Exposição do Mundo Português took place in Lisbon in 1940, from 23 June to 2 December, commemorating 800 years since the country foundation and 300 years since independence from Spain. The exhibition alone was an architectural splendor, expressing the creativity of Cottinelli Telmo it’s major architect and António Lino.
State as scenery Portugal as Theme
Estado Novo (1933-1974) : The omnipresent state
It’s not possible to speak about the Exposição do Mundo Português without understanding the political framework lived in the country by the time of the exhibition.
Portugal was consolidating a new political regime that started 7 years earlier after leaving a national dictatorship (1928-1933) and a previous military dictatorship ( 1926-1928) that ruled the country for this brief short period.
The new regime that started in 1933 was Estado Novo ( New State ) and was commanded by a bright scholar of Coimbra University called in 1933 to take care of the economy of the country, left in a chaos by the previous governments. That man was António de Oliveira Salazar.
Salazar figure and it’s importance to the regime along with it’s political thoughts are subjects of intense debate till nowadays.
Although Salazar was de facto an extremely important piece in the political environment of those days, his decisions, actuation and ideas are far from being consensual.
Estado Novo was an authoritarian, conservative, patriotic and, corporatist regime, with influences that were commonly seen those days in other countries, with some particular nuances that transformed it in to a peculiar political regime, unique in it’s own aspects and apart from other similar government styles.
The exploitation of particular cultural themes connected to everyday life, influences of religion, traditionalism (almost ritualistic and mythic although not exaggerated as encountered elsewhere in Germany ) , anti-liberalism and colonialism were all seen in some parts or the sum of what characterized Estado Novo.
One could easily trace back some of the same aspects in aggressive regimes like Nationalsozialismus (Germany), or in the PNF in Italy. In fact, some particularities of those regimes were adopted and implemented by Estado Novo, like for instance the direct relationship of Kraft durch Freude – KdF, and the portuguese FNAT – Frente Nacional para Alegria no Trabalho implemented during the regime (and predecessor of today’s INATEL).
Framed by the political aspects of Estado Novo and, after similar successful events that took place in Paris and New-York, Salazar set in motion the exhibition in a memorandum signed in 1938 defining what would be an unprecedented event.
The greatness of this event would only to be repeated many years later by Expo ’98 in another context, but also with a nationalistic moto.
Portugal was celebrating 800 years since it’s foundation.
Exposição do Mundo Português concept was to seize what Portugal was or, what it should be accounted for during the centuries.
With an extremely patriotic aspect, allied to another important date, 300 years of freedom from Spain, the exhibition would show Portugal (and it’s colonies) in all aspects, allying art and culture to the Estado Novo regime.
The commemorations were divided into time periods, Medieval, Imperial and, the House of Bragança period ( Brigantino ).
Exposição do Mundo Português was an appeal to the union and conciliation of the Portuguese people.
The Architectural Project
In charge of the ambitious project were three key figures :
- Dr. Augusto de Castro (general commissioner)
- Eng. Sá e Melo (assistant commissioner)
- Cottinelli Telmo (chief architect)
Executive commission was in charge of Júlio Dantas and António Ferro (as general secretary).
The overall project was a challenge from the very beginning, happening in a time of scarceness of materials due to the WWII, and allied to the great amount of resources needed to properly have all the architectonic pieces and decorative elements set on time of the grand opening. All in eleven months.
Thematic was divided into sections:
- Historical : Honor (or Glory) pavilion ; Empire Square
- Industry and Commerce
- Ethnography (Metropolitan and Colonial)
supporting and leisure infrastructures were also created, a theme park, playground, poets garden and, a water mirror.
Sound infrastructures were coordinated from a central management and transmitted throughout the precinct, accordingly with the thematic or subject of each particular exhibit.
Architecture was in charge. Artur Lino, brought the Angola and Mozambique pavilions and also the support infrastructures; António Reis Camelo, the Ethnographic metropolitan pavilion; Carlos Ramos and João Simões the colonization pavilion in the historical section; Jorge Segurado brought to the ethnographic section the traditional portuguese villages; Cottinelli Telmo, the Empire Square and, the pavilion reflecting the Portuguese presence throughout the world, colonial Brasil and Portugal, Railroad and Portuary section and all the lightning and decorative aspects of the exhibit.
