The original designation of this space is Chafariz da Mãe-de-Água (literally, spring of the well-head). It forms part of that monumental structure, Lisbon’s Águas Livres Aqueduct. Commissioned by King João V, its construction, begun in 1731, caused constant misunderstandings between the royal power, engineers, architects and municipal institutions; abusive clerical interference found its way into the fray. Their opinions diverged on several different points, ranging from the apparently simpler but important aspects of the efficacy and durability of the project (such as the choice of materials to be used for the water conduits – whether tiles,iron, clay or stone) to more basic conceptual principles, for there were several different solutions for the section of the aqueduct that spanned Lisbon’s long valley. Today, what the Portuguese think of as the Lisbon Aqueduct is that gigantic set or arches spanning the Alcântara valley, ending at the reservoir of Amoreiras. Its source is known as Águas Livres (free waters) and is located in Caneças (some 18,5 km away). However, the aqueduct is in fact much more than this. It consists of a complex series of underground galleries, arches and skylights linked to the visible principal body, known as the General Aqueduct. These are scattered all over the city, giving rise to numerous fonts which, in times gone by, were important sources of water supply for the city. Altogether the old complex network constituting the aqueduct consisted of 58 km of water conduits, 109 arches, 137 skylights and 30 fountains. As such, it is considered unique.
Of the architects associated with the elaboration of this project, several stand out. The first is Manuel da Maia (1733), who was responsible for the general scheme and the definition of most of its ramifications and fonts; Custódio Vieira (1736), who supervised the construction of the arches over the Alcântara valley – the most spectacular and costly part of the project – begun in 1739; and Carlos Mardel (1745), who designed some of the fountains and was responsible for finalising the construction of the well-head at Amoreiras in 1748, as well as for what is considered to be the largest stone arch in the world. After the earthquake of 1755, Custódio Vieira was granted pardon for the profligacy for which he had been accused owing to the amount of iron he used to strengthen the arch’s structure, for, despite being located on a seismic faultline, it had resisted the quake. Other names were later associated with the expansion of the distributing network and the building of of further points of water supply. The Chafariz da Cotovia de Baixo, situated on the Praça da Alegria, dates from this later period of construction and Reinaldo Manuel dos Santos, who was in charge of the project between 1772 and 1791 is thought to be responsible for the design. In 1840, this fountain was transferred to the Rua da Mãe-de-Água, at which time the façade suffered some changes. It was at this time that it came to be known as the Chafariz da Mãe-de-Água, and it is this space that we now occupy.
This room, with restricted access, is linked to the reservoir on Príncipe Real (ca 400 m) as well as with the Praça da Alegria (approximatelly 200m). The underground plan of the aqueduct is composed of vaulted galleries designed to human scale and stone conduits through which the water used to run. The street gave public access to the supply points. Indoors, the spout on the lower floor was only for the water that wasn’t used. On the outside, on the lower platform linking the two flights of stairs, there is a small well which was allowed animals to quench their thirst.
We are delighted to share this fascinating, historical site with you: it belongs a little to each of us. To your very good health!