In the first half of the 19th century, traveling to Lisbon was challenging due to a surge in visitors, causing traffic congestion in the city. Sea travel was also hindered by slow and unreliable local ships. To address this, José Bernardo da Costa Cabral, a nobleman, advocated for a national railway network to improve access to Lisbon. In 1844, he established the Public Works Company of Portugal (Companhia das Obras Públicas) to oversee the project. The centerpiece was to be a large train station in the city center, designed to be intermodal, allowing guests to arrive by train and continue their journey by ship. However, there were disagreements about where to begin construction. While originally planned for Cais dos Soldados, engineers and architects, including Thomaz Rumball, suggested larger areas in other parts of the city like Fundição de Lisboa or Largo do Intendente. Harcourt White also gained support for placing the station next to the Igreja dos Anjos.
Discover the history of the most historic railway complex in the city of Lisbon.
The Transport Dilemma in 19th-century Lisbon
The Station Construction
The dispute over the train station's location was settled by an executive committee, choosing the former convent "Convento de Santa Apolónia" along the Tagus riverbanks. Official government approval came in 1854, coinciding with the development of the rail line it would serve, known as the "Caminho de Ferro do Leste" or "Eastern line." However, construction hadn't begun when the railway opened two years later, requiring a makeshift depot in downtown Lisbon. Construction finally started in 1862, led by director João Evangelista de Abreu. He oversaw a large team of laborers recruited from nearby villages, working closely with a chief engineer. The station, designed by architect Angel Arribas Ugarte, featured a 384-foot U-shaped structure with Neoclassical design elements like a prominent pediment, grand portico, and round-arch supports. High-quality materials like limestone and wrought iron were used. The station's appearance was celebrated even before construction was completed.
From Station to Splendor: The Evolution of Santa Apolónia
The Santa Apolónia Station, inaugurated in 1865, became a bustling center of economic activity in the 19th century. Comboios de Portugal operated a large fleet of passenger trains, known as "American cars," from the station, serving thousands of travelers across Lisbon and the Iberian Peninsula. The station's popularity led to the addition of more routes, including the Cascais Line. It underwent significant expansions in the 1910s, 1930s, and 1950s. By the 21st century, it was one of Portugal's top three train depots. To cater to modern passengers, Sonae Capital transformed the southern wing into a luxurious five-star hotel, "The Editory Riverside - Santa Apolónia," which opened in 2022. With 126 exceptional guestrooms and the upscale "Impulso Restaurante," it has become one of Lisbon's premier hotels, preserving the institutional heritage of the adjacent Santa Apolónia Station.
Lisbon's ancient origins, though somewhat mysterious, can be traced back to the Iron Age. Recent archaeological findings indicate Phoenician presence dating back to the 12th century B.C., suggesting it began as a trading post known as "Olisipo." It later grew into the Roman city of "Felicitas Julia," becoming a vital stronghold for the Roman Empire. After the fall of Rome, it passed through various rulers, ultimately falling to the Moors who fortified the city. In 1147, during the Second Crusade, King Afonso I successfully captured Lisbon, marking its transformation into a key commercial center. It later became the capital of Portugal under King Afonso III. Lisbon flourished through royal investments and urban development, culminating in a renaissance by the 16th century, fueled by riches from distant colonies. A devastating earthquake in 1755 led to a swift reconstruction effort, adopting the elegant Pombalino Baroque style. Despite periods of adversity, Lisbon's growth continued, exemplified by the grand Avenida de Liberdade. Today, it stands as a renowned European metropolis, drawing visitors with its UNESCO-recognized historic sites.
The Editory Riverside Apolónia showcases impressive Classical Revival-style architecture, also known as Neoclassical architecture, which is widely recognized globally. Originating in Paris in the late 18th century, this style emerged from French architects who drew inspiration from earlier Baroque designs before adopting Greco-Roman elements. It gained popularity and spread to countries like Germany, Spain, and Great Britain. Characterized by formal and symmetrical design elements, such as aligned doors and windows, a front porch with a classical pediment, and a rounded portico with a balustraded roof, Classical Revival architecture often incorporates pilasters and ornate sculptural details on the façade. Notably, buildings in this style feature imposing columns with Corinthian, Doric, or Ionic capitals, reminiscent of Greco-Roman temples. Initially favored for municipal structures like courthouses, libraries, and schools, it later extended to commercial buildings including banks, department stores, and hotels. This architectural style remains prevalent in major cities worldwide, serving as a go-to choice for both new constructions and the restoration of historic buildings, solidifying its status as one of the most pervasive architectural styles globally.
Night Train to Lisbon (2013)