Europe Lisbon Portugal

When the Guard is Changed

Belém sits just outside of Lisbon a short train ride from Cais do Sodré station on the line to Cascais. It is home of the Jerónimos Monastery, the Tower of Belém, the President’s Palace, the Museo dos Coches, a museum of modern art a monument to Vasco de Gama, and the a riverside monument to the discoveries of naval explorers of Portugal’s past. With all of this to see, you could spend at least a day in this part of Lisbon alone.

On the third Sunday of each month, the Changing of the Guard takes place at the Ajuda Palace, aka the President’s Palace. The palace was built (or half built, they never finished it) in the wake of the 1755 earthquake to house the court and is now the residence of the President.

A trio of horns sounds heralding the initiation of the guard change. A band can be heard from within the walls and then they appear. Tubas, trumpets, drums, clarinets, flutes, bassoons and horns announce the coming of the band. Also from within, the current guard appear, descending through the gate. The sidewalk is lined with tourists and locals alike, paying their respects to the pomp and circumstance.

The new guard approaches, following their band. The bands merge and the two guards stand at attention in flanks. Once the guard is formed, the commanders address one another, exchanging instruction.

In the distance, the cavalry can be heard. Accompanied by a band of their own, on horseback, they appear from the west. Dozens of mounted guard and band parading past the gate to assemble. The National Anthem is played. The accumulated bands march and play several songs.

The guard is changed and the outgoing guard salutes the new in parade. The old guard disappears down the street towards the monastery. The cavalry, in turn, parades by paying their respects. Alone, the new guard retreats back inside the palace gates assuming the watch.

The entire ceremony takes about an hour. Get there early, it starts just before 11am and the sidewalk fills up. Not the best day to tour the sites of Belém, so we’d recommend dividing your touristing up from the watching the change, if you can, but go. It’s worth it.

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