Lisbon’s best kept secret

Hi all, My name is José I’m a tour guide for the Lisbon free walking tours.

Have you visited Lisbon yet? Maybe now is the time. Today I’ll tell you about one of the most well-kept historical secrets of Lisbon. It can only be visited by the general public once a year and only for 3 days. These are the oldest ruins of Lisbon and many people say they should be visited at least once in a lifetime.

Roman galleries in LisbonMost of the travelers who visit Lisbon like to walk the area of Baixa and do the 28 tram tour. What they don’t really know is that when they do this they are also walking over the oldest ruins of Lisbon and they have a whole city beneath their feet or, as the locals like to call them, “The underground ruins”.

Lisbon is one of the oldest European capitals and like other European cities have this problem: wherever you dig a hole you find some ruins. For a long time the archaeologists and the city debated on this problem. Should we build over all these ruins and forget the history and the past or should we keep them to study who we were and how things were done many centuries ago?

Roman galleries in LisbonFor those who visit Lisbon at this time of the year it is quite possible that you will be surprised to see people walking down a trapdoor located under one of the busiest streets of the historic center of the city. It is also quite funny to see the traveler’s expressions on my tour on the other 362 days of the year when the tour passes through and I show them this curious door. Sometimes I guess they don’t believe what I’m saying. Hahaha.

If you are a History lover and you see this scene, it’s your lucky day. These ruins are the Roman galleries. They are more than 2,000 years old, they only open for 3 days of the year and they are free to go inside.

The city was built in layers. Many ruins had been lost and were buried beneath the “new” constructions. The Roman galleries were discovered after The Great Lisbon devastating earthquake. This is amongst the strongest ever recorded in history with power enough to lift the city and bring a lot of ancient lost ruins to light. Ironically because the ruins were submerged for many centuries, they survived the earthquake.

Roman galleries in LisbonAfter descending the extremely narrow and steep stairs, an underground world of tunnels, vaulted avenues of water and mysterious nooks and narrow corridors appear. There are also some strange passages that can only be crossed if you are crouched down. The use of these ruins are still a mystery. For centuries, people thought they were Roman baths for medicinal purposes and waters with healing powers due to a bust of Asclepius, the god of medicine, placed in the hall of the springs. The water inside is constant and the galleries are flooded the whole year. They are only drained for these 3 days. Today, this theory was abandoned and the most consensual idea believes this is a cryptoporticus, a building from the time of Augustus used to sustain other buildings. But the true meaning and why these galleries were built it is still a mystery.

As all these great secrets and hidden gems are the most desirable things to be seen by travelers (like those who come on our tours), well, the secret is not a secret anymore. If you want to visit these ruins, you should go there really early. If not, you will have to wait in a long line for around 3 hours. Last Sunday at 10 am the line was already closed and nobody else could go inside. Check out the timetable for your next visit to Lisbon

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13 Responses to “Lisbon’s best kept secret”

  1. Ertyu December 12, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Oh, no, sigh….

    The Roman “ruins” in Lisbon ARE NOT the oldest “ruins” of the city and they are not the oldest human evidences of the permanent place we call today Lisbon.

    • United Europe Free Tours December 17, 2013 at 9:34 am #

      Thank you for your comment, we appreciate when people contribute on our posts, specially when it helps Lisbon Chill-Out Tours to do better.

      The human presence in Lisbon dates back to prehistoric times and many artifacts were found all around the city (now in museums). However, the Rua dos Correeiros archaeological site is in fact the oldest preserved (still in the place where they were found) ruins in Lisbon open to public.

      Not being experts on archaeology, the information we share is from the Rua dos Correeiros archaeological site and is public.

      We also ask you if you have more insightful information, you are very welcome to identify yourself and send us a link that can help our readers to learn more about the subject. It is all about sharing.

      Lisbon Chill-Out Tours

  2. Dale January 23, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

    Hi! Fascinating about the underground galleries! Can you tell me the days they are open each year? Does this change or is it always the same? Thanks

    • United Europe Free Tours February 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

      Hi,

      Thank you for your curiosity on our post. We hope to see you in Lisbon one of these days.

      The access to these ruins is related to the level of water and rain but usually they open on the last weekend of September.

      There is no official web page for this site but you can follow us on Facebook where we will promote it a few days before hand.

      If you come to Lisbon and don’t have the chance to visit them because it is the wrong time or the line is too long (some people wait up to 9 hours), you can also can see another museum right next to the ruins. It is called Rua Dos Correeiros Archaeological Site.

      Hope to see you soon,

      The Lisbon Chill Out Tours

  3. Chen October 2, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Hi, I have been reading for evidence regarding Alfama’s Roman/Arab baths but so far have only found fragmented information here and there. As you have mentioned that for centuries the people of Lisbon believed these underground galleries to be Roman baths, there must be some sort of evidence that lead the people to think that Roman baths at one point was a big part of Lisbon’s tradition. However, since the information available up until today is so limited and there is virtually little to no trace of the baths left today, do you have any knowledge of the baths. Perhaps information on how prominent they used to be and maybe approximately how many were there at one point (or whether they did exist at all), whether they were Roman baths or Arab bath, and if they were prominent at one point what happened to them and how come there were very little trace left? Was it because of the 1755 earthquake, or could it be that the tradition was abandoned after Christianity ruled over? Any information would be greatly greatly appreciate!

  4. lydia antunes April 18, 2016 at 8:50 pm #

    I understand it can only be visited 3 days a year so when this year can we see it?

    • United Europe Free Tours April 20, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

      The ruins can only be seen in the last weekend of September.

      Wish you all the best,

      Lisbon Chill Out Team – José Guerreiro

  5. Xana April 18, 2016 at 11:26 pm #

    Visiting Lisboa after a long 17 year absence . Will be there from April 28 through May 13, 2016 . Where would i go to get a visit ?

    • United Europe Free Tours April 20, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

      Thank you participate on our blog and a special thanks for you interest on the visit. However, from you message we can’t quite understand if you want to visit the ruins or if you want to join our tour.

      For our tours please follow the link to our page. For the ruins, they can only be seen in the last weekend of September.

      Wish you all the best,

      Lisbon Chill Out Team – José Guerreiro

  6. Lisa Spitzer MSW July 26, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    When will the door be open in Sept 2016?

    • United Europe Free Tours July 28, 2016 at 9:37 am #

      These ruins can only be seen in the last weekend of September.

      Wish you all the best,

      Lisbon Chill Out Team – José Guerreiro

  7. Rosanne Jacobs-Sarkin September 11, 2017 at 10:14 pm #

    please can you tell me what the dates and times of the visit to the ruins can be this year september 2017
    thank you kindly
    rosanne

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