Seat of the Ismaili Imamat: What’s happening inside the Palacete Mendonça? Photos of restoration work and the palace’s 3 hectares of gardens

2015-06-portugal-54865_Aga Khan Landmark Agreement Seat of Imamat
His Highness the Aga Khan and Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Rui Machete on 3 June 2015 sign a landmark agreement establishing a formal Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

We publish below a slightly abridged and revised version of an official English translation of a piece in Portuguese by Lina Santos that appeared in Lisbon’s daily newspaper Diário de Notícias (DN) under the title O que se passa dentro do  Palacete Mendonça? (What’s happening inside the Palacete Mendonça?). The piece includes a selection of photographs that appeared in DN as well as some images of the gardens that occupy the Palace’s property. We are indebted to Iqbal Motani of Ottawa for assisting us in preparing this  article.


The Seat of the Ismaili Imamat

What’s happening inside the Palacete Mendonça?

Henrique Mendonça Palace. Photo: Marco Verch, taken on March 21, 2017. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

(Author of original Portuguese article published in Diário de Notícias)

We entered the Henrique de Mendonça Palace to observe the restoration work taking place there. Once the restoration is complete, the Palace will house the Seat  of the Ismaili Imamat. The first phase of the restoration is expected to be completed in July 2018, in time for the conclusion of the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee anniversary, as Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 001
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.

Henrique Mendonça Palace, designed by architect Miguel Ventura Terra in the early 20th Century, appears to be temporarily converted into a construction site during the building’s rehabilitation project that should restore it to its glory.

Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 009
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.
Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 016
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.

For the moment, in the front of the mansion overlooking the Eduardo VII Park with the river in the background, there is a huge hole. When asked what will appear there, the architect leading the project, Frederico Valsassina, cognizant of Forum Citizenship Lx questioning the rehabilitation plans since the acquisition of the property, in 2016, stated that “I do not do projects to please the Citizenship Forum, we do projects to address the principles of our client and, in compliance with the regulations.”

The client is the Ismaili Imamat and this is where the global headquarters of the Ismaili Imamat, (the Institution or Office of the Imam) will be housed. The closing celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of the present Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan, will take place in Lisbon, between July 5 and 11, 2018.

Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 002
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.

By that time, the grand hall and the former dining room of the Mendonça family, which remain as noble zones of the building, will be ready, promises Nazim Ahmad, Diplomatic Representative of the Ismaili Imamat, in Portugal. Standing before the peeled walls, frameless windows and tiles under restoration, it may seem an impossible task. But Nazim Ahmad remains confident.

 “We don’t do anything, without the support of the technicians involved.” An investment of between 10 to 20 million euros, depending on the course of the project, is estimated.

Frederico Valsassina explained that his task simply stated is: “My role is to ensure the least intervention possible”, and went on to explain: “This is a national monument, it was in a very good state, but had undergone a very heavy utilization load, because it had been used more than was expected, by the MBA of the Nova University”. 

Facade of Henrique Mendonça Palace in Lisbon. Photo: Ricardo Filipe Pereira – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Completed in 1909, and recipient of the Valmor prize in the same year, the Mendonça Palace  was bought two years ago by the Ismaili Imamt for Euros 12 million.

Frederico Valsassina ensures that the adaptations, in response to the Ismaili Imamat’s plans, are minimal. “That is why it was approved, almost unconditionally, by the DGPC (General Cabinet of the Cultural Heritage), and subsequently by the Lisbon City Council”. These plans include a parking space and two lifts.

Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 010
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.
Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 008
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.

The architect explains: “The only thing we are creating inside the Palace, is a column to fit a lift”. Doing this from the exterior “would be a more economic and more interventive solution. What we are doing is giving us more work; it was necessary to understand, from the art historians, which were the least important rooms, to be able to implement these lifts”. The original lift in the house, one of the first in Lisbon, will be kept, but will not be used. “It is steam-operated, and there aren’t technicians who can make put it in working order”, Valsassina states. “The cabin will be restored, and permanently parked on the first floor, as a museological area”. He notes that “Another, more simple solution, would be to use the original lift column, but that would also depreciate the building’s character”.

A photo that illustrates the dominant presence of vehicles at the front entrance of Henrique Mendonça Palace. His Highness the Aga Khan intends that this should not be the case.

We return to the large-scale excavation site, which is the future parking space. “Above all, what His Highness intended, is that the vehicles should not have a dominant presence. We had to identify an area in the gardens, considered as the least sensitive. Within the next two months, this area “will be fully covered with the initial quota of the garden”. He adds: “And I really think that, had Nova University been able to afford it, they would have certainly done this intervention. I remember visiting some times, and seeing the grounds full of cars. It is the opposite of what we intend to do”.

Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 007
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.
Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 004
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.

The easiest of the answers for Valsassina is, what is being recovered — “Everything”.

“The stonework is being restored, the original plaster and all the frescos, woodworks and interior paintings are being carefully recovered”. The facades, everything will remain intact. “We have subjected the building to thermal conditions”.

Put in a different way, “we are not installing double glazed windows, or substituting the window frames. The iron frames will remain iron frames, and the wood frames are being recovered; in terms of the luster works and the hardware, we were able to contact the French company, Remy Garnier who originally supplied these, and is currently in operation ”.

Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 020
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.
Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 018
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.

It is very interesting to understand that when Mr. Henrique Mendonça built this house, after returning to Lisbon from São Tomé with his wife (who was from São Tomé), he wanted to make a statement to society. There are seven or eight buildings in Lisbon, of former landowners, and all these buildings showcase the best architecture in Lisbon at the time.  Henrique Mendonça hired the best architect at the time.

Miguel Ventura Terra (1866-1919) studied in Paris, and worked with the Victor Laloux atelier, one of the most prominent French architects of the time. It is for this reason that he “works with French companies, namely in the details”, states Frederico Valsassina.

A three hectare garden with a space for events related to religion and culture

An external view of the Palace grounds. Photo: Ricardo Filipe Pereira – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Iñaki Zoilo, Proap landscaper, joins the conversation to talk about the almost 3 hectares surrounding the palace: “It is an opportunity for the recovery of a historic garden”. They began by understanding in which point the garden was. All the natural elements, paths, fountains, sculptural elements were inventoried. “The maintenance that has been given over the last 50 years has led to a state of the garden being of spontaneous growth,” he summarizes. The project is “dynamic and has a time strategy”.

The three hectares of gardens of Henrique Mendonça Palace are truly extensive and dense as if they were a private forest within Lisbon. Scattered in the beaten tracks of the garden are three works of art scattered among the vegetation. One these art works is shown above. Three hectares would be the equivalent of 3 rugby fields or in a perfect square 300 metres by 300 metres.
A view of the garden at Henrique Mendonça Palace.
A view of the garden at Henrique Mendonça Palace.

Iñaki Zoilo adds that, in the surroundings of the Palace, programs, which are tied to the events requested by the client, related to their religion and culture, will be implemented. “These will take place in the rear end of the grounds, on a grassy patch destined to host the celebrations, with a water cascade, instead of on the current area of spontaneous growth. A water mirror for the front of the Palace, reflecting the vegetative surroundings, is being prepared”, says the landscaper.

Textiles on Demand

Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 012
Nazim Ahmad, Diplomatic Representative of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal, is confident that the grand hall and the former dining room of the Mendonça family, which remain as noble zones, will be ready by the closing celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan which will take in Lisbon, between July 5 and 11 2018. He adds that the work is being filmed on a 24 hour basis to create a film.

Before entering the Palace, duly fitted with reflective vests and boots, as mandated by the security rules, Nazim Ahmad comments that the works are being filmed on a 24-hour basis, to create a film, and leads towards an improvised atelier of woodwork, in the gardens, where a craftsman is finishing a new window frame. It is a solution for those situations, where there is no remedy, explains Conceição Amaral, Director of the Ricardo Espírito Santo Silva Foundation (FRESS). “The commitment is that everything that has to be substituted, be crafted”.

Such is the case with the textiles. “We believed that some (textiles) were from a manufacturer in Lyon, however they do not exist anymore”. Therefore, they are in touch with a manufacturer in England. “We are waiting for the samples”, refers Conceição Amaral. “It will take a year to produce” she foresees. “In the meantime, we will use a similar fabric, in order to restore dignity to the rooms”.

Seat of Imamat Palacete Mendonca Restoration 015
Restoration work at Henrique Mendonça Palace.

At this stage, around “60 pieces are under the Foundation’s care”, and this will also include the chandelier in the grand hall. All of the Foundation’s teams are involved – in consolidating the tile work by Manuel Gustavo Bordallo Pinheiro, the wood panels, bronze fixtures, decorative painting, plaster work, textiles. The Palace is a manual of the 20th century Portuguese decorative arts”, emphasizes Conceição Amaral.

“The Foundation [FRESS] is completing its 65th anniversary and has a portfolio of great works; Seteais [a neoclassical Palace in Sintra, Portugal] was an enormous challenge however, in terms of quality and variety of techniques, I believe that we have never had a project like this”.

Date posted: April 7, 2018.


