The sun came back for part of this week, so we headed downhill to the Carmo Ruins and Archaeological Museum. The Church of Santa Maria do Carmo was partially destroyed in the 1755 Lison earthquake but the main pillars and arches managed to stay upright as the rest of the church collapsed around them. A reconstruction was begun but halted in the 1830s. The ruins have since become a memorial to the victims and a reminder of the destructive earthquake.
The remaining structure is stark; backed by bright blue sky it makes for beautiful photographs that doesn’t do the height of it justice. I’m not sure there are too many ways to take an uninteresting picture inside.
There is a small archaeological museum in the partially reconstructed chapels at the front of the church, it features arrowheads and ancient pottery all the way through a couple of royal tombs from the 1700s. In addition to old and rare books, the library has two Peruvian mummies and an Egyptian sarcophagus that is showing its age.
Keeping with the general theme of mortality, I also visited the Cemiterio dos Prazeres. It is almost a literal city of the dead; unlike most cemeteries I’ve seen, many graves here are above ground and housed in family tombs.
Each tomb is unique, but the structures often follow a similar pattern: there are one or two tiers of shelves for coffins, sometimes a small altar in the middle of the back wall; a front door of decorative wrought iron keeps out unwanted visitors. Many doors have glass behind the metalwork and those without curtains reveal the wooden or stone coffins inside, often covered in lace shrouds.
Purchasing a plot here isn’t forever; after a certain amount of unpaid rent, the tomb is considered abandoned and the bodies moved elsewhere. The building that housed the caskets is then demolished and a new one built to the new residents’ specifications. I walked by a few stacks of concrete slabs waiting to be removed and a couple of new tombs under construction and being touched up by stone masons.
Many feature unique artwork – crosses, angels, ensigns, or images of the Virgin Mary. It seems to be just fine to outdo your neighboring graves and some of the newer buildings feature stained glass and Greek columns.
Another feature of the cemetery is territorial feral cats. I don’t know what secrets they were guarding because I wasn’t going to venture past them and end up with another animal bite. One is enough for this trip! Maybe there is something to the tradition that cats tend to be harbingers of bad luck or spirits.