Decapitated head in Lisbon – for real!

Decapitated head in LisbonDecapitated head. The head of Portugal’s last serial killer. If that is something you want to see, head to Lisbon. And yes it is a real head. Instead of pickles in a jar – here is a head in a jar! I almost gave up because I could not find the head. However, now I know where it is and can guide you there. Where are all you morbid people?

The decapitated head of Portugal’s serial killer Diogo Alves

Diogo Alves was the last murderer in Portugal that was hanged. They wanted to see if his brain was different from a “normal” brain so they took it out. And for some reason, they left the whole head in a jar. And there it sits until this day… just a head of a serial killer. On a shelf. Looking at you while you enter. A real head. Pickled in a jar.

So why would you like to see this? Well, if you are anything like me – you are fascinated by the morbid. I love to listen to podcasts that give you gruesome details of murderers. Sword and Scale is by far the one I love the most. In Swedish, I listen to “Mordpodden” that is made by one of my closest friends. If you speak Swedish – check it out!

Morbid tourism is a thing

I have made several articles on morbid tourism for magazines (both Swedish and South African). And we have written about it here too before. There is a huge fascination about the morbid and what is more morbid than a preserved decapitated head?

No, this is not your typical tourist attraction and there are not many tourists coming to see the head. However, it is there for you to see if you wish. When I got there, they were surprised and wanted to know how I knew about the head but at the same time, they were happy to show it to me.

Who was Diogo Alves?

He was executed in 1841 and was the last person to be executed through hanging in Portugal. Diogo was a serial killer that used to rob and throw people from the Aqueduct of the Free Waters bridge. The bridge was a way of transportation and a lot of farmers would cross the bridge to sell their crop on the other side. Diogo Alves stood on the bridge and waited for the farmers to return. He then robbed them and threw them over the edge. They would plunge 65 meters (213 feet) t0 their deaths.

He repeated this about 70 times during 1836 and 1839. This means that he killed about 23 people per year. At first, the police thought that they were all suicides. That one person started a trend and that the other was just copycats – jumping and falling to their deaths. Finally, they closed of the bridge and the “suicides” stopped.
Decapitated head in Lisbon

Diogo Alves kept killing

Now that Diogo Alves had lost his “way to kill bridge” he started to doing break-ins instead. Soon he had his own crew and they targeted wealthy neighborhoods. Finally, they were caught during a break-in at a doctors house where they also killed four people. Diogo Alves was sentenced to die by hanging.

Why the decapitated head you might wonder

Nobody knows for certain how the serial killers head ended up perfectly preserved in a jar. Probably it was due to a trend during that time and that they also wanted to take a closer look at his brain. What they learned from studying his brain is unknown but hopefully, they saw some sort of difference between a “normal” brain and the brain of pure evil.

The head ended up at the Faculty of medicine where it sits to this day. I wish that they would place it at a museum of some sort and make it way easier to access for us “morbidoes” out there. But it is a good thing that they will show it to you. It is placed inside a classroom at the faculty.

Finding Diogo Alves decapitated head

We had gotten the information that the head was on display at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Lisbon. We drove there with our motorhome and quickly realized that it would be impossible to find a parking space. The faculty building is located by the Hospital de Santa Maria. We decided that Mini will stay in the car and that I will visit the head and snap a few pictures. It seemed easy enough. Boy I was wrong!

I got of at the hospital entrance and walked all the way to the back. The gps was taking me to the faculty of medicine. Once there I got the information that the head was in the hospital building and that I needed to go around. Going around was not quite as easy as it sounds. I have no idea of how many times I walked straight into a dead end and had to trace back.
Decapitated head in Lisbon

Nobody knows about the decapitated head

Once I was on the hospital grounds I started asking around. I had a picture of the head and asked security guards at the hospital. After asking about seven to ten different people and walking round and round in the area I was thinking of giving up. Nobody has heard about the head and when I asked for the Faculty of Medicine they just showed me the building where I went first.

Finally, I ended up inside the hospital and started asking around there. After some fruitless attempts (and a few calls from Mini, asking where I was) I found myself on the bottom floor of the hospital. It turns out that the whole hospital is also a part of the Faculty of Medicine.

I walked around for more than an hour before I finally got my reward!

Downstairs in the main hospital building

On the bottom floor in the hospital, the university has classrooms and do a lot of their teaching there. I got a tip to walk to the anatomy part and that I should ask there again. Once there I finally found him. The person that showed his head to me was surprised of how I heard of it and he opened the classroom and I finally hit the finish line!

So to sum it all up… here is how you will find the decapitated head of Portugals serial killer

Go the the hospital de Santa Maria. Enter through the main entrance and go down one floor. Check for the signs to the anatomy – section and go there. Once there you will have to ask someone so that they can open the classroom and show it to you. Easy and I just saved you a couple of hours searching for the decapitated head!

How is it to see a head in a jar – like a pickled head?

I think that we all feel something different while looking at the morbid. For me it was fascinating. I’m not sure that I can grasp that the head that was in front of me was a real human head. It looked super pale. My first thought was that he would really need to see some sunlight because he was almost completely white. I also got the feeling that the head was super big. The guy that showed it to me said that it was a regular sized head and not abnormal in any way. I guess that a head pickled in a round jar surrounded by liquid just gives the impression of being huge?!

The whole head is there and it’s real. The only thing missing is his brain but you can’t see any scars or marks. Or maybe I just didn’t study it closely enough. I asked about the eyes – I was sure that they had taken the original eyes out and inserted some marbles. But no – that is his real eyes that look back at you. And his real hair and all. It is scary. And fascinating and creepy and weird, all at once. And since Mini was not there to take the pictures I snapped a few photos quickly and then I left. Left with the strange feeling that I had just seen something I probably will never see again!


  1. Jenn

    We went to the anatomy department at the hospital and was told the head is on tour. We were directed downtown to (Palace de Foz) but it was a dead end. Anyone know where his head may be now?

    • Annika & Mini

      Ah to bad that it is not there at the moment. It took me forever to find it so it is frustrating that it has moved. I hope that you can find it!


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