbra, which in turn is served by public transportation!
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Machado de Castro National Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm, with the last entry being at 5:30 pm. In addition to Mondays, the museum is closed on January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, July 4th (Saint Isabel’s Day), and December 25th.
As for tickets, they cost €6 (normal rate) or €3 (reduced rate for Youth Card or Student Card holders, and those over 65 years old), while children up to 12 years old don’t pay admission.
TIP: Like the other monuments and museums managed by the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage, the Machado de Castro National Museum is free on Sundays until 2 pm, for all residents in Portugal!
What to See at the Machado de Castro National Museum
Cryptoportico (Floors -2 e -1)
Did you know that the Cryptoportico of the Machado de Castro National Museum (in Portuguese, Criptopórtico) is the largest preserved Roman building in Portugal? Dating back to the mid-1st century AD, this Cryptoportico was built to support the Forum of Aeminium (or Forum Aeminium, in Latin).
The city of Aeminium was founded by Emperor Augustus and corresponds to the current city of Coimbra. And the Forum of Aeminium was the administrative, civic, political, and religious center of the Roman city. Hence the importance of this two-story Cryptoportico with vaulted galleries!
“The Last Supper of Christ”, by Hodart Vyryo (Floor -1)
“The Last Supper of Christ” (in Portuguese, “A Última Ceia de Cristo”) is a terracotta sculptural ensemble created by Hodart Vyryo between 1530 and 1534, for the refectory of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Coimbra. Now, Hodart Vyryo was a sculptor of French descent, who was active in Portugal and Spain in the 16th century.
In stylistic terms, his work is part of the transition to Renaissance art. And “The Last Supper of Christ” is considered one of the masterpieces of European sculpture of this period, for the realistic treatment given to the figures of Jesus Christ and the twelve Apostles!
Cloister of Saint John of Almedina (Floor 0)
The Church of Saint John of Almedina (in Portuguese, Igreja de São João de Almedina) was one of the structures that were part of the Bishop’s Palace of Coimbra – where the Machado de Castro National Museum is based. And this Cloister of Saint John of Almedina is a testimony to the first Catholic temple built here.
Even though not fully preserved, the Cloister of Saint John of Almedina is a rare example of the so-called first phase of Portuguese Romanesque architecture. Even so, the date of its projection is not consensual: some historians suggest 1125-1130; others defend the end of the 11th century.
“Black Christ” (Floor 0)
The “Black Christ” (in Portuguese, “Cristo Negro”) is a sculpture by an unknown author, dating from the 14th century and coming from the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Coimbra. Its name is an allusion to the blackened appearance of the image before the last restoration it underwent, which gave it back a color closer to the original.
Conceived in polychrome wood, the “Black Christ” is considered one of the most important works of Portuguese medieval sculpture. For this reason, it’s seen as one of the most emblematic pieces in the collection of the Machado de Castro National Museum!
Treasurer’s Chapel (Floor 0)
The Treasurer’s Chapel (in Portuguese, Capela do Tesoureiro) was designed between 1553 and 1564 by João de Ruão, to integrate the apse of the chancel of the church of the Convent of Saint Dominic in Coimbra, now disappeared. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, it’s a Mannerist work decorated with images of the Evangelists and the Apostles.
In the 1960s, it was decided to dismantle, transport, and reconstruct the Treasurer’s Chapel in the interior courtyard of the Machado de Castro National Museum. And, in order to ensure its exacting preservation, this same patio ended up being covered in its entirety!
“Lady of the Rose” (Floor 1)
The “Lady of the Rose” (in Portuguese, “Senhora da Rosa”) is a tempera painting on chestnut wood, created during the reign of King Afonso V (1438-1481) – more precisely between 1425 and 1450. Also called “Lady of the Chair” (in Portuguese, “Senhora da Cadeira”), it isn’t known its author nor its origin.
The “Lady of the Rose” was at the College of Saint Hieronymus in Coimbra until it entered the collection of the Machado de Castro National Museum. Its style fits into the Gothic of the early 15th century, as shown by the lack of perspective, use of primary colors, and well-defined contours.
Coach of Dom Francisco de Lemos (Floor 1)
Francisco de Lemos de Faria Pereira Coutinho was a Portuguese Catholic priest, jurist, and politician. Born in colonial Brazil, he was Bishop of Coimbra for more than four decades (between 1779 and 1822), as well as the longest-serving Rector of the University of Coimbra (31 years: from 1770 to 1779 and from 1799 to 1821)!
The Coach of Dom Francisco de Lemos (in Portuguese, Coche de D. Francisco de Lemos) on display at the Castro National Museum is, in fact, a berlin. And it could very well be in the National Coach Museum – if Dom Francisco de Lemos hadn’t been such a renowned figure in the city of Coimbra!
“The Treasure of Queen Saint Isabel” (Floor 2)
“The Treasure of Queen Saint Isabel” (in Portuguese, “O Tesouro da Rainha Santa Isabel” is a temporary exhibition that I had the opportunity to discover when I visited the Machado de Castro National Museum in September 2022. This project was initially presented at the National Museum of Ancient Art, in Lisbon.
From this exhibition, are part pieces of jewelry from the collection of the Machado de Castro National Museum – which belonged to Queen Isabel of Aragon, the wife of King Dinis – as well as a pilgrim’s staff, a portrait, and an illuminated manuscript.
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