A MUST visit post, if you have not yet read it: To Ismailis of Portugal — We are now preparing to be with you in Lisbon to celebrate the “highest point” of the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

Credits: Palace image in featured photo at top of page was taken on March 21, 2017 by Marco Verch. Creative commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

For location of palace and nearby attractions, please click Palacete Henrique Mendonça: Mapa – Portugal – Mapcarta.

Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

For links to all the posts please click on Table of ContentsAlso join/like Barakah at and follow us at

This website, Barakah, is a special project by and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan as he celebrates his Diamond Jubilee or 60 years of Imamat.



  1. What an historic Agreement between the Ismaili Imamat and Portuguese Republic to establish the seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal!

    Diamond Jubilee Mubarak to our Beloved Imam!!!


  2. Allahamdullillah! Truly going to be a masterpiece as all Imamat institutions are … a shinning star and a beacon of hope for ALL mankind irrespective of race, religion or political persuasion . ….🌻


  3. It seems Mawla Bapa is on a constant move. Doesn’t want to have a break! He is our Imam – taking care of “humanity at large.” I would certainly like to visit the Ismaili Center in Toronto and the Rideau Hall in Ottawa which I have not visited yet. I offer my sincere prayers that all those planning to go to Lisbon in July, have a great and interesting stay there with Batuni Noorani Didar. Ameen!!! G. Hirji


  4. Amazing piece of art that are being restored. Cannot express in words what Mawlana Hazar Imam is doing for this huge project.


  5. This is amazing. But when we know that this is Our Beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam’s project, we can imagine how smooth the work would go, and the magnificent outcomes we will see on July 11, 2018.


  6. It would be a blessing to get a glimpse of this institution and attend the closing ceremony of Diamond Jubilee Darbar.


  7. Wow! It promises to be a wonderful and an amazing jubilee celebration in July 2018, inshallah. It is my earnest wish to visit the palace because this is our Imam’s institute, and history in the making. Praying that all of us who are there will have an opportunity to see the wonderful gardens and see a part of Allah’s beautiful creation in a unique setting of the Seat of the Imamat. Amen 🌸

    Noorjehan Deedar Ali Sajwani
    (in thoughtful memory of my late parents,
    Mr. Deedar Ali Sajwani and Mrs. Noorbanno Deedar Ali Sajwani)


  8. Ya Ali Madad:
    Nous souhaitons beaucoup de courage et une bonne santé à Nazim Ahmed pour accomplir ce travail colossal avant le 06 juillet 2018. Puisse Hazar Imam l’aider dans sa noble tâche et satisfaire Mowla Bapa! En tous les cas je prie pour cela. Inch’Allah…tous à Lisbonne pour le Darbar général.
    Azade Kassamaly.

    Translation (via google)

    We wish a lot of courage and good health to Nazim Ahmed to accomplish this colossal work before July 06, 2018. May Hazar Imam help him in his noble task and satisfy Mowla Bapa! In any case, I pray for that, Inch’Allah….. all in Lisbon for the general Darbar.


  9. A visit to the Palace and its grounds would be a dream come true. May Mawlna Hazar Imam fulfill everyone’s wishes. Ameen. Blessings for you and your family.


  10. I have been waiting to see the photos of the palace inside since it was acquired as the Seat of the Imamat. I won’t be able to visit Lisbon and am excited about the opening of the historical Seat in due course. I never had the chance to see Hazar Imam’s present residence in France even from the outside. I am very happy for Hazar Imam and for him to be in Lisbon.


  11. Thanks for this incredible and insightful piece that illustrates the important concept of restoration in the eyes of Hazar Imam.

    I might also add that from a murid’s perspective it would be so thrilling and exciting to visit the Palace as well as to roam its gardens when we all come together in Lisbon in 3 months! Of course there appears to be a lot of work to be completed inside the Palace but a walk-around in the garden would be a treat!


    • Agreed! Perhaps the leadership is already thinking about making that happen! Let’s hope so; I would be concerned about going into the Palace with so many thousands converging into Lisbon but a visit to the gardens would be absolutely inspiring. Then visits by smaller groups could be hosted to certain quarters of the Palace, with Hazar Imam’s blessings of course.

      Interestingly, if you read the article it seems that over the course of the coming months and years when the Seat has been fully established, specific areas in the gardens will host cultural events. This is very much in the spirit of what takes place at the Governor General’s grounds – the Rideau Hall – in Ottawa. It is full of activities for people of all age groups including literary activities for children during summer, movies, performances etc.. Of course the grounds in Ottawa are much larger and include 2 cricket grounds!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s