A thunderous crack announces her presence, as the belt is whiplashed across the wall.
Unbuckled from a torn and "blood"-splattered straight jacket that’s long ceased to contain the wretched soul within, the woman lurches and snarls, as she relishes the hapless bystanders queuing to enter Labirinto Lisboa, located near Lisbon’s riverfront.
Approaching carefully as if stalking prey, the creature is drawn to the restless and fretful, those visitors clearly unnerved by the malign form in front of them. Sidling up to one individual, a good-looking youth, she sniffs his collar and purrs into his ear, “I like your eyes. Can I eat them?”
Straightjacketed and sinister, this ghoulish freak welcomes people to Labirinto Lisboa — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Another smack of the belt makes the whole audience jump, and it’s enough to wake the dead, which it probably already has.
The creature breaks into a mischievous smile and beckons the assembled mortals past the threshold and into a darkened passage. She urges them on, the tip of her tongue running across cherry red lips, gloating as to the horrors yet to befall the innocent gathering.
The group has entered Lisbon’s most haunted house, and for some, the experience will be too disturbing to cope with.
The new Labirinto Lisboa is unique. This is the first themed visitor attraction of its kind in Portugal. Ostensibly, it’s a journey through the country’s dark past, the timeline of which is peppered with villainous and unsavory characters who are totally at odds with Portugal’s reputation as a safe and friendly nation.
Cardinal Henry, Labirinto Lisboa's Grand Inquisitor, takes fiendish delight in warning visitors of the horrors ahead — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Occupied by freaks, ghouls and the downright unpleasant, the labyrinth brings to realistic life shadowy chapters in Portugal’s history and introduces the public to a veritable rogue’s gallery of the criminally insane.
And it's all frightfully good fun!
With the portal firmly shut behind them, a shroud of mist envelopes those who have dared to enter this spooky domain. Suddenly from out of nowhere appears the brooding figure of one Cardinal Henry, Grand Inquisitor and a man who certainly does not have your best interests at heart.
The cardinal, replete with jaundice complexion and a propensity for prodding the air with a ringed finger to make his point, warns everyone that to venture further into the Labirinto Lisboa is to court the very devil himself. Duly cautioned, it’s only the bravest that choose to follow the gloomy catacombs into the very heart of hell.
Mad Doctor Mallum operates on a hapless patient in the tuberculosis ward inside the spooky Serra da Estrela Sanatorium — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
The labyrinth conjures up the spirits of long-forgotten murderers and misfits, some perhaps figments of the imagination. But others certainly lived and carried out all manner of despicable deeds that sent ripples of fear throughout Portuguese society.
The dark, cobwebbed tunnels lead to a series of brilliantly conceived theatrical sets that recreate destinations synonymous with the macabre, places such as the ossuary, the chapel of bones, fashioned after the infamous Capela dos Ossos in Évora.
Continuing, you can witness the squalid conditions of an early 20th-century tuberculosis ward housed in the Serra da Estrela Sanatorium. Here, the frenzied knife-wielding Doctor Mallum does his utmost to infect you with the deadly disease by coughing and spluttering wildly, as he eagerly dissects a prone cadaver.
The young Luisa de Jesus lies in wait for another victim — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
One of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments is the Aqueduto das Águas Livres, which spans the city’s Alcântara valley. But did you know that during the mid-19th century, the aqueduct was the haunt of serial killer Diogo Alves? He would unceremoniously throw the bodies of his victims over the edge of the 213-foot structure.
His partner in crime, Gertrudes Maria, can be found hiding in the labyrinth, pining over her homicidal mentor. But she’s in good company. Also lurking in the half-light is the dreadful Luisa de Jesus, Portugal’s most prolific killer.
Like all good ghost stories, there’s a twist at the end of the tale, which unfolds in the eerie Throne Room – the domain of the undead King Sebastião.
Stay close and look out for each other, because salvation is only achieved through the sacrifice of one.
Scared? You will be.
The undead King Sebastião provides a surprising finale for visitors to the haunted Labirinto Lisboa — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt