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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!’)
I have to confess to a great fondness for Queluz Palace above all the other Portuguese royal palaces, not only because of its beautiful Rococo design, but also because both inside the Palace and in the formal gardens there is a strong sense of the generations of the Royal Family who used it as their summer residence. Despite being occupied and pillaged during the French invasion in the early-19th century and being badly damaged by a fire in 1934, the rooms are tastefully furnished with rugs, furniture, pictures and ornaments which give a sense of the fashions at the height of the Palace’s glory days from the mid-eighteenth century to the early-nineteenth century.
Stepping out of Queluz-Belas train station, however, I first wondered if we had got off at the wrong stop, as the ugly modern blocks of flats were incongruous with the location of a royal palace. We looked for a signpost directing us to Queluz Palace, but there was nothing, which again made me question whether this was the right place, but after a quick check on the map we turned left into Rua Dona Maria I which led us to a section of the Águas Livres Aqueduct (which from 1769 branched off to supply water to the Palace), where we turned right and then left into a long, unassuming street called Rua Dr. Manuel de Arriaga.
When we finally reached the end we could see the distinctive bell tower and the pastel blue exterior of the Pousada ahead. The contrast between the Largo do Palácio de Queluz and the nearby suburb of Queluz-Belas is surprising in the extreme and may explain why many people arrive at the Palace by tour bus. On one side of the square is the Pousada Palácio de Queluz – Hotel Dona Maria I, which formerly housed the Royal Guards when the Royal Family was resident at the Palace. On the other side of the square is the long low-rise Palace, which was formerly pink but now, as with the Pousada, is a pleasing pastel blue, in front of which is a large 1797 monument to Queen Maria I by João José de Aguiar, in which Maria is depicted as Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, flanked by four statues representing the four continents. The Palace was bequeathed to the country by King Manuel II in 1908, two years before the country was declared a Repulic.
The Palace was originally built as a summer residence for the Royal Family in the mid-eighteenth century. Prince Pedro (a younger son of King João V) and, later, Pedro’s son, King João VI, bought several small estates in the area 13 km north-west of the centre of Lisbon to form the Quinta Real de Queluz (Royal Estate of Queluz). In 1747 Pedro commissioned the architect Mateus Vicente de Oliveira to create a Rococo palace using the Palace of Versailles as his inspiration and it was completed in 1752. In 1760 Prince Pedro married his niece, Maria (who was to become Queen Maria I in 1777), the eldest daughter of King José I, and what was just a summer residence needed to become more palatial.
Two men are associated with the creation of the Palace that we see today. The aforementioned de Oliveira and the French architect Jean-Baptiste Robillion. In the first phase of construction, de Oliveira (who also designed the Estrela Basilica and the Church of Saint António in Lisbon) developed the section that includes the Music Room and the Chapel, as well as the exterior Ceremonial Facade that overlooks the gardens. The Music Room, which is adjacent to the Throne Room, was completed in 1759 and used for music recitals performed by Maria I’s chamber orchestra and a portrait of Queen Maria I above the piano (attributed to the Italian court painter Guiseppe Troni in the late-18th century) dominates the room. In any room in the Palace it is worth looking up at the ceiling decor and the Music Room is no exception, as it has a Rococo ceiling designed by Silvestre de Faria Lobo in which, if you look carefully, you will see small musical motifs reflecting the room’s purpose.
The octagonal domed Chapel, in the same section of the Palace and also designed by de Oliveira, dates from the early 1750s and is a wonderful Rococo mixture of gilt carved wood (created by Silvestre de Faria Lobo) with marble and lapis lazuli-effect on the walls and ceiling. Hopefully, at some point in the future, the late-18th century organ, attributed to António Xavier Machado e Cerveira and currently under restoration, should be returned to the upper choir.
