Lisbon, Nativity scenes in the Museu Nacional de Art Antiga, Lisbon

Nativity scenes in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon


Nativity scenes are part of Portugal’s cultural heritage, dating back to the Middle Ages, and it is fitting that there should be a room dedicated to the Portuguese nativity scene (presépio) in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. The most noteworthy scenes are the baroque ones designed for convents and stately homes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the one from São Vicente de Fora by Joaquim José de Barros and the one from the Convento de Nossa Senhora das Necessidades. While the central scene in all the nativity scenes depicts the birth of Christ and the arrival of the shepherds and the three kings, the sculptures also include other episodes from the gospels, alongside idealised scenes of everyday town and rural life, which would have been recognisable to the Portuguese of the time. The baroque style includes a complex mixture of naturalism and opulence conveyed through the medium of clay, wood and cork. Some scenes are encased in intricate display cases. The scale and level of detail is impressive and a little overwhelming when all of them are viewed together.


Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Rua das Janelas Verdes, Lisbon

Entrance: €6

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm





Looking around Lagoa

Looking around Lagoa


Lagoa has the misfortune of being the inland neighbour of the pretty seaside town of Carvoeiro; only 5km away, but worlds apart. Many tourists pass through the bus station on their way to other places in the Algarve, Lisbon and even Spain, but few take the time to walk into Lagoa and as a result it remains refreshingly unspoilt by tourism. Officially a city, it is smaller than most British towns and is compact enough to walk around in a day.

We started on the outskirts of Lagoa as I wanted to see the Parque Municipal de Feiras e Exposições de Lagoa, located on Rua do Pasque Empresarial do Algarve, just off the EN125, as the entrance gate had always fascinated me when we drove past it. This turned out not to be a public garden as I was expecting, but a showground that is used for fairs during the year, the most famous of which is the FATACIL (an agricultural show held in August). If we hadn’t walked to the Parque Municipal de Feiras e Exposições we wouldn’t have seen what has become my favourite statue in Lagoa, the lovingly made sculpture of a potter holding a pot, which is in the middle of a traffic island on the busy EN125. This part of the Algarve is associated with the pottery industry and this sculpture is a fitting tribute to the artisans who worked in this industry in the past. We walked back into the centre of Lagoa, passing through the pretty Largo 5 de Outubro, with its distinctive bandstand in the centre, and turned into the pedestrianized shopping street, Rua 25 de Abril, with its attractive patterned cobblestones. As Lagoa is a working town rather than a tourist resort the shops are typical of a Portuguese high street, with a mixture of old-fashioned speciality shops, such as the haberdasher’s and the ironmonger’s, alongside more modern-looking shops, banks and a good selection of pavement cafés. At the end of Rua 25 de Abril we turned left into Rua Coronel Figueiredo and walked up to the photogenic market on Praça da República. The building dates from 1883 and I was intrigued by the bell at the top of the building above the entrance. I discovered that the bell had a very practical purpose in the past, which was to let the townspeople know that fresh fish had arrived. From here it was a short walk to one of the highlights of Lagoa, the São José convent on Rua Joaquim Eugénio Júdice.

Convento do São José

This former convent is one of the prettiest buildings in the area. It is white-washed a brilliant white with a belvedere tower which arches across the road. The original entrance to the left of the arch has a small garden in front of it and a lovely stained-glass window can be seen from the outside. Nowadays the entrance is to the right of the arch and the building is used as a centre for cultural events. However, it has had quite a varied history. The convent was originally founded in the eighteenth century by an order of Carmelite nuns, who fostered and educated abandoned children until 1834 (when religious orders were abolished in Portugal). There is even a former baby hatch (in which mothers could place unwanted babies) in the original entrance. In the late-nineteenth century an order of Dominican nuns turned it into a primary school and ran it until 1910, when the church and state separated. In 1924 the Lagoa Town Council established a state-run primary school in the former convent, which continued until 1970. After than it was a registry office and a place of worship, until 1993 when, after a period of restoration work, it was reopened as the cultural centre it is today. The interior of the convent is as charming as the exterior. The small chapel has an impressive gilt altar. On the ground floor the rooms are built around a cloister which has a well in the centre. Arches around the cloister provide shade from the heat of the sun. The annual sweet fair is held here in July and an old-fashioned machine to crack almonds is on display in a corner of the cloister. The rooms on the ground floor house recreations of typical scenes from daily life in the past: one is a classroom; others are a seamstress’s room, a cobbler’s, and barber’s shop. On the ground floor there is also a small auditorium where concerts and other events are held. On the upper-floor the small rooms are also used as exhibition rooms, although I didn’t find the model replicas of boats particularly interesting. Amazingly, we were the only tourists in the convent.

