Behind the famous “Pastéis de Belém” bakery in Lisbon, is the Beco do Chão Salgado (Salted Earth Alley), a place that most Lisbon residents have forgotten about but that is linked to a terrible event of Portuguese history that shocked all of civilised Europe in the 18th century.
Part of the conservative nobility and traditional clergy, represented by the Jesuits, were opposed to social reforms proposed by the Marquis of Pombal, so the Marquis set out to neutralise them. It is said that he went so far as to fake an assassination of King Dom José I on 3 September 1758, and to accuse the Távora family, closely linked to the Jesuits, and his main opposition. The attack took place near the palace of Dom José de Mascarenhas, Duke of Aveiro, who was the most distinguished member of the Távora family.
Although the Távora family denied the accusations, they were condemned to death, their possessions were confiscated by the Crown, their name was erased from noble lineage, and their familial coat of arms smashed to pieces. From that point on, it was forbidden to mention their name. The sentence ordered the execution of the entire family, women and children included.
The intervention of Queen Mariana and Dona Maria Francisca, heir to the throne, finally saved most of the family, to the great annoyance of the Marquis of Pombal. As for the marquise of Távora, she was not spared. Along with four other family members accused and sentenced to death, she was tortured and executed in public on 13 January 1759, nearby in front of what is now the palace of the president of the Republic. The execution reached unheard of degrees of savagery. The bones of the hands and feet of the condemned, who were decapitated, were broken with clubs, and the rest of the bodies were burned and their ashes thrown in the Tagus. Making the most of the occasion, the event was used to throw the Jesuits out of the Kingdom.
The Duke of Aveiro’s palace was also demolished and salt was poured on the ground, a punishment ordered by the Marquis of Pombal so that nothing would ever grow there again. Yet in the same year, Dom José I had a stone monument to the family erected. It displays five sculpted rings, one of each executed member of the Távora family. At its base, a funerary stone records the event.
So the next time you are in Lisbon, take a visit to Salted Earth Alley – not the most pleasant story to tell, but holding an important place in the history of Lisbon.