Without them, Lisbon is a little poorer. They are one of Lisbon’s main attractions. Built in the XIXth century, they were used to ease the climbing and descending of hills around the city. Now they are perceived as national monuments and are used by tourists, more than by Lisboetas. The elevators of Lisbon have more than 100 years of history.
They have been built under the supervision and responsibility of the project manager Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard. His French name is misleading, as Raoul de Ponsard was Portuense, and he was equally responsible for the construction of the Guindais cable car in Porto, the elevators of Nazaré and Bom Jesus in Braga. Some say that Ponsard had been the disciple or had collaborated with Gustave Eiffel. There aren’t, however, documents to attest such rumors. Perhaps the French name and the same esthetics might have misled the informers who often spread the news on the streets of Lisbon as they saw fit.
The Glória Elevator
The Glória elevator was inaugurated on the 24th of October, 1885. It connects Praça dos Restauradores (the square of Restauradores) and São Pedro de Alcântara, through the Glória sidewalks. It was first moved through a rack and a cable system by using water balance. Then by steam and, only in 1915, the elevator became electric. It had initially two floors. The ground floor had two rounds of seats where passengers were travelling with their backs at the street. They could access the upper level using a spiral staircase which offered a dazzling view facing the street.
As a curiosity, on Glória’s sidewalk a cycling event was held – the ascent of Glória – between the years of 1913 and 1926. This event began again in 2013. And for those who love music, the elevator has its own song. It was composed by a Portuguese rock band, icon of the 80’s, Radio Macau and it is called….’The elevator of Glória’.
The Santa Justa Elevator
Despite some resemblance with the Eiffel Tour in regards esthetics, we underline that the Santa Justa elevator was not a project of Gustave Eiffel, but of Raoul Ponsard. And that Raoul Ponsard was not a disciple of the French engineer. So far so good, right? Having gotten that out of the way, here is some more interesting information about the Santa Justa elevator: inaugurated in 1902 in the presence of the King D. Carlos I, the elevator connects the street of Santa Justa with the Largo do Carmo. In his first couple of years of functioning, it was moved by steam. Only on the 6th of November 1907, it became electric. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest engineering symbols of our times, and it stands out most of all due to its laced-looking tracing and cast iron structure – influence of the neo-gothic style. The elevator is 45 m high, and its two cabins have space for 45 people.
The Bica Elevator
The Bica elevator was inaugurated on the 28th of June, 1892 and it is composed of two carriages each, with three uneven compartments of independent access. It has the capacity to transport 23 passengers, of which 9 can be seated. It is closely connected to Cais do Sodré, in the street of São Paulo, up until the entrance to Bairro Alto, in the square of Calhariz. It offers one of the nicest trips by elevator, once in which you can admire the river, as it crosses over houses which are part of the typical architecture of neighbourhoods in Lisbon.
The Lavra Elevator
Out of the five elevators in Lisbon, this is the oldest. It was inaugurated on the 19th of April, 1884 and it connects the square of Anunciada and the Câmara Pestana street. The elevator climbs 188 m steep going up the Calçada do Lavra. It is served by two identical carriages, having a capacity of 42 people. Similar to the elevators of Glória and Bica, this one as well began its movement on a rack system and water balance system, going on to steam and finally, from 1915 onwards, to electricity. It is perhaps less known that by getting closer to the top, you get closer to one of the most beautiful gardens in the city – the Torel garden.
Translation by Ioana Bota