The gargoyles of Torre
do Tombo

Main Researcher

João Bonifácio Serra


01.06.21 — present

The Torre do Tombo was the first cultural facility decided and completed by the new Democratic State of Portugal.

Designed in 1980/81 and chosen through a public competition, the building, designed by Arsénio Cordeiro, began its construction in Cidade Universitária de Lisboa in 1985 and was inaugurated in late 1990. The architect, influenced by post-modernism, conceived a building whose formal sobriety referred to the function of the archive as a temple of history.

In 1986, Arsénio Cordeiro proposed that the sculptor José Aurélio conceived and executed 8 gargoyles to finish off the building’s rainwater drainage. In addition to their role in the Torre do Tombo’s hydraulic system, the gargoyles would have a symbolic function, breaking the rigidity of the building and allegorically revealing to the outside world the signs of what was inside. The result was a singular, monumental artistic work, generated in a dialogic relationship with architecture and public space. Carved directly from Porto de Mós moca limestone, each of the gargoyles has a dimension of 2x2x2 meters and weighs about 18 tons.

The research, conducted by João B. Serra, at LIDA, has as its object the work developed by the sculptor José Aurélio, between 1987 and 1990, in response to the challenge he was given. Based on archival materials, and interviews with people involved in the process, namely the author of the sculptures, this project follows the path of the artistic work, from ideation to realization and the different modes of appropriation it has generated. The research also covered all the work in public space made by José Aurelio before 1990.

The publication has the collaboration of João Martins Pereira (photography), Tânia Teixeira (interview and research), and Francisca Branco Venâncio (production and graphic supervision).


Armazém das Artes

Associação Património Histórico-Grupo de Estudos


This work is financed by national funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, I.P., in the scope of the Programmatic Funding allocated to the Research Laboratory in Design and Arts (LIDA) with the reference “UIDP/05468/2020″.