After spending time at the convent we went in search of somewhere to have lunch and decided to walk back to Largo 5 de Outubro. As we zigzagged our way from the convent to the square, we passed an eye-catching panel of tiles built into a wall on Largo Guerra Júdice (just off Rua Eça de Queiroz), depicting Christ on the cross. We then discovered two more similar panels on Rua Coronel João Bernado and Rua Luís de Camões. The panels are small chapels dating from the eighteenth century, depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ. They are part of the Via Sacra procession route followed in religious festivals. After lunch at a peaceful café called Alma Doce, overlooking the park in Largo 5 de Outubro, we wandered up Rua da Liberdade and saw two very attractive palatial buildings that are nowadays used as council offices. The Paços do Concelho is the white building with two flagpoles either side of the upper-storey window on Rua Dr. Ernesto Cabrita; dating from 1861 it is the former town hall and flags are still raised on the flagpoles on national holidays. The pink building on Largo Miguel Bombarda, which has ornate decorations on the top of the facade, is the treasury. From here we walked up Rua Franciso Luís M. Veloso, into a more modern part of town, the highlight of which is a water feature with an impressive sculpture of a large bird in flight. The bird is perfectly balanced, seemingly to be attached to the base by only the tip of its wing.

We retraced our steps back along Rua Francisco Luís M. Veloso to Largo Combatentes da Grande Guerra, which has a modern-looking monument to commemorate those who fought in the First World War. The monument is in a pretty square with trees and shaded benches. It is a lovely place to sit and look at Lagoa’s parish church, Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Luz, a baroque and neoclassical style church dating from the seventeenth century. Our final visit was to the other highlight of Lagoa, the Única-Adega Cooperativa do Algarve on the EN125.

Arte Algarve Gallery at the Única-Adega Cooperativa do Algarve

I have to confess that our principal reason for visiting the Única-Adega Cooperativa was to go on a wine tour and tasting, which was advertised on the outside of the large building opposite the bus station. Lagoa’s cooperative winery is a union of the former cooperatives of Lagoa and Lagos and the resulting wines are renowned for their quality. Unfortunately, we were informed that tours were not happening in late September (when we were there), but we were offered a (very generous-sized) glass of wine and invited to look around the art gallery. Nothing had prepared me for the gallery that we walked into; it is enormous, taking up the entire upper floor of the winery. The space is well-utilized to display a large variety of paintings and sculptures by unknown artists. All the works are for sale, but there is no pressure to buy and we were encouraged to walk around on our own. The quality of the art was exceedingly high and artists who piqued our interest included José Freira, Stela Barreto, Lena Vansteelant, Doris Gaspartic, Kestin Wagner, Laurentino Cabaço, Gervásio, Ana Stilwell, Irina Sandalescu, Maria Helena Rocha and Alhi Prieto. As we walked around it was hard to ignore the heady smell of fermenting grapes from the winery below the gallery and by the time we sat down to drink the proffered glass of wine, we already felt slightly intoxicated!


Convento do São José, Rua Joaquim Eugénio Júdice: open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-12.30pm and 2pm-5.30pm, entrance free

Arte Algarve Gallery and the Única-Adega Cooperativa do Algarve, EN125: Art gallery open Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm, free entry; Wine tours and tastings (summer months only) Tuesday-Saturday 10am-1pm and 2pm-6pm


Lisbon, Lisbon's street art

Lisbon’s street art




Love it or hate it, you can’t fail to be impressed by the sheer scale of the street art found on the outside walls of entire buildings around Lisbon. The city has become one of the major cities in which to see a variety of critically acclaimed street art; there are even organized street art tours around the city. One of the most famous areas in which to see street art is Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, near the Picoas metro station. Here you can see three derelict buildings which are part of the Cronos project, in which international artists from countries including Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Switzerland have been invited to paint the buildings. The three buildings have striking images, some of which convey social and political messages. The most thought-provoking is the image of a king sucking on a straw and holding a globe which has the straw stuck into the middle of South America. On his crown are the logos of all the oil companies. This work of art was done by Blu, an Italian artist, in response to the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It was listed as one of ‘The 10 best street art works’ by the Guardian newspaper in 2011. On the other side of the wall is a large image of a person whose head and face is covered by a striking red scarf and who is gripping a small figure in their left hand and holding something that appears to be controlling puppet strings attached to the small figure in the other hand. This was done by Os Gêmeos, twin brothers Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo from Brazil. On the next building is a work by Sam3 from Spain, called La Noche. It show a large shadowy figure against the night sky. On the third building is a huge crocodile painted by Ericailcane from Italy. There is also a painting of a bird by British artist Lucy McLauchlan and one of a cat by Thoma Vuille from Switzerland. The artists have all used the existing features of the building to good effect, such as the three windows on the top of the building being incorporated into the king’s crown and the bricked-up windows being used to depict the night sky in La Noche. While these artworks add colour and interest to what are otherwise abandoned buildings, it does raise the question of why so many buildings are empty and what will happen to them in the future.

