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Portugal at last gets to marvel at its crown jewels

It has taken 227 years, but Portugal’s stunning crown jewels have finally gone on display in a giant strong room inside the country’s long unfinished royal palace.
The Ajuda Palace overlooking the capital’s historic Belem district was home to Portugal’s last royal dynasty, the Braganzas, whose reign ended when the country became a republic in 1910.
“After (Lisbon’s) terrible earthquake and tsunami of 1755, the royal family decided to move here because it was away from the river and less prone to seismic activity,” said Jose Alberto Ribeiro, the director of the palace and its new museum.
The west wing of the imposing white edifice, which now houses the Royal Treasure Museum, lay unfinished for more than two centuries because of the change of regime and a lack of funds.
It was finally completed in 2021 at a cost of 31 million euros ($33 million).
In contrast to the rest of the neoclassical monument, the west wing is in resolutely contemporary style, with a grooved facade that offers staggering views of the city.
On Thursday, the public were finally allowed to see the vast royal treasure collection — more than 1,000 items dating from the 17th to the 20th century, including numerous pieces of gold jewellery encrusted with precious stones.
Until this week, the treasures were scattered across the country and were generally out of public view. Some of them are now on display for the very first time.
– Strong room –
“I’ve been waiting for ages for the museum to open because I’m really interested in this treasure. It’s amazing,” 65-year-old retiree Gentile Gouveia told AFP.
Visitors progress through the museum in darkness — an unsettling experience for some — guided past various symbols of royal power. There are crowns, sceptres, insignia and medals, with gold nuggets and diamonds from Brazil, which was once a vast colony of the tiny European nation.
The collection is priceless — some items are worth more than a million euros each — so security at the museum is exceptionally tight.
“The Ajuda Palace was the ideal place for this museum because part of the collection was already held here… and the entire building was designed to avoid unpleasant surprises like thefts or hold-ups,” Ribeiro said.
In fact, the museum is a huge three-storey strong room — one of the biggest of its kind in the world — bristling with surveillance cameras.
Visitors enter through two armour-plated doors that each weigh five tonnes (5.5 US tons) and all the artefacts in the collection are behind bullet-proof glass.
The security measures show just how exceptional the collection is.
“These objects represent our heritage. They tell the history of Portugal,” said 36-year-old visiting X-ray technician Raquel Morgado. (AFP)