Why are there two white stone columns rising out of the Tejo River in Lisbon? The two columns, topped with spheres, mark the top of the stairs at the old Cais das Colunas pier.
Prior to 1755, Lisbon’s royal palace was located here. The riverfront courtyard was known as Terreiro do Paço, the Palace Yard.
The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and the tidal wave that followed destroyed the palace, everything in downtown Lisbon, and even much of what was built on the surrounding hills.
After the earthquake, King José I decided to relocate to nearby Ajuda and establish a palace there.
The Ribeira Palace was not rebuilt, so Lisbon’s largest square was no longer the palace yard. It was renamed Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square).
The pier and columns were completed in the late 1700s by architect Eugénio dos Santos.
The columns remind you of a scene from old Venice. Boats coming from Cacilhas on the south side of the river tied up here.
Apparently, the columns were inspired by the columns of Solomon’s Temple, representing Wisdom and Devotion.
During the 1930s the columns at Cais das Colunas were inscribed to honor António de Oliveira Salazar and Óscar Carmona, the two prime minister / president / dictators who controlled Portugal for most of the twentieth century. In fact, the two columns were commonly known as Salazar and Carmona.
Cais das Colunas and these two pillars are the ceremonial entrance to the city.
The columns sit in front of the grand statue of King José seated on a horse, and they also line up with the magnificent Rua Augusta Arch on the other side of Avenida Ribeira das Naus.
Among the noblest visitors to enter Lisbon through the columns were England’s King Edward VII, Spain’s King Alfonso XIII, French President Émile Loubet, German Emperor Wilhelm II, and most recently Queen Elizabeth II and her court landed at Cais das Colunas in 1957, disembarked, and then took her carriage up the red carpet into the city.
At different points in history, the columns have been removed and replaced. What you see today are not the originals.
The inscriptions honoring the dictators and Portugal’s history of colonization have been erased.
For example, wooden columns were erected for Queen Elizabeth’s visit. Source: Lisbon of Old: Cais das Colunas: the shallow and shallow viewpoint of the city (lisboadeantigamente.blogspot.com)
The columns were removed again in 1997 for the construction of the metro system’s blue line. They were not reinstalled until 2008.
Cais das Colunas is one of the best spots in Lisbon to sit and have a peaceful moment (even if there is a crowd).
It is just a calming place to sit and enjoy the small waves lapping at the stairs. It might be called a romantic spot as well.
This is a fantastic place to enjoy a sunset. If you are sitting on the steps, the sun will set to your right, behind the 25 April bridge in the distance. To learn more about the bridge, check out my article, A guide to Lisbon’s most famous bridges
Another iconic symbol of Lisbon that is a great place to watch the sunset is the Belém Tower (Torre de Belém). For more information, see my Surprising Belém Tower facts .
Another spot here in the Baixa neighborhood to watch the sunset is from the viewing deck at the Santa Justa Elevator. Elevador de Santa Justa | Everything you need to know
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