In the Mouraria and Alfama districts there are more examples of street art. On Beco das Farinhas there are reproductions printed on the walls of photographs of people who live in the district, taken by photographer Camilla Watson. There is also a striking mural by an artist whose name I didn’t discover. It shows a man taking a photo with his phone on a selfie stick while an older woman sprays him with red paint that she has taken out of her handbag. I wonder if this is a painting by one of the members of the Lata65 project, which encourages women over 65 to paint on walls of buildings which are supplied by the city council for that purpose. From the top of St George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) I couldn’t help but notice the enormous blue man surrounded with smaller objects painted on the side of a building. Again, the scale and detailed impressed me. In Páteo Dom Fradique, a small square near St George’s Castle I stumbled across an art installation of a cube made up entirely of flowers suspended above the ground created by a Chinese artist, Yang Guang Nan Ai. It seemed a little incongruous in that setting, but on further investigation I discovered that the installation was being displayed by the Palácio Belmonte, a hotel in the square which hosts cultural events connected with music and contemporary art.





In the Bohemian Bairro Alto there is a lot of street art on the walls of the narrow streets, such as the piece I spotted on the wall of a residential building, with someone’s washing hanging above it. Even the public transport in Lisbon has been decorated (or defaced, depending on your point of view) with graffiti, such as the Ascenor da Bica on Calçada do Combro.picture-00001-785


The long, steep climb up Calçada da Glória (from Praça dos Restauradores to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara) is made less onerous by the Galeria de Arte Urbana, whose works of street art are on display. We were even lucky enough to see some artists at work. The works are temporary and are often topical. When we visited in May 2017 there was a tribute to the respected folk singer, José (Zeca) Afonso, created for Freedom Day (25th April) to celebrate 30 years of the José Afonso Association, with works by Dalaima Street Art, Telmo Alcobia and Youthone.Zeca Afonso

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In Belém I came across this wonderful image of a dog painted by Bordalo II on the side of a building located near the Museu de Arte Moderna e Contemporânea. I was particularly impressed at how he had incorporated the balcony into the painting.Picture (809)

These were just a few areas of Lisbon where I came across memorable street art without looking for it. I know that there is a lot more around the city and hope to find out more in the future.


Lisbon, Lisbon's public conveniences

Lisbon’s public conveniences

picture-00001-802I’m not in the habit of taking photographs of public toilets, but these toilets in Lisbon fascinated me. The urinal above was spotted outside Saint George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge). It is an open-air urinal which comprises a green cast-iron screen for modesty. The sign above it saying ‘urinol’ is made of very ornate wrought iron and is utterly captivating.

The unisex toilet below is on the Avenida da Liberdade and if it looks familiar that is because it is an adapted Morris Column, which I wrote about in an earlier post, A Morris Column in Porto. It is an ingenious use for these distinctive structures and fits in perfectly with the nineteenth-century design of the avenue.picture-00001-405

The entrance to the public toilets on Rua Norberto de Araújo near Largo Portas do Sol have a potted history of Portugal in comic-strip style painted on the wall by Nuno Saraiva. They are so popular that they are included on some guided tours of Lisbon. It is also another good example of Lisbon’s street art.

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The very modern toilets in the Time Out Market on Avenida 24 de Julho (opposite Cais do Sodré station)  are decorated in honour of the humble sardine.Photo 00096

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A Morris Column in Porto, Porto

A Morris Column in Porto


I spotted this nineteenth-century-style construction in Porto and was intrigued by it and wondered what its original purpose had been. My first thought was that it had been a newspaper kiosk, but it looked too narrow for that. My second thought was that it had been a public urinal, but it wasn’t obvious how it would have been used, although I later found one of these constructions being used as a unisex toilet in Lisbon. Its actual purpose is quite simple: it is an advertising column, known as a Morris Column. Morris Columns were originally built in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century by Gabriel Morris, who was a printer, to display his advertisements and also store his equipment. In the 1980s Morris’ former company was bought by JCDecaux and they decided to build Morris Columns, in the distinctive  style of a green cast-iron column with an ornate cupola on the top, in many of the major cities of the world. In Porto this column is used to advertise cultural activities, as you can see in the photograph which shows an advertisement for Porto’s São João festival.