Cottinelli is also responsible for the foundation gate entrance and also (in collaboration with the sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida) for the Monument of the Discoveries , for many considered one of the ex-libris of the event, although firstly created as a temporary structure for the event.
All architectonical pieces were coordinated to embrace the various aspects of the Português Suave style and also charged with the patriotic symbolism that was demanded by the theme itself.
Nothing was left to chance, it was Portugal and colonies expressed to every detail possible in a one event and in one place.
Complete villages were recreated, from Portugal to the colonies , ways of life depicted, services reproduced, traditions, streets and houses, all was there in a small scale for everyone to see.
Transports networks were created to bring visitors to the event, information bulletins , and all the support material, maps, guides, memorabilia and so forth.
Exposição do Mundo Português was far from being only an exhibition. It was a complete architectural masterpiece and a snapshot of the presence and deeds of the portuguese people everywhere around the globe.
It was a flawless success.
Legacy – the case of the Monument of the Discoveries
Much of the event disappeared along the years, and although it’s enormous success and recognition by both national entities and foreign countries, soon after the exhibition ended and, along the next decades, the precinct was pretty much left to it’s own destiny and chance.
Most of the buildings of the Exposição do Mundo Português were dismantled and, only the major structures, built in more permanent materials stood standing (like some pavilions and concrete buildings) or, places that were specifically designed to the event like the Empire Square area.
A particular case of interest is the Monument of the Discoveries.
Design by Cottinelli and Leopoldo de Almeida, the monument was a tribute to Infante D. Henrique and other important figures of the portuguese discoveries and expeditions period, made throughout the world, to express the efforts made in those tasks, bringing new worlds and spreading religious faith.
With a simple but majestic style, the monument was conceived with straight lines, almost two-dimensional, supported by expressive sculptures that would emphasize each and every character depicted, easily understood by everyone who saw it.
An historical landmark in the form of a ship.
A ship made of stone, carrying all the heroes, charged with symbolic references and details, commanded by Infante D. Henrique, the stone vessel was situated in the Empire Square precinct (not in the location seen today).
Despite the impression it caused, the monument was built as a transient structure, far from perfect (as Cottinelli would later recognize) and made with week materials (mostly wooden and other weak iron structures covered with gypsum) designed to last just about the period of the Exposição do Mundo Português, but not to withstand decades. In fact, the structure was demolished soon after the exhibition ended, in 1943.
By the late 50’s (1958), the monument and it’s concept were revisited as an important piece in another important date, the commemoration of the fifth centennial of the death of Infante D. Henrique.
Reconstruction of the monument was requested to be made. Cottinelli Telmo died in 18 September 1948, and so, another architect was called to complete the task, based on the vision and project of the original author.
António Pardal Monteiro (1928-2012) was the architect called to perform the task. A man with great experience and nephew of another great architect, Porfirio Pardal Monteiro.
The monument was to be built in a larger scale than the original, set to a new permanent location near the margin of the river and capable of housing some other infrastructures like a thematic room , a hall, conference room and other supporting facilities.
Required by project were also, a lift and accesses to the top , permitting the visitors to enjoy the view to the surroundings.
Reconstruction task turned out to be difficult mostly due to the nature of the terrain and it’s weak nature. Stability studies and geologic surveys would be performed by Edgar Cardoso, called to assist in this matter along with Ruy Correia and António Abreu.
Leopoldo de Almeida was once again called to make the sculptural work, along with Soares Branco and António Santos, assisted by António Cândido and Carlos Escobar in charge of the models, under supervision of António Branco and Alfredo Henriques.
Works started in November 1958 and were concluded in January 1960 in time for the commemorative event and inaugurated in 9 August that same year, although not completely concluded until October 1960.
The result was an imposing structure, 56 m height, 20 m wide, 46 m long, set in foundations 20 m deep. Built in concrete, stone covered, along with ornamental pavements specifically created and designed to decorate the monument.
A true symbol of Lisbon, Portugal and it’s most important figures, bringing past and present all together, motivating future generations, marking the memories of those who see it, remembering those who made it all possible.
Exposição do Mundo Português was a tribute of architecture to a great Nation with a legacy that we all recognize and should be proud of.