Sé Cathedral: from simplistic church to Lisbon's iconic cathedral

In Lisbon, take a typical vintage tram and stop in front of this imposing building which, with its two towers, looks like a medieval castle! Before becoming a cathedral in 1393, it was intended to be a simple church - in fact, it is the oldest in the city. Construction began in 1147 on the site of a former mosque, to celebrate the reconquest of the city from the Moors. Romanesque in style, with some Gothic touches, it was damaged on several occasions by the earthquakes that shook Lisbon, including the particularly devastating one in 1755. Over the years, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maior was partially restored and venerated; it was here that Saint Anthony of Padua was baptised. Today, visitors discover it for its peaceful atmosphere, a break from the hustle and bustle and shelter from the Lisbon sun. It stands amid the city's typical, colourful houses and just a stone's throw from the Tagus estuary.

Sé Cathedral and typical Lisbon houses, Lisbon, Portugal.

- © Arseniy Rogov / 123RF

Construction: the fruit of a dizzying past

It underwent a series of renovations before becoming the fortress-like tourist attraction it is today. The cathedral of Santa Maria Maior (its full name), better known as the Sé cathedral, is Lisbon's oldest church. It was built in the 12th century on the site of a mosque to celebrate the expulsion of the Moorish and Almoravids when the city was recovered by the Portuguese. It has also suffered a number of natural disasters, including being partially destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. Today, it sits proudly on part of the citadel and shows no sign of its heavy past; majestic and a must-see.

Sé Cathedral, Lisbon, Portugal.

- © Francisco Crocco / Shutterstock
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The architecture: a Romanesque style with hints of Gothic

The building was constructed in the shape of a cross. Mainly Romanesque in style, the building has retained its two original towers, giving it the look of a fortified castle with battlements at the top, useful for attacking enemy troops. During the great period of Portuguese reconquest, many buildings could be used as defence bases, and this is particularly true of the cathedral.

les deux tours de la cathédrale de Sé, Lisbonne, Portugal.

- © Alberto Loyo / 123RF

The main façade is adorned with a very pretty old rose window and a huge sculpted portal, both of which date back to Romanesque art. Rather austere, its interior decoration does not pay tribute to its exterior façade, despite the pretty coloured stained glass windows and the daylight that streams in from the large rose window. However, if you take a closer look at some of the details, you will find some precious relics, such as the treasure and relics of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon, and the baptismal font of Saint Anthony, where he is said to have been baptised; the small chapel is covered in blue and white azulejos.

The relics of Saint Anthony, Sé Cathedral, Lisbon, Portugal.

- © Ricardo Perna / Shutterstock

The discovery of the remains of this holy place

On the wall of the staircase leading to the sanctuary, you will see a cross, the Cross of Saint Anthony of Padua, drawn on this wall when the devil came to disturb his faith; he repelled him by making the sign of the cross on the stone.

The cross designed by Saint Anthony of Padua, Sé Cathedral, Lisbon, Portugal.

- © Ricardo Perna / Shutterstock

There are some Gothic influences, notably the cloister, built in the 13th century in a Gothic style, which blends in perfectly with the rest of the monument. Inside, you'll find a mix of memorabilia from different influences from the past, including Roman, Arab and medieval artefacts found during the excavations.

Did you know?

Why is the cathedral called "Sé"? This is the abbreviation for "Sedes Episcopales", which means "Episcopal See".

Practical information

📍 Address: Largo da Sé, Lisbon

👛 Price (from) :

  • €5 (adult fare)
  • 3 (7 to 12 years old)
  • Free for children under 6

Opening times:

  • Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 9.30am to 7pm
  • Wednesday and Saturday: 10am to 6pm
  • closed on Sunday

👉 Duration: 1 hour

👉Other info:

The entrance ticket includes the following services: a visit to the naves and ambulatory of the cathedral, a climb to the Coro Alto (balcony between the bell towers).

If you would like to visit the cathedral in a group, please send an email to: info@sedelisboa.pt

To find out more...

On your way out, wander down the winding streets of Alfama, arguably Lisbon's most typical and charming district, with its staircase lanes and echoes of fado wafting through the air.

Where to sleep nearby

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by Alexiane Derail
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