Located on the west side of Lisbon on the shore of the Tagus, the Monument to Overseas Combatants is one of the world’s most compelling memorials. The monument’s magnificent architecture makes for an effective tribute to the people who sacrificed their lives for their country. It maintains a quiet, somber atmosphere, and visitors who stop by understand that they’re walking on hallowed ground.
Any trip to Portugal should include some time with this captivating cultural landmark. Here’s what you need to know about the monument, along with some practical considerations to keep in mind during your visit.
1. The Monument Addresses A Crucial Time In Portuguese History
Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar translates into English as “Monument to Overseas Combatants,” which leads some visitors to assume that the monument addresses all foreign wars.
However, the monument is intended to specifically address the losses suffered in the Portuguese Colonial War, known in Portugal as the Overseas War. During the conflict, the country’s forces fought in three African theaters from 1961 to 1974, and more than 9,000 Portuguese soldiers lost their lives.
2. The War Led To Major Changes In Portuguese Society
In Portugal, the wars took a heavy toll. As the fighting went on, public sentiment turned against the government of fascist leader Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, eventually resulting in the 1974 military coup of his successor, Marcelo Caetano.
That context helps travelers understand the importance of Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar; while it certainly acts as a tribute to the sacrifices of the country’s military, it’s also a monument of peace and a reminder of the true costs of war.
3. The Memorial Is Simple But Striking
Built in 1994, the Monument to Overseas Combatants is a fitting tribute. Two black-and-white pillars rise out of the clear waters of a public lake, forming an incomplete inverted triangle. An eternal flame sits under the point where the pillars would meet.
According to some interpretations, the lake symbolizes the oceans that separated many of the combatants from their homeland, while the pillars act as a metaphor for unity. The implication is that those who served came from different backgrounds and practiced different religions, but all made the same sacrifice.
4. Armed Guards Stand Nearby
Visit the memorial during the day, and you’ll see an armed guard watching over the eternal flame. The presence of armed guards leads some Americans to draw comparisons between Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Near the memorial, you’ll also see 180 bronze plates, which are engraved with the names of soldiers who lost their lives in the Portuguese Colonial War. While tourists are allowed to take photos of the monument, plaques, and even the armed guard, be sure to treat the site with appropriate respect if you get to visit.
5. The Nearby Military Museum Offers Additional Historical Context
Forte de Bom Sucesso contains exhibits related to important Portuguese conflicts, including the Overseas War. Stop by this small museum on your way to the memorial to view military equipment, historical documents, and more.
Constructed in 1780, the museum was once an important fort. It has undergone several restorations, and while it’s not the largest institution of its kind in Lisbon, it’s certainly worth a visit. It has a small entrance fee, currently around $3 USD for adults.
6. Other Important Landmarks Are Within Walking Distance
After visiting the Monument to Overseas Combatants, consider stopping by Monument Gago Coutinho e Sacadura Cabral, a replica of the biplane piloted by Portuguese aviator Gago Coutinho during his 1922 flight over the South Atlantic Ocean that commemorates the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic.
Belem Tower, also known as the Tower of Saint Vincent, is also within walking distance. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the tower was built on the Tagus river in the early 16th century, and it’s one of Lisbon’s most recognizable landmarks.
What else do you want to do? Here’s our advice for how to spend a day in Lisbon.
7. Travelers Can Visit At Any Time Of Day
Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar has no admittance fee and is open all day. When visiting, take care to show respect for the memorial. Avoid eating or drinking on the grounds and keep conversation to a low level.
The monument is a breathtaking sight and a must-see destination for Lisbon travelers. Standing near the eternal flame is an impressive experience, regardless of your cultural background, and the solemn atmosphere is almost overwhelming. If you find yourself in the city, make sure to include this extraordinary memorial in your itinerary.