Lisbon, The Pillar 7 Experience: getting a close-up view of Lisbon's 25 April Bridge

The Pillar 7 Experience: getting a close-up view of Lisbon’s 25 April Bridge

One of the most iconic sights in Lisbon is the distinctive 25 April Bridge which crosses the River Tejo linking Lisbon with Almada on the South Bank. As it is a road and rail bridge it is not possible to cross it on foot, but a relatively new visitors’ centre, opened in 2017 to (belatedly) celebrate the 50th anniversary of the bridge, means that it is now possible to go up one of the pillars and come face to face with the traffic on the top deck of the bridge from the safety of a glass platform that hangs over the road below (although, I must say that on the day we visited, the glass could have done with a clean!).

Pilar 7 (Pillar 7) is located on the riverfront road, Avenida da Índia, in the Alcântara district of Lisbon (not far from the LX Factory shopping and restaurant complex). The visitors’ centre is state of the art, including an airport-type security check.

Large information discs embedded into the ground contain information about the project and lead to various sections of the visitors’ centre, which include an area with a scale model of the bridge, showing its entry and exit roads, and with information about its history (the bridge opened on 6 August 1966 and was originally called the Salazar Bridge).

There are also lots of bite-sized facts that fans of engineering might enjoy, such as the fact that the bridge is 2277 metres long; it is composed of 82,000 tons of steel; there are 11,248 steel wires per main cable; and there are 600,000 square metres of painted surface. On the first stop of the lift we got out into a large, dimly lit warehouse-sized space (known as the Workers’ Room) with bare concrete walls onto which photographs and videos of the construction of the bridge were projected on all four walls, along with more bite-sized facts. From there we went into an area where we got an intimate view of the main moorings of the support cables.

We were then whisked up in a glass lift to the viewing platform on the 26th floor at the top of the pillar, 66 metres above ground level.

The viewing platform has joined the list of Lisbon’s famous miradouros (scenic viewpoints), with views towards Belém to the west, Ajuda to the north-west, Monsanto to the north and along the south bank of the river, where there is another iconic structure, the monument of Cristo Rei. Information of what was in our eyeline was marked on the safety glass panels. However, we were visiting it on a sunny but misty day in late December and the views were somewhat compromised.

There was something futuristic about the site, from the scale of the white concrete, geometric-shaped buildings that seemed to engulf us as we walked from the entrance to the lift, to the eerie darkness inside the Workers’ Room, the stomach-churning depth of the lift shaft and the proximity of the traffic on the bridge, making it a slightly uncomfortable experience. It probably wasn’t worth €6 for the view alone, as there are better free panoramic views from other parts of Lisbon, but it was a unique opportunity to get an insight into this famous bridge.

Practicalities

Entrance costs €6. Open daily (except Christmas Day): May to September 10am-8pm; October to April 10am-6pm.
Tram 15; buses 714, 727, 732, 751 (nearest stop Rua da Junqueira e Alcântara); train from Cais do Sodré or Cascais (Alcântara station)

Chafariz D'El Rei: the melting pot of 16th-century Lisbon, Lisbon

Chafariz D’El Rei: the melting pot of 16th-century Lisbon

The Chafariz D’El Rei is a fountain in the Alfama quarter of the Santa Maria Maior district of Lisbon (on Rua de Cais de Santarém, halfway between the Casa dos Bicos and the Fado Museum) that is intrinsically linked with the social history of the city. It is a large limestone structure which was originally built in the 13th century to supply spring water from the Alfama to the boats in the nearby harbour. It was renovated under the orders of King Dinis in 1308, when its name was changed from the São João da Praça dos Canos Fountain to Chafariz d’El-Rei (The King’s Fountain). A plaque next to the fountain summarizes the history of the fountain:
CHAFARIZ D’EL REY EDIFICADO NO SECULO XIII
FOI REFORMADO PELO REI D. DINIS
RECONSTRUIDO NO ANO DE 1747
REPARADO DEPOIS DE 1755
E MELHORADO NOS MEADOS DO SECULO XIX
(‘D’EL REY FOUNTAIN BUILT IN THE 13TH CENTURY
IT WAS RENOVATED BY KING DINIS
RECONSTRUCTED IN THE YEAR 1747
REPAIRED AFTER 1755
AND ENHANCED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE 19TH CENTURY’)

By the 16th century it was the main source of drinking water in the city, but in the 1740s part of it collapsed necessitating it being rebuilt in 1747 and again in 1755 after the famous earthquake that destroyed Lisbon. The structure of the current fountain was completed in the 19th century, including the addition of a second level and the enhancement of the decor on the façade of the fountain with decorative stone vases and three stonework friezes depiciting the Portuguese coat-of-arms in the centre and, to the left and right of this, the Lisbon coat-of-arms (two ravens on a ship).

Although nowadays there are only holes where the three remaining water spouts along the bottom of the fountain were, in the sixteenth-century there were six spouts, the use of which was regulated by a bylaw of 1551 that separated various ethnic and social groups, arguably to stop fights breaking out. The first spout was for male African slaves and non-white freemen, the second was for North African galley slaves from the ships, the third and fourth were for white working-class men and servants, the fifth was for female African slaves and non-white freewomen and the sixth was for white working-class women and girls and female servants (the wealthy people did not collect their own water). Despite this segregation, I like to think the area around the fountain must have been a lively melting pot of the different groups that made up Lisbon society, an estimated 10 percent of which by the mid-16th century was black. A 16th-century painting by an anonymous Flemish artist c.1570-80, entitled Chafariz d’El Rey (which is part of the Berardo Collection), captures this melting pot in front of the fountain, as it appeared then, in an everyday scene which includes people from different races and classes, including a black nobleman on a horse and what appears to be a black man dancing with a white woman.

