The Centro Cultural de Belém, situated in the west of Lisbon, next to the River Tagus, and harmoniously fitting in within an architectural group dominated by the splendid sixteenth century building which is the Jerónimos Monastery, and with the Belém Tower only a short distance away, was inaugurated in 1993, after having previously received, somewhat symbolically, the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of European Communities.
The Centre was designed by the architects Vittorio Gregotti and Manuel Salgado, and was conceived as “a small part of the city” of Lisbon, in its geography and in its relationship with the river, with a judicious use of light, and accentuating the surrounding tonality by using in its building the same type of stone that had been used in the past in the building of the Jerónimos Monastery.
It is divided up into buildings separated by streets, squares and bridges, and its overall grouping forms a living space, in which one works or one strolls at leisure, enjoying the natural landscape, and where one may appreciate the creative capacity of the greatest artists of all time (although paying special attention to the more contemporary forms of expression), attending performances of music, song and dance, visiting exhibitions, and participating in a multiplicity of other activities aimed at different audiences and a wide range of age groups. And, due to one of those strange phenomena the nature of which is only now beginning to be understood, how these audiences, who so expressively identify with the conception and intuition of the architects of this work, have corresponded to it!
The Centre is organised around three distinct but complementary nuclei, within a modular conception, allowing the greatest flexibility and functionality of possible interactive use: a Conference Centre, a Performing Arts Centre, and an Exhibition Centre, all complemented with their own infrastructures and services, besides several areas designated for concessions for commercial activity.
The Performing Arts Centre began its activity in 1993. It presents all types of performing arts, music, theatre and dance. It has a widely diversified programme, aimed at various types of audiences, particularly stressing Portuguese artists and creators.
The programme is a result of the conjugation of initiatives with varying origins: besides the Centro Cultural de Belém’s own productions, or those in which it is a co-producer or simple purchaser of performances, it also presents events promoted by private impresarios or public entities. In this way, it has managed to achieve an intensive occupying of its spaces, a stimulation for private producers, a diversity of events, and the establishing of relations with numerous Portuguese and foreign companies and artists.
Despite this diversity, the Centre tries to provide several coherences in the activities which the public may enjoy, either because these activities are connected among themselves, or because they complement each other within the time in which they are held, or because, in their whole, they represent a showing of the various forms that the arts of the spectacle currently have. On the other hand, diversity allows the rousing of the curiosity of the people who come to participate in a certain type of event as to other forms of artistic creation.
Due to the architecture of the Centro Cultural de Belém, and from the dialogue which it establishes with the surrounding historical area, there comes the natural option for here to give a certain predominance to contemporary creation, within a adequate balance between languages with which the public is more familiarised, and other more experimental and innovative ones. The predominance for modernity does not, however, rule out the presenting of more traditional performances, namely in the area of music and ballet.
Besides the performances, there are also many activities directly or indirectly connected to them, such as workshops, residence terms, recitals, taking a show apart in the presence of the audience, conferences, seminars and open rehearsals.
The Performing Arts Centre has three fully equipped halls. A Main Auditorium, with 1,429 seats, a Small Auditorium, with 310 seats, and a Rehearsal Hall, with 70 seats. In each of them all kinds of performances may be held. The programmes for the several spaces contribute towards the creation of a profile suited to each one of them.
There are also areas of support for the productions, with three rehearsal rooms, 26 dressing rooms, a wardrobe room, a laundry, 6 production rooms, and an artists’ bar.
The activities of the Performing Arts Centre are not, however, restricted to the above-mentioned halls. Open air shows, or in unconventional sites, allow new, and sometimes surprising, forms of presenting performing arts. Often its rehearsal rooms are placed at the disposition of the creators, opening up, in this way also, to the Portuguese artistic community.
It is a unique space in Portugal, with a decisive importance in the cultural life of our country.