“Palácio de Cristal” (“Crystal Palace”) – a name that still today stir up a mixture of fascination and nostalgia in many “portuenses”.
Because, in fact, the “Crystal Palace” vanished 65 years.
Built to host the Grand International Exposition of Porto, the “Palácio de Cristal” (Crystal Palace) was built at Torre da Marca, on the outskirts of the city centre, and inaugurated on 18 September 1865 by King Luis I. Designed by the English architect Thomas Dillen Jones, was a smaller version of the Crystal Palace in London, 150 meters long by 72 metres wide, divided into three naves.
The exhibition of 1865 was enormously success, having counted with more than 3000 exhibitors coming from diverse countries like France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Brazil, Spain, Denmark, Russia, the Netherlands, Turkey, the United States and Japan.
The meeting point of the local elite
The environment of the Crystal Palace was dignified with the creation of romantic gardens by the German landscape architect Emile David. In the following decades, these gardens became the main meeting point of Porto:
«On Sundays, in Porto, at the splendid Crystal Palace avenue, ladies gather in smalls groups; and men, except for the jealous husbands and rheumatic bachelors, walk around for miles and miles, discreetly greet them without addressing them» (Alberto Pimentel, “O Porto por fora e por dentro”, 1878)
The gardens include beautiful specimens of rhododendrons, camellias, araucarias, ginkgoes, and beech trees, in addition to fountains and allegorical statues. The most outstanding axis of this park is the so-called “Avenue of Lime Trees”, currently flanked by Almeida Garrett Municipal Library, the Acoustic Shell, and the chapel of Charles Albert of Sardinia. This small temple precedes the existence of the Crystal Palace itself. It was erected in 1854, by Princess Augusta de Montléart, in memory of her brother, the King of Piedmont-Sardinia, Charles Albert, who went into exile to the city of Porto after being defeated by the Austrians at the Battle of Novara. After a short stay at the Palace of Condes de Balsemão (in the square currently named “Praça de Carlos Alberto”), the Italian King moved to Quinta da Macieirinha, where he died in 1849. His sister built the chapel in the grounds of this estate, later one incorporated in the gardens of the Crystal Palace.
Along the Avenue of Lime Trees and elsewhere in the gardens there are several belvederes providing stunning panoramic views over the city and the Douro River.
Following Grand International Exposition of Porto of 1865, the Crystal Palace hosted hundreds of other major exhibitions, including the Agricultural Exhibition of 1903 and the Colonial Exhibition in the summer of 1934. For this exhibition, the Crystal Palace was transformed into the “Palace of the Colonies”. It was during in this Colonial Exhibition of 1934, having Henrique Galvão as Commissioner, that a famous map was presented with the caption “Portugal is not a small country”, in which the territories of Portuguese colonies appear superimposed on the European continent. At the entrance to the exhibition there was the “Monument to the Effort of Portuguese Settler ” by Sousa Caldas and Alberto Ponce de Castro, currently in the “Praça do Império” roundabout, at Foz do Douro.
The Colonial Exhibition was the event with the largest impact in the life of the city of Porto during the 1930s, attracting thousands of visitors, intended to promote the authoritarian government of Salazar as a modern and attractive regime in Portugal.
The Colonial Exhibition of 1934 served as the test to the Exposition of the Portuguese World of 1940, in Lisbon.
An inglorious end
In addition to the exhibitions, the Crystal Palace was also an important cultural hub, having an excellent pipe organ, considered to be the largest in the world, where important concerts took place, by composer Vianna da Motta and virtuoso cellist Guilhermina Suggia.
On the pretext of hosting the Roller Hockey World Cup in Porto, the Crystal Palace ended up being ingloriously demolished in 1951. In its place, a huge concrete dome was constructed, named Sports Pavilion – now called Rosa Mota Pavilion –, designed by local architect José Carlos Loureiro.
From the good old days remained the gardens, the name “Crystal Palace” and a huge nostalgia from the “portuenses” (Porto inhabitants) about a romantic building that most of them have never had the chance of really knowing.
Manuel de Sousa
About the author:
Manuel de Sousa (1965) has a graduation in Historical Sciences, a post-graduation in Digital Marketing and a master’s degree in Tourism. Manuel has held managing positions — especially in Communication and Marketing — in several multinational companies and other big corporations. Combining his attraction for the local history with social media, Manuel created the page “Porto Desaparecido” (“Vanished Porto”) on Facebook, whose success granted him a Municipal Medal of Merit by Porto City Council. In January 2017, Manuel published “Porto d’Honra”, a book about the 15 most relevant milestones of Porto city history.