Dancing the night away in the Ruinas do Convento e Igreja do Carmo, Lisbon

I love the city of Lisbon, it’s one of my favourite Europe destinations. I love walking its charming streets, climbing up to the Castle for gorgeous views, observing the colourful tiles, eating delicious fish stew at open-air tables, eavesdropping on conversations and trying – mostly unsuccessfully – to make out a few words in Portuguese.

My family and I were invited recently to a Portuguese-Brazilian wedding and we were happy for an excuse to get back to this beautiful city. We were even happier when we found out the unusual location of the wedding and reception – in the Ruinas do Convento e Igreja do Carmo (Ruins of the Convent and Church of Carmo) a popular Lisbon sightseeing location.

Photo courtesy jimpereira100

The ruins of the 14th century Carmo Church are a familiar landmark in Lisbon. The Carmelite church was built on a slope overlooking the Baixa area of Lisbon. At the time of its construction, in the late 14th century, it was the largest church of Lisbon.

Disaster struck the Carmo Church – and all of Lisbon – on 1 November 1755. The church was filled for a mass on that holiday morning, All Saints Day, when the tragic earthquake struck. Although the epicentre was close to the Algarve, it was Lisbon that was most severely affected by the quake. In the Carmo Church on that terrible day, tons of stone and masonry collapsed, killing the parishioners celebrating mass below.

The Carmo Church was one of over 20 churches in Lisbon to be destroyed that day. Half of the city was reduced to rubble; fires broke out and a tidal wave from the Targas River flooded the lower areas of the city. In all, it is estimated that 15,000 people died in Lisbon on that dark day. Reconstruction work got underway rather quickly and much of Lisbon’s striking architecture dates back to those ambitious rebuilding efforts, but the Carmo Church remained a shell of its former self as a fitting reminder of the tragedy that befell Lisbon and its residents that day. Today, the Carmo Church ruins are a recognizable landmark in Lisbon to residents and visitors alike.

Needless to say, the church ruins were a stunning setting for the wedding ceremony and the reception, which started in daylight and continued on into dusk and late into the night. It was wonderful to see the church ruins illuminated in the evening and to enjoy dinner and dancing under the stars in such a dramatic setting.

A word about the dancing, since I did mention that this was a Portuguese-Brazilian wedding. I have always considered myself a decent dancer, but that impression was quickly shattered the moment I was sharing the dance floor with Brazilians. The Portuguese guests and I quickly moved aside to watch. And when my young sons eagerly asked me to teach them to dance the same way, I quickly declined and sought out a young Brazilian woman who agreed to dance with them and taught them far better than I could have. In no time at all, they were dancing like pros.

So, if an invitation arrives in the mail for a wedding held at the Igresia do Carmo, my advice is to snap it up right away. Even without the wedding, be sure to make a visit to the striking ruins of the church, now an archaeological museum housing statues, sarcophogi and mosaics in a stunning setting.

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