São Bento, Palace of

   São Bento Palace in Estrela district of Lisbon in an earlier life was a convent (constructed 1598-1615). After 1834, Portugal's national legislature or Cortes was transferred to the old convent, which thereafter was adapted and renovated. In common usage, "São Bento" refers to the seat of national government, much the way "Whitehall" in London describes the location of the British government. In Portugal, however, São Bento houses not one but two branches of the national government: both the legislative branch and part of the executive. Since the foundation of the First Republic, then, São Bento has been the home of the legislature and of the residence and office of the prime minister (or president of the Council of Ministers).
   By the first decade of the 20th century, the legislative hall or chamber of São Bento was essentially the building of today. In a grand and imposing neoclassical style, the palace has housed all the legislative bodies whatever their names: in the constitutional monarchy, the House of Deputies and Peers; in the First Republic, the Senate and House of Deputies; in the Estado Novo dictatorship, the National Assembly and Corporate Chamber; in democratic (post-1974) Portugal, the Assembly of the Republic. While the building is largely pre-1910, the art and decorations are more recent. The halls, foyers, stairways, and chambers are decorated with murals, frescoes, and statuary, including the impressive oils of the 1920s in the murals by Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, which depict the pageant of Portugal's main legislators since 1821. Other art dates to the 1930s under the Estado Novo. Tellingly, the delegates' hall outside the main legislative chamber is known as the hall of "Wasted Time."
   Behind the legislative halls, in another part of São Bento, is situated residence and offices of the prime minister, the official home of all heads of government beginning in the First Republic. Until the late 1980s, too, São Bento housed the country's main national archives, the National Archive of Torre do Tombo.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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