In the 18th century three more spouts were added to deal with demand for water. The fountain is attached to the former Palácio das Ratas (now the Neo-Moorish-style hotel Palacete Chafariz D’El Rei), which can be clearly seen rising above the fountain. The hotel is located on Travessa do Chafariz d’El Rei, the street behind the fountain, from where the water tank was accessed, although the fountain is now dry. Despite it no longer being used to supply water to the city, it is considered an important historical building and in 2012 the fountain was given the status of Monument of Public Interest.

History, Lisbon, The Lisbon Massacre: a 16th-century Portuguese pogrom

The Lisbon Massacre: a 16th-century Portuguese pogrom

Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506, Largo São Domingos, Lisbon

A small unassuming monument in Largo São Domingos is a memorial to a tragic series of events committed against the Jewish population in Lisbon in the early-sixteenth century. The events are known as the Lisbon Massacre and, what in effect was a pogrom, has its roots in Portugal’s relationship with Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In 1492, during the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain (and during the period of rule of the notorious Dominican friar and Inquisitor General, Tomás de Torquemada), thousands of Jews who refused to convert to Christianity had been expelled from Spain and many had taken refuge in Portugal. By the late 15th-century it is estimated that up to 100,000 Spanish Jews had fled to Portugal. The Portuguese King, João II (who reigned from 1481-95), promised to allow the Jewish refugees to stay in Portugal for eight months in return for a payment and also agreed to provide ships for them to continue their journey to other parts of Europe. Unfortunately João II failed to keep his promise to provide ships within the agreed timeframe and those who were unable to leave the country were forced into slavery, while their children were taken from them and shipped (those who survived the journey) to the island of São Tomé off the West African coast.

Things initially seemed to improve for the Jews during the reign of King Manuel I. He restored their freedom when he came to the throne in 1495 and acknowledged the importance of the Jewish families that worked in the area of finance, medicine and print, offering them protection. Several Jewish areas (Judaria) were already established in Lisbon: in the area around Largo do Carmo, near the Praça do Comércio in the Baixa and, in 1457, a third Jewish quarter was created in the Alfama district. However, when it was arranged that Manuel would marry the extremely anti-Semitic Isabella, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, she only agreed to the marriage if he expelled all the Jews from Portugal. As a result, from December 1496 all Jews in Portugal had to either convert to Christianity and become ‘New Christians’ (known as conversos) or leave the country. It is estimated that 20,000 agreed to convert to Catholicism, although many of the ‘New Christians’ continued to practice Judaism in secret.

The Portuguese Catholics distrusted the ‘New Christians’ and in 1506 things were made worse by the fact that there was a drought in the country and the plague was rife. People wanted someone to blame and the Jews, as so often in history, became the scapegoats. In April 1506 things came to a head. It began in the São Domingos de Lisboa Convent on Easter Sunday when a ‘New Christian’ in the congregation questioned a miracle involving a candle giving the appearance of the face of Jesus. The doubter was taken outside and beaten to death. This paved the way for more acts of anti-Semitic violence led by two Dominican friars who promised absolution of sins for anyone who killed the ‘heretics’. A mob (which included foreign sailors from the ships in the harbour) rounded up any Jews they could find, killed them and burnt their bodies or even burnt them alive, while looting their houses. This massacre continued over the following two days, until the King sent the royal guard to stop it. It is estimated that between 1000 and 4000 converted Jews died over the three days.

São Domingos church and the Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506, Largo São Domingos, Lisbon

King Manuel later issued punishments to those involved, including burning the two Dominican friars at the stake. However, the seeds of anti-Semitism had been sown and continued to grow, resulting in the Portuguese Inquisition being set up in 1536 (under King João III). The Inquisition lasted until 1821 (although the last public auto-da-fé took place in 1765) and I would recommend reading the wonderful 1982 novel Memorial do Convento (or to give it its English title, Baltasar and Blimunda) by José Saramago, in which the threat of the Inquisition is ever present. During this time many Jews were forced to flee Portugal going to countries like England, Germany and the Netherlands. The impressive Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam is a testament to the thriving Sephardic Jewish community that lived there, before the horrors that occurred in the first half of the twentieth century that decimated the Jewish population.

Portuguese Synagogue, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506 in front of the São Domingos church was inaugurated in 2008 (around the time of the 500th anniversary of the massacre), marking the spot where the violence began. It is a semi-spherical shape sculpted in stone by Graça Bachmann with a large Star of David in the centre. The inscription on the Star reads:
‘1506-2006
Em memória dos milhares de Judeus vítimas da intolerância e do fanatismo religioso assassinados no massacre iniciado a 19 de Abril de 1506 neste largo.’
(‘In memory of the thousands of Jewish victims of intolerance and religious fanaticism murdered in the massacre which started on 19 April 1506 in this square.’)

Underneath are the Hebrew years (1506-2006): 5266-5766
On the base of the monument is a quotation from the Book of Job 16.18
‘Ó terra, não ocultes o meu sangue e não sufoques o meu clamor!’
(‘O earth, cover not thou my blood and let my cry have no place!’)