De Oliveira was called back to Lisbon to help rebuild the city after the devastating earthquake of 1755 and at the time of Pedro and Maria’s marriage in 1760 the Palace was extended and Robillion was commissioned to design it and make it fittingly regal. Many of Robillion’s designs are still visible today including the stunning Throne Room (or Great Room), which was created in 1768 for official receptions and was clearly inspired by the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles with gilded mirrors and large windows lining the long room. Golden figures by Silvestre Faria Lobo, positioned below the ceiling at each corner, as if supporting the room, caught my eye in this Rococo-style room.
The Corridor of Sleeves, which leads from the main part of the Palace to the west wing, is Neo-classical in style and decorated with blue and white azulejo panels by Manuel da Costa Rosado in 1764 depicting hunting scenes and scenes from daily life and polychrome azulejo panels by Jorge da Costa added in 1784 depicting scenes from classical mythology, the four seasons and the four continents. On display in the corridor is an original carriage that was used to transport the Royal Family around the grounds. The corridor’s intriguing name is said to come from the glass tubes (‘sleeves’) that protected the candles from draughts.
Robillion excelled himself in his design of the Ambassador’s Room (or Vases Room) which was used for diplomatic audiences and concerts is dominated by two thrones at one end of the room, which were naturally for the King and Queen. Each throne has a large porcelain vase next to it and there are mirrored columns which support a canopy over the thrones. In this room the ceiling decoration is as important as that of the wall with an exceptional Trompe l’oeil painting on the ceiling showing the Royal Family during the reign of King José I (1750-1777) attending a music recital.
Robillion’s other main input inside the Palace is actually named after him. The Robillion Pavilion was the private quarters of the Royal Family located in the west wing of the Palace next to the Ambassador’s Room. The rooms in the pavilion include the Neo-Classical Dispatch Room, which was used for ministerial meetings and dispatches during the time of Prince João (later King João VI, who was Prince Regent from 1792, after his mother Queen Maria I became too mentally ill to rule (thought to be brought on by the death of her eldest son, José, of smallpox in 1788) until her death in 1816). Large Renaissance-style classical scenes by Giovanni Berardi line the walls of the room and a large painting depicting the ‘Passage of Time’ fills the ceiling.
In contrast the Picnic Room, dating from 1767 and used as a dining room, is a Rococo extravagance with gilt flourishes on the walls, surrounding the paintings depicting the four seasons and rich people having picnics in the countryside, and a gilt honeycomb-effect ceiling with gold roses in the centre of each segment. In the centre of the table is an exquisite British-made silver epergne (a table centrepiece with arms which hold removable baskets for sweets, fruit or flowers) dating from 1780.
The Don Quixote Room in the Robillion Pavilion was the birthplace of the Royal babies during the reign of King João VI and his wife Queen Carlota Joaquina, including Prince Pedro, who later became Emperor Pedro I of Brazil in 1822 and briefly King Pedro IV of Portugal in 1826. During his short life he led Brazil to independence and on returning to Portugal to succeed the Portuguese throne the liberal Pedro became embroiled in a civil war with his absolutist brother, Miguel. Although Pedro ultimately won the war, the effort took a toll on his health and he died in the Don Quixote Room in 1834 at the age of 35. The square room has the illusion of being circular due to the placement of columns, which support the domed ceiling, and due to the circular parquet floor design. The room is decorated in Rococo style with gold ornamentation, mirrors and paintings depicting scenes from the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes painted by Manuel de Costa in 1784.
Queen Carlota Joaquina’s bedroom, which was the bedroom of various royals, as well as Queen Carlota Joaquina herself, is notable for its silver papier mâché decorations, in a Palace where everything else seems to be gold! In the adjacent Queen’s Dressing Room the ceiling has a very pretty basketwork design with delicate papier mâché flowers and this basketwork pattern is reflected in the parquet floor. The walls are decorated with scenes of children playing at dressing-up surrounded by gold ornamentation and mirrors.
