The Launch of Portugal’s First Metro System

December 29, 1959

The first metro system in Portugal was inaugurated in the country’s capital city of Lisbon. Américo Tomás, who served as Portugal’s president from 1958 to 1974, officiated at the dedication ceremony for the initial 3.1-mile (5-kilometer) segment of this pioneering rapid transit service.

At six o’clock the next morning, the Lisbon Metro was opened to the public. “Subway’s First Runs Attract Eager Crowd,” proclaimed the headline for the faraway Daily Oklahoman’s article about the new transit system. “The first three trains were loaded to capacity with 500 passengers each,” reported United Press International. “Many had got up early to take the first ride and others came from all-night parties.”

The idea of such a transportation network in Lisbon dated as far back as 1888, when military engineer Henrique de Lima e Cunha recommended building a system of underground railways for the city. His proposal was published at that time in the journal Public Works and Mines. Those plans never materialized, however, and it was not until 1948 that the first meaningful steps towards actually developing a rapid transit system in Lisbon were undertaken. Construction on the Lisbon Metro began during the summer of 1955.

Not long before the first section of this transit system was opened in 1959, a short film entitled O Metropolitano was shown on televisions and movie screens throughout Lisbon to familiarize everyone with the city’s newest means of public travel. O Metropolitano was created by the film production company Tobis Portuguesa and directed by Arthur Duarte. As the narrator of the film, renowned radio and television journalist Artur Agostinho gave viewers a detailed tour of the Lisbon Metro and how it would operate.

At the time of its debut, the Lisbon Metro consisted of a Y-shaped line that encompassed the following 11 stations: Sete Rios (now Jardim Zoológico); Palhavã (now Praça de Espanha); São Sebastião; Parque; Rotunda (now Marquês de Pombal); Avenida; Restauradores; Picoas; Saldanha; Camp Pequeno; and Entre Campos. (The above photo of the São Sebastião station was taken sometime around 2012.) These stations were designed by architect Francisco Keil do Amaral. All of the stations except Avenida originally featured artwork created by his wife Maria Keil.

The Lisbon Metro now covers a total of 27.7 miles (44.5 kilometers). In the time since the Lisbon Metro was opened, the number of stations within that system has expanded to 56.

Photo Credit: IngolfBLN (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license at

For more information on the Lisbon Metro, please check out and

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