Not a Romantic Story.

This article is going to tell you a story about a lighthouse. How do you imagine the life and work of historical lighthouse keepers?

Above the Ocean

How people commonly imagine the life of a lighthouse keeper:


Lighthouse keepers were living right above the sea.

Lighthouse keepers were writing poetry.

Lighthouse keepers were mystical romantic guys.

Lighthouse keepers were dancing with the stars and in the rhythm of the moonlight.

But, they were so lonely!

Cascais Portugal, view from the Lighthouse

Here there are some real facts that I learned by visiting this Lighthouse Museum in Portugal:

They were working in three 8-hours shifts.

They were always in trouble with the weather conditions.

In average, there were 3 lighthouse keepers per lighthouse, for three shifts.

They used to get married young so their wives were their psychological support.

People of the past times lived hard lives (except the ones who were well-paid artists or born to wealthy families – even they had struggles we cannot imagine in the present times), and today it’s good to learn how. Old lighthouses used to require a 24-hours work in maintenance, so their keepers could never leave the place; when they were not working, they were either sleeping or taking care of their families. Sometimes the lighthouse keepers’ sons followed their fathers’ profession.

Inside the Lighthouse in Cascais, Portugal
In the heart of their workplace

Then, with all the technologies that developed, this profession became obsolete. The Santa Marta Lighthouse, situated in Cascais near Lisbon, was left alone, surrounded by the abandoned housing and farming installations that once served several people living around the Lighthouse. After some years, the whole area was transformed into a visitor-friendly area with a museum. But the Lighthouse itself still serves one of the Europe’s very important ports – the Port of Lisbon, situated in the estuary of the river Tagus.

Lighthouses of the “modern” times

It was Monday, early November, a pleasant sunny morning. I left Lisbon in the direction to Cascais. It’s easy to do, there is a train departing from the Cais do Sodre station (at the end of the metro green line), and having Cascais as the terminal station. For travelers with more time, there are several other places on that train line, such as Oeiras and Estoril, before Cascais. But my destination was precisely Cascais.

Upon arriving in Cascais I went straight to the Santa Marta Lighthouse. Surrounded by several high-class hotels, the entrance gate to the Lighthouse zone is perfectly white, in contrast to the blue ocean around.

The Lighthouse Museum in Cascais Portugal
The Museum Zone


The Santa Marta Lighthouse in Cascais, Portugal
…and the Lighthouse is right behind me!

On that place, I met Ines, a museum’s curator who told me all these stories about the historical lighthouse keepers. It was such a nice conversation and experience. After visiting the gallery spaces in which I could even try how my figure looks like behind the lighthouse lenses (haha), or I could learn about sensitive mechanical instruments for measuring atmospheric conditions, clouds, and daylight. The lighthouse keepers were required to write extended reports about it, so they were learning every day about how to improve their work. Lighthouses could not remain turned off because it would lead to disasters!

While restoring this area around lighthouse even the homes were restored with their original facade with white tiles. Now it’s full of curiosities about their lives. I’m bringing just three of them, come and see the full collection 😀

It’s possible to go up to the top of the lighthouse. However, the number of persons who can enter at each moment is limited due to limited statics of the stairs. Don’t forget – these stairs were built just for one lighthouse keeper at a time to go up, not for visitors 🙂

Inside the Lighthouse in Cascais, Portugal
Staircase in the Lighthouse

Cascais – a classy escape

The views from the lighthouse are magical. You can see ships that are waiting to enter the Tagus estuary and Lisbon, and ships that are already leaving the estuary. When the day is clear, your view can be extended to the Cabo Espichel, about 50kms away.

This museum is definitely a perfect choice for people who are professionals or passionate in physics and maritime history, but it’s also interesting to people who are not much knowledgeable in these topics, like me, for instance 🙂

View from the Farol Santa Marta in Cascais, Portugal
View from the top – notice 2 emblematic mansions and a contemporary hotel. The building at the down-left corner is the original house for lighthouse keepers.

Since the XIX century, Cascais has been a holiday oasis for wealthy individuals and families from Portugal and abroad. Some of them built lavish summer houses while several hotels were also opened at the same time. Some time ago I had even heard a story that the number of royal families in exile to Cascais during the Second World War was higher than the number of five-stars hotels.

The Cascais Coast is still an elegant vacation spot, with golf courses, recreational facilities, wellness and spa hotels – and many museums, including the Lighthouse.

This is not a romantic story, but it turns out to be a possible romantic destination to visit. Cascais is large 🙂

Beach in Cascais Portugal

Language corner (English-Portuguese)

Lighthouse = Farol

Lighthouse keeper = Faroleiro

Home = Casa

Poetry = Poesia

Work = Trabalho

1 Comment

  • dear Lana,

    It was a pleasure to host you and show you the best of this lighthouse museum. We are a proud and dedicated team that wants to show visitors that there is more to lighthouses than just the flashing lights they see at night. Thank you for putting it so well into writing. We are very lucky that we can still count on an active team of lighthouse keepers who share stories from the past, and from the present, with us.

    Come back soon, and see the changes we are making in our exhibitions.

    Inês Fialho Brandão
    Coordinator, Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum´
    Museums Quarter / Cascais City Council

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.