Nestled between the famous Torre de Belém and the Fundação Champalimaud/ Darwin’s Café lies a monument called the Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar. In some ways, it is comparable to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It serves as a reminder and homage to those who fought in the Portuguese war in Africa (1961-1974). Each June 10th (Portugal Day), something very moving happens there.
Similarly to the Vietnam War, many of those who fought in the Guerra do Ultramar, as we call it, are still alive today. Every June 10th, many of them gather in front of this monument in celebration of those who served in the Armed Forces in that war. The lucky few veterans who can still fit in their old uniforms will wear them. You will see men like my dad (who still has most of his hair, unlike many others!) proudly wearing their medals on their chest and talking to friends and strangers alike about where they had been during the war: one might say, “Guiné 1968-1970” and another, “Moçambique 1973-1974” and another will chime in “Angola 1961-1963”. Knowing nods and comments on particular events that took place back in the day will follow. You will hear sad stories and funny ones. An inter-religious ceremony between Christians and Muslims takes place there, as some of the African troops who fought for Portugal were Muslim. Above all, there is a great sense of patriotism that day.
The monument is meant to reflect great symbolic purity, great simplicity and unified character, and the unity between all the peoples involved in that war – without resentment. The flame in front of the monument is an eternal flame representing Portugal’s perpetuity and continuity across the centuries.
If you walk along the 18th century fort (Forte do Bom Sucesso), you will see the names of all the fallen written on that wall, organized by year and alphabetically. You can also explore the museum inside, which focuses on three 20th century aspects: WWI, the Guerra do Ultramar and Peacekeeping Missions. You will also see the tomb of an unknown soldier from this war, brought from Guiné-Bissau. With each 3€ entrance fee (2€ for kids), you are donating to the solidarity fund for combatants in need and their families.
Whether or not you agree with that war, one thing is certain: we should not forget the men and women who risked (or lost) their lives for both Portugal and the West in the context of the Cold War.
Museu do Combatente & Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar
Av. da India, Belem – Lisboa
Open every day, including weekends and holidays:
October – March, 10 am – 5 pm
April – September, 10 am – 6 pm