Robillion died in 1782 and after his death Manuel Caetano de Sousa took over and designed the Dona Maria Pavilion, which is at the opposite end of the Palace to the Robillion Pavilion. Queen Maria I lived here after becoming mentally ill, until the Royal Family relocated to Brazil in 1807.
Also around this latter period a number of private apartments built for Princess Maria Francisca Benedita, the younger sister of Queen Maria I, was also added with a decor based on the fashions of the late-18th century, including the French Empire Room and the Dona Maria Room with Pompeian motifs of palms, garlands and sphinxes.
Robillion created a grand staircase to lead from the Robillion Pavilion to the gardens below. The Robillion (or Lion) Staircase was built between 1758 and 1760 and it is decorated with statues of lions, which may be a reference to the fact that during the reign of Maria I exotic animals such as lions, tigers and jaguars were kept in cages in the gardens near the staircase.
The Robillion Staircase leads to a very pretty tiled canal, which is a 115-metre canal built in 1755. It is now dry, but at the time was filled with water from the nearby River Jamor and decorated with polychromatic azulejo panels depicting landscapes and hunting scenes. In its heyday, the Royal Family sailed along the canal on gondolas while listening to music from the lake house in the centre, where music recitals were held in the summer.
The 15-hectare grounds are much smaller now than in the time of Pedro and Maria and mainly consist of landscaped gardens, along with the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, where the Lusitano horses are trained in dressage and whose stables are accessible to visitors to the Palace. The gardens in the second half of the 18th century must have been quite a sight, as, as well as the wild animal cages, there were cages with exotic birds, horse-drawn carriages in which the Royal Family toured the grounds and festivities were marked by fireworks, aerostatic balloons, musical performances and even horse races. Nowadays the gardens are peaceful areas of flower beds, fountains and (slightly weather-beaten) statues. To the right of the Robillion Staircase, the New Garden was created in 1775 by the Royal gardener, Luís Simões Ressurgido and it is characterized by two water features, the octagonal Medallions Lake designed by Robillion and the Fountain of Neptune, which was sculpted by Ercole Ferrata (a disciple of the great Italian architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini) in the 17th century, but added to the Palace gardens in 1945. In this area of the garden are several lead sculptures by the British sculptor John Cheere, including the dramatic and disturbing Cain and Abel and The Abduction of Proserpina by Pluto dating from the 1750s.
To the left of the Robillion Staircase, past the Robillion Pavilion and Shells Cascade, are the upper gardens of the Hanging Garden and the Malta Garden in front of the appropriately named Ceremonial Facade. These formal parterres designed by Robillion contain flower beds, box-tree hedges, fountains (including the Neptune’s Lake, Nereid’s Lake, Monkey Lake and Shells Lake) and statues, a large number of which were sculpted in lead by the aforementioned John Cheere (including Mars and Minerva at the entrance to the Ceremonial Facade), alongside marble status imported from Italy.
Beyond the upper gardens, at the far end of the Palace grounds is the Grand Cascade, another Robillion addition dating from 1778. It is a man-made waterfall of marble and stone which used water from the aqueduct which was stored in the upper section.
In contrast to British royal palaces that are expensive, overcrowded with tourists and where visitor are herded around like sheep and not allowed to take photographs, Queluz Palace was pleasantly quiet with freedom to wander and take photos. I hope it can stay like that!
Queluz Palace is located halfway between the centre of Lisbon and Sintra and there are regular trains from Rossio, Entrecampos and Oriente stations in Lisbon and Sintra to Queluz-Belas and Monte Abraão (Queluz-Belas is slightly closer to Lisbon and Monte Abraão is slightly closer to Sintra, but there is not a lot in it). The Palace is approximately 1km from either station.
The Palace is open from 9am to 6pm and a ticket costs €10.
