From the Past to the Present
The Renovated Aula Magna of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon
The inauguration of the Aula Magna of the FMUL began on the first day of February at around 10 am with the performance of the Choir of the University of Lisbon and the screening of a film about the inauguration of the Santa Maria Hospital and the Aula Magna - known as Aula Máxima or Great Amphitheatre back then - in 1953.
Then there were speeches by Professor Fausto J. Pinto – Director of the FMUL; Dr. Carlos Neves Martins – Chairman of the Board of the CHULN; Professor Maria do Carmo Fonseca – President of the IMM; Andreia Daniel – President of the AEFML; Professor António Cruz Serra – Rector of the University of Lisbon; the event was attended by several physicians, some of whom are already retired, from the CHLN and teaching and non-teaching staff of the FMUL, most of them still active, as well as several students.
The Session ended with the unveiling of the Commemorative Plaque.
Like a Phoenix reborn from the ashes, as the Director of the FMUL said in his speech, the Aula Magna emerged in record time after the fire that broke out on the night of November 8th, 2017, fortunately limited to that space, and broadly covered by the media from the outset and over the following day. Even though it was extinguished rather quickly, the Aula Magna was very damaged; most of the chairs were saved and later reused in a different space, and the ceremony table was also untouched by the fire.
Now, after a complete restoration, the Aula Magna looks different, with lighter tones, more modern, dominated by the natural wooden tone of the oak, as opposed to that of the old darkly stained oak; the chairs, 314 in total, have more space between them and are more comfortable than the old ones, allowing visitors to enjoy greater mobility, and are upholstered in light green fireproof fabric (similar to lime green) in contrast to red tone of the old ones.
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Lisbon School Hospital
The construction of the monumental building, in one of the highest areas of the city (Palma de Cima), where the Lisbon School Hospital came to be built, started in 1944 according to a project by the German architect Hermann Diestel (1875-1945) and in collaboration with Professor Francisco Gentil, representing the Technical Commission of the School Hospitals as its President. Several studies were carried out, namely regarding the location and the construction of the building itself (in height or in pavilions, since the land was rather affordable) or regarding seismology.
Considered "the biggest and most complete building" in Portugal at the time, comparable only to the Mafra Monastery and referred to as a symbol of "our capacity for achievement and organizational spirit", it was built with the most modern techniques available at the time.
Hospital Escolar de Lisboa, was later named Santa Maria Hospital (King D. João IV proclaimed Our Lady of Conception as the Portuguese patron saint in 1646) because, ever since the Middle Ages, giving the name of one or more saints to hospital establishments was part of the Portuguese tradition.
The new Hospital was inaugurated on April 27, 1953, coinciding with the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Government led by António de Oliveira Salazar, as it was the aspiration of the government to properly celebrate the date.
The inauguration, with military honours, was attended by the President of the Republic, Marechal Craveiro Lopes, and by several members of the government, as well as by leading figures from different parts of the country. A formal inauguration session took place in the "magnificent amphitheatre of the new hospital". The Great Amphitheatre was built essentially for conferences, formal and protocol-related occasions.
The Great Amphitheatre or Aula Magna of the FMUL
As some publications of the time refer, while describing the various services that were gradually integrated into the Lisbon School Hospital, "the North Longitudinal Building is connected to another Building, further to the North, and on the two uppermost floors "we find the Great Amphitheatre of the Faculty of Medicine.
Besides the predominantly green tone of the amphitheatre's decoration, there is a reference to the "distinctiveness of the interior design study", focused on "a significant portion of the furniture and several parts of the building", thanks to the participation of architect João Simões (1908-1995).
Much of the furniture that existed in the Faculty of Medicine, which was accommodated in the Santa Marta Hospital until then, was in great condition and was successively transferred to new facilities.
In the photographs taken when the School Hospital was inaugurated, we see chairs identical to the ones found in the picture below, in the Great Amphitheatre. The wooden structure of the chair, with an elegant curvilinear seat and back armrests upholstered in green leather is similar to that of the chairs designed by the aforementioned architect to the Board Room of the Faculty of Medicine in the early 1950's.
Even though some classes and laboratories had started taking place in the New Hospital since October, it was on November 4th, 1953 that the 1st medical course class was lectured in the Great Amphitheatre by Professor Celestino da Costa. An Amphitheatre full of students heard the Full Professor of Histology and Embryology announce that he was retiring that year due to having reached the age limit, and instead of focusing on the subject of the course, he decided to summarize the history of medical teaching in Lisbon. In the same session, the extraordinary Almeida Lima was named Full Professor of Neurology.
Ironically, 3 years later, from March 26th to 29th, 1956while the Aula Magna of the FMUL was simultaneously hosting the XLIII Meeting of l’Association des Anatomistes (one of the aspirations of Professor Celestino da Costa), the XVII Meeting of the Portuguese Anatomical Society, and the VIII Meeting of the Luso-Hispanic-American Anatomical Society, Professor Celestino da Costa died suddenly.
At the general meeting of the "Association des Anatomistes" chaired by the Secretary General of the Association, Professor Beau, Professor Henrique de Vilhena opened the session upon the request of the association, praising its late president by saying that "the death of Celestino da Costa affected us all and it will be hard to overcome, but his death occurred in a moment of total apotheosis, when we were having the pleasure of hosting the meeting of the "Association des Anatomistes”.
Innovations in the Aula Magna
In order to contribute to improve the quality of the Faculty's facilities, early in 1997 there were conservation and improvement works, not only in the Aula Magna, but also in other FMUL facilities, which were inaugurated on March 11th that year. The century-old chairs of the Aula Magna were replaced, and the green upholsteries were replaced with red ones.
In 2004, the Aula Magna, the foyer and the access corridors underwent further renovation works to dignify the Institution. As far as the Aula Magna was concerned, there was an emphasis on the installation of technical equipment that allows technicians to effectively control sound and image during the events that take place in this room.
Right from the start, the Aula Magna of the FMUL Aula Magna fulfilled its purpose, it is a space of representation, hosting formal sessions, conferences or award ceremonies, the retirement ceremonies of professors such as Fernando de Pádua or Carlos Ribeiro, and the defence of PhD theses, as in the case of Professor Fausto Pinto or Professor Carmo Fonseca, Training Sessions or Post-Graduate Courses.
Faculdade de Medicina de Lisboa. Portugal Médico, vol. 37, n. 12, Dez. 1953
A inauguração do novo hospital escolar de lisboa. Jornal do Médico,1953
O plano e a orgânica. Hospital Escolar de Lisboa, [s.d.]
A reunião dos anatomistas. Jornal do Médico, 1956