Object of the Month - June

A Scottish plan for Lisbon

I thought, talked and dreamt of nothing else
Robert Adam on the prospect of rebuilding Lisbon
I should, if things succeeded, be made noble by the King and have money to support the dignity [of rebuilding Lisbon] without competition or rival and after a few years spent in an honourable way, in a fine climate where reside many or our countrymen, return to England with all these honours on my head
Robert Adam

A Tale of Two Cities: Edinburgh and Lisbon opened at the Museum of Lisbon’s Torreão Poente on Friday 24 June. This new presentation of the exhibition explores the parallel developments of Edinburgh and the Portuguese capital through a selection of objects, drawings, photographs, film and digital content from Museum of Lisbon, Historic Environment Scotland and The Scottish Parliament. During their research for the exhibition, the curatorial team unearthed a series of fascinating connections between the two cities, including the remarkable story of a renowned Scottish architect’s attempt to be appointed by the Portuguese king to rebuild Lisbon following the 1755 earthquake…

News of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake quickly spread across Europe and soon came to the attention of the ambitious young Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728-1791), then in Rome on his ‘Grand Tour’. Adam immediately saw an opportunity to make his name and expressed, in letters home to his family, a passionate desire to be commissioned as the royal architect. “Being called by a Prince as the properest person in the universe to build a whole city is no unflattering idea’, he wrote, “but still more so when one considers the éclat, the elevated appearance and the fortune that may be made in a few years by it”.

Although never commissioned, Adam produced a series of sketches showing a theatrical Baroque design, with a great basin opening onto the Tagus River, flanked by houses for the nobility and grand public gardens. Despite not being appointed as Lisbon’s royal architect, Adam went on to become one of Britain’s most celebrated designers. He was appointed architect to King George III in 1761. Towards the end of his career he was responsible for the design of several public buildings in Edinburgh including Register House, home of the National Records of Scotland, and Charlotte Square in the city’s New Town.

A Tale of Two Cities: Edinburgh and Lisbon will be displayed at the Museum of Lisbon until 22 December 2016. Discover more in the official Historic Environment Scotland press release by clicking here.

David Roberts