Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Portugal, with evidence of the first settlements dating back to around 1200BC. It has been the capital of the country since 1255AD and has seen conquests by the Arabs and the Spanish, as well as the Portuguese themselves. As you might imagine of such a historic place, it has seen more than its fair share of terrors and some of these seem to linger on today, in places which are atmospherically frightening and, in some cases, are said to be haunted. Here are just a few examples.
The Castelinho of Sao Joao, Estoril
The area between Estoril and Cascais, out on Lisbon’s Atlantic coast, is rife with buildings of character. Many of them are designed to give the impression of miniature castles, indeed some of them were fortified because they were built during times of instability within the Iberian peninsula.
In the 1980s, a wealthy socialite, José Castelo Branco, was looking for just such a property and found one that seemed ideal in Sao Joao, a district on the edge of Estoril. The day he went to view the property was a beautiful sunny one and so he decided to walk along the cliff path which adjoined the property. As he was walking back to the building, he saw a young girl. She didn’t speak, but simply stared at him. In his own account of the events of that day, Mr Castelo Branco said that he felt a compulsion to jump from the edge. This feeling was, he believed, coming from the young girl. He immediately elected to leave the property and ruled out buying it.
On hearing what had happened, someone from the local town hall did some research into the building and discovered that a young blind girl had fallen from the cliffs to her death in the eighteenth century and that several people had reported seeing her at the castelinho since, each claiming that they felt a strong will to jump while she looked at them.
The Cemetery of Pleasures, Lisbon
The district known as ‘Prazeres’ or ‘Pleasures’ in translation was so called because, in the age when it was built, the large green space in the middle of the district was occupied by a large funfair. As Lisbon’s urban sprawl took over the area and homes and businesses spread out here from Estrela, the funfair was dismantled but the name remained, even after the city’s largest necropolis was built here. Similar to the great necropolises in Paris and other cities in Europe, the tombs here are above the ground and often shaped like houses in which the dead live. What makes the cemetery at Prazeres all the more sinister though is that the vast majority of the tombs also have windows. Obscured partially by net curtains, they still offer a view into the resting places of the dead and, as coffins decay over time, a glimpse of the dead themselves. Couple this with a number of monumental tombs, such as that of a team of firemen who died fighting a great inferno in the city, and the sheer scale of the place, with street names and more, and it’s easy to see that even on the sunniest of days, the Cemetery of Pleasures can be a very haunting place indeed.
Quinta Das Conchas, Lisbon
The Quinta das Conchas (or the garden of shells) in Lisbon is best known for its expansive parkland, just to the north of the city centre. Families can be found playing here during the warmer months and countless dog walkers can be seen at any time of the year. The house at the heart of the estate though has a darker past which is lesser known. In the early part of the twentieth century, when Portugal was still a colonial power, the owner of the estate was a wealthy man called Francisco Mantero Belard. Like many of his countrymen, he was accustomed to having servants who took care of the running of his home. So, when he moved into the quinta, he acquired the services of a slave from Sao Tomé and Principe. There was nothing unusual about this at the time, other than that he elected to keep this slave woman in a small cage. She was made to live like an animal and, according to local myth, subjected to a variety of cruel treatment for several years. People working in the manor house in modern times have reported hearing wailing coming from empty rooms, as well as dramatic changes in temperature.
Photos and words by KEV HARRISON