The age of the Portuguese explorations is a brief but glorious period when Portugal dominated the sea routes and trading points in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and South China Seas and which saw the discovery of parts of Africa, India, Asia, Brazil and even Canada, before the ‘glorious’ era gave way to the blot on Portugal’s past: the trading of slaves and a long period of colonial rule. Infante Dom Henrique (Prince Henrique the Navigator (1394-1460)), the third son of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster, was the man behind Portuguese exploration in the first half of the 15th century. He sponsored the expeditions, financed by his brother King Duarte (who reigned from 1433 to 1438) and later his nephew, King Afonso V (who reigned from 1438 to 1481), that led to the discovery of Madeira in 1418, the Azores in 1427, Cape Verde in 1444 and Guinea (present-day Guinea-Bissau) in 1460. Despite being known as ‘the Navigator’, ironically he never embarked on any of the expeditions himself, although it is believed by some historians that he started a school of navigation in Sagres at the south-western point of the Algarve (where he lived up to his death), in which he had the best nautical and scientific minds of the age. There is no evidence to prove that the school did exist, but whether it did or not, scientific and technological advances during his lifetime aided the success of the voyages, the most important of which was the design of the caravel; a small, easy to steer ship, based on the design of fishing boats, with triangular lateen sails which allowed it to sail against prevailing winds. It was in a caravel that Gil Eanes was able to sail around Cape Bojador in 1434, which had been impassable to European sailors up to then, thus marking the beginning of the exploration of the west coast of Africa. After Prince Henrique’s death the explorations continued under King João II (who reigned from 1481 to 1495) and King Manuel I (who reigned from 1495 to 1521), with the discovery of Elmina (present-day Ghana) in 1471 and São Tomé and Príncipe (off the west coast of Africa) in 1475, Congo and Angola in 1483, the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, Natal (South Africa) in 1497, Calicut (present-day Kozhikode, in western India), Goa (on the south-western coast of India), Mozambique (East Africa) in 1498, Madagascar (off the coast of East Africa), Terra Nova (present-day Newfoundland in Canada) and Porto Seguro (in Brazil) in 1500, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in 1505, Ormuz (present-day Hormuz Island, an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf) in 1507, Daman (in western India) and Malacca (in Malaysia) in 1509, Pegu (present-day Bago in Myanmar) in 1511, the Maluku Islands (also known as the ‘Spice Islands’, in present-day Indonesia) and Timor (present-day East and West Timor, in south-east Asia) in 1512, the River Plate (in South America) and the Canton River (the present -day Pearl River in China) in 1514 and the River Ganges (India and Bangladesh) in 1516.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) is one of the most famous landmarks in Belém, a district to the west of Lisbon, located on the bank of the River Tejo. It was built in 1960, during the Salazar dictatorship, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Prince Henrique the Navigator and, typical of other fascist architecture, it is an imposing structure designed to stir up feelings of patriotism and what better subject matter than the golden age of the Portuguese Discoveries?
