The Parque das Nações (Nations’ Park) is Lisbon’s newest neighbourhood and revels in its modernity. It is located approximately 8km north-east of the centre of Lisbon, on the Tejo Estuary and in stark contrast to the historical centre of Lisbon it is marked by its modern architecture, art and open spaces. It all began in the 1990s when an abandoned, derelict and polluted industrial park was chosen as the site for the Expo ’98 (Lisbon International Exposition). Everything on the site was built from scratch and allowed renowned architects to design creative new buildings aligned to the theme of Expo ’98, ‘The Oceans, a legacy for the Future’. As well as looking to the future, the theme made reference to Portugal’s past as a seafaring nation and combined Expo ’98 with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India in 1498. Many of the buildings are directly named after Vasco da Gama or have a link to the sea and the Age of Discovery.
The Torre Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Tower), designed by Leonor Janeiro and Nick Jacobs, which at 145m is the tallest building in Lisbon. Built on the site of a former oil refinery, it is designed to look like the sail of a caravel (the type of ship sailed by Vasco da Gama). It originally had a public restaurant and observation deck at the top of the tower, but is now part of the luxury Myriad Hotel and is no longer open to the public.
The Ponte Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Bridge) was designed by a team of French and Portuguese architects, namely Michel Virlogeux, Alain Montois, Charles Lavigne and Armando Rito. The bridge goes across the Tejo River from the suburb of Sacavém on the north bank to the suburbs of Montijo and Alcochete on the south bank and is the longest bridge in Europe at 17km in length.
The Centro Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre) and the twin towers Torre São Gabriel and Torre São Rafael were designed by José Quintela. The two towers are named after two of Vasco da Gama’s ships and the top of the towers are built to look like the prow of a boat and. Each tower is 110m in height and made up of 25 floors of residential flats.
The Pavilhão Atlântico (Atlantic Pavilion, also known as Altice Arena) is a large multipurpose arena designed by Regino Cruz with a roof of wooden beams based on the inverted framework of a 16th-century ship and which appears to be a cross between a marine creature and a spaceship.
The Oceanário de Lisboa (Lisbon’s Oceanarium) consists of two buildings. The original building, the Oceans’ Building, was designed by the American architect Peter Chermayeff and is surrounded by water and accessed by a bridge to give the impression of boarding a boat about to embark on a voyage. The main aquarium contains over 100 species from all the oceans of the world. The newer Sea Building designed by Pedro Campos Costa is covered in ceramic tiles created by the Spanish ceramicist Toni Cumella which represent fish scales.
Other buildings may have less of a connection to the theme of oceans, but are important in terms of modern architecture.
Gare do Oriente (Oriente station) is one of the most emblematic structures in the Parque das Nações. It was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava the pièce de résistance being the stark skeletal roof of steel and glass, with gothic-inspired arches and columns, which gives it the appearance of a modern cathedral.
Floating silently above the Parque das Nações are the cable cars which allow a bird’s eye view of the neighbourhood. They run between the two Telecabine Lisboa stations at the Vasco da Gama Tower (to the north) and the Oceanarium (to the south).
The Pavilhão do Conhecimento – Centro Ciência Viva (The Pavilion of Knowledge Science Centre) is an interactive science and technology museum. It was designed by the architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça along minimalist lines where visitors enter the museum along a dark corridor with walls containing mathematical symbols and then find themselves in a large bright foyer with walls made of aluminium-covered panels with cut-out ASCILL symbols (the universal computer language).
The Pavilhão de Portugal (Portugal Pavilion) is a building used for temporary exhibitions with a distinctive inverted canopy roof over the outdoor space, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira.
The controversial Casino de Lisboa, which opened in 2006 in the former Pavilhão do Futuro building, which had stood empty for several years after Expo ’98. The original building was designed by Paula Santos, Rui Ramos and Miguel Guedes, but redesigned by Fernando Jorge Correia when it was turned into a casino. It is hard to miss the building with the words ‘Casino Lisboa’ in enormous diagonal letters across the black-glass front of the building.
On the outskirts of the Parque das Nações is a reminder of the area’s former industrial past, the Torre da Galp (Galp Tower), an oil tower which was part of a former oil refinery which has been preserved as a symbol of the area’s industrial past.
Art and sculpture in the Parque das Nações
The Expo ’98 Public Art Project has resulted in over 50 works of modern art and sculpture by famous Portuguese and international artists throughout the area. It is like a free open-air art gallery. Here are a small number of examples.
‘Gil’ (1998), pictured at the top of this article, is a loveable cartoon character with a wave for his hair, created by the sculptor Artur Moreira and the painter António Modesto, and who was the official mascot of Expo ’98. He is named ‘Gil’ as an homage to the 15th-century navigator Gil Eanes, who successfully sailed beyond the dangerous Cape Bojador on the West African coast in 1434.
‘Homenagem a Dom João II’ (‘Homage to King João II’, 1998) by Manuel Rosa depicts the king who ruled Portugal during the Age of Discovery as an abstract three-legged figure in bronze.
‘Lago das Tágides’ (‘Lake of the Tagus Nymphs, 1998’) by João Cutileiro is a marble sculpture of naked women in a pool of water, some lying in the water, some kicking their legs and others bathing, while an empty boat is nearby. The sculpture is a reference to a verse from Canto I of Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) by Luís Vaz de Camões (1572) in which the narrator calls on the Tágides (the nymphs of the Tejo) to give him the voice to write an epic-poem about the Discoveries.
E vós, Tágides minhas, pois criado
Tendes em mi um novo engheno ardente,
Se sempre em verso humilde celebrado
Foi de mi vosso rio alegremente,
Dai-me agora um som alto e sublimado,
Um estilo grandílico e corrente,
Por que de vossas águas Febo ordene
Que não tenham enveja às de Hipocrene.
[And you, my nymphs of the Tejo, you have created
A new burning ingenuity in me,
If ever your joyful river was celebrated
In humble verse by me,
Now give me a loud and sublime voice,
In a style both grand and flowing,
Because Phoebus orders your waters
To not envy those of Hippocrene.]
(Canto I, verse 4)
‘Haveráguas’ (‘There are waters’, 1998) by the Chilean artist Roberto Matta has been turned into a large tiled panel with surrealist images of people doing various activities on the sea.
‘O Homem Muralha’ (‘The Wall Man’, 2008) by the Angolan-born artist Pedro Pires is a sculpture in iron of five men, all versions of the same man, standing in slightly different poses. Each man is constructed of pixels and the sculptures give rise to questions of identity in the modern world.
For anyone who loves modern architecture and modern art, it is worth making the 25-minute journey from the centre of Lisbon to a place totally different from the historic areas, but still with a sense of Lisbon style!
The Parque das Nações is extremely well-served by public transport, so much so that it is possible to use it as a base when visiting Lisbon.
Metro: Red line to Oriente station
Mainline train: Oriente station for the Intercidades and Alfa Pendular lines to Coimbra, Porto, Braga, Guimarães, Viana do Castelo, Évora and Faro; the Renfe sleeper trains to Madrid and Hendaye; and the local lines running between Alverca and Sintra and Azambuja and Alcântara-Terra.
Buses to and from Oriente station: 400, 705, 708, 725, 728, 744, 750, 759, 782 and 794