Before Ruth and I visited the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia, the best puppet museum I had ever been in was the Museo de la Marioneta in Lisbon, Portugal. I asked the puppet masters at CPA if they knew about it and drew a complete blank, so I went to stagecraft.com’s Puppetry Home Page. It listed many international puppet museums, especially those in Europe, but not the Museo in Lisbon. Too bad and I wonder why. It’s definitely worth seeing.
When I first blogged about it under Lisbon Museums, I mentioned that I found it and puppetry in general just a little weird. The Museo’s more than 1,000 puppets, some dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, include clowns, knights, princesses, and devils. Not just ordinary toys, puppets “need our hands, arms, body, voice, and feelings in order to come to life,” according to one Museo handout. I looked for but didn’t find the Museo’s baroque wind machine used for recreating storms. The puppets were in no way weird for teacher Ruth, who gave me an impromptu puppet show in which Judy still had it in for Punch.
The Sao Lourenco Puppet Company, which staged shows both in Portugal and elsewhere, established a museum in 1987 and moved it in 2001 to the Bernardas Convent founded in 1653. The 1755 earthquake that devastated Lisbon almost totally destroyed the building. In 1834 it was sold to private owners and used over time as a high school, movie theater, and orchestra headquarters before totally converting to private residences. Today the building is home to 34 families and a neighborhood association so if you, like us, exit the Museo incorrectly you’ll wind up in someone’s private courtyard and on a side street instead of in the gift shop.
Museo do la Marioneta features the vivid collection of Francisco Capelo (over 500 items) and spans many cultures–Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Japan, Italy, Russia, and New Zealand among them–but most are from Portugal. Since we visited, it has added African puppets to its repertoire. The museum explains the history of the art form and gives frequent puppet shows, making this an ideal attraction for families.
At Rua do Esperanca 146, Museo do la Marioneta was a bit hard for Ruth and me to find, but one of its enthusiastic supporters on TripAdvisor gives specific, easy-to-follow directions involving Tram 25. Rattling old trams are the most fun way to get around Lisbon.