The 56-metre-high monument, designed by the architect José Cottinelli Telmo and the sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, is built in the shape of a caravel. At the stern, above the entrance, is an enormous sword representing the House of Avis, with the Portuguese coat of arms either side of the upper part of the sword. At the prow stands Henrique the Navigator, holding a small caravel in his hand and looking out across the water. Lining both sides of the monument are people associated with the Discoveries. On the western-facing side, kneeling behind Prince Henrique is Prince Fernando (1402-1443, one of Henrique’s younger brothers, also known as Fernando o Infante Santo (Fernando the Holy Prince), due to the fact that he was captured during the Siege of Tangier in 1437 and his captors demanded the strategic port of Ceuta in exchange for his freedom. The Portuguese refused to surrender Ceuta and Prince Fernando died in captivity.) Behind him are the Portuguese navigators, João Gonçalves Zarco (c.1390-1471, who discovered Madeira in 1418), Gil Eanes (active c.1433-1445, who successfully sailed beyond the dangerous Cape Bojador on the West African coast in 1434) and Pêro de Alenquer (c.1480-c.1514, who was on the ship captained by Bartolomeu Dias that sailed around the Cape of Good Hope for the first time in 1488 and was a pilot on Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India in 1497-98). Behind them, holding an armillary sphere, is Pedro Nunes (1502-1578, a mathematician who revolutionized navigation and cartography by applying the principles of mathematics), followed by Pêro de Escobar (active c.1470-c.1500, a Portuguese navigator who discovered São Tomé and Príncipe in c.1475 and later was on Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India in 1497-98 and Pedro Álvares Cabral’s voyage where he discovered Brazil in 1500), Jácome de Maiorca (1360-1410, a renowned cartographer from Majorca (whose real name was Jehudà Cresques), who it is said, Prince Henrique procured to train the Portuguese map-makers), Pêro da Covilhã (active 1487-1525, an explorer who travelled to India overland in 1487, sent by King Joāo II to investigate setting up the trading of spices, and headed back to Portugal via Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), where he was made a governor of a district) and Gomes Eanes de Zurara (c.1410-c.1474, a writer and chronicler who wrote Crónica do Descobrimento e Conquista da Guiné (Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea) in 1453), describing the early Portuguese voyages.
Behind them, shown holding a paintbrush and palette, is Nuno Gonçalves (active c.1450-c.1491, who was the court painter to King Afonso V. His most famous painting is Painéis de São Vicente (Saint Vincent Panels c.1470), in which he puts a religious subject in a contemporary setting making it an important record of Portuguese society in the mid-fifteenth century. It was originally part of an altar in Lisbon Cathedral and is now one of the prized exhibits in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. There are six panels, the larger two central ones both show Saint Vicent, the patron saint of Lisbon, in the foreground dressed in red and gold robes and surrounded by the nobility and other important members of Portuguese society, including the royal family and the Archbishop of Lisbon. In the other four panels other sectors of Portuguese society are represented, including knights, monks, a fisherman, a Jewish scholar, a beggar and a city official. However, it is debated who the actual members of the royal family are and in particular the figure in black to the right of the Saint in the third panel, who is generally thought to be Prince Henrique, as it was painted during Portugal’s golden Age of Discovery, but there is a convincing argument that it is his brother King Duarte and that Henrique is in fact the kneeling figure in the fifth panel and that depicting him kneeling was a political attempt to humiliate him).
Then comes Luís Vaz de Camões (c.1524-80, who is known as the Portuguese Shakespeare He was a colourful character if everything that has been written about him is to be believed (which it isn’t!). The facts of his life are sketchy, which has resulted in various myths developing about him. He was a member of the lower ranks of the aristocracy and after being exiled from Lisbon joined the army and fought in Morocco, where it is said he lost an eye. A few years later he was sent to India as a soldier to avoid a jail sentence and during this time was shipwrecked, where legend has it that he swam ashore holding the manuscript of his most famous poem, Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), above the water to save it. Os Lusíadas (published in 1572) is an epic poem which has many layers to it, written with reference to classical epic poems such as The Aeneid and The Odyssey. Its central subject is Vasco da Gama’s voyage to and discovery of India in 1497-98. By the time Camões was in India, Portugal’s domination was in decline and it could be argued that Os Lusíadas was partly written to restore national pride. He is depicted holding sheets of verse from Os Lusíadas Canto 7, verse 14: Mas, entanto que cegos e sedentos Andais de vosso sangue, ó gente insana, Não faltarão Cristãos atrevimentos Nesta pequena casa Lusitane: De África tem marítimos assentos; É na Ásia mais que todas soberana; Na quarta parte nova os campos ara; E, se mais mundo houvera, lá chegara.
(But, while you blindly thirst For the blood of your own, oh insane people, There will be no lack of Christian daring In this little Lusitanian house: In Africa Portugal has coastal bases; And in Asia great sovereignty; In the fourth part, the New World, the land is being cultivated; And, if there are more lands to be found, they will go there.)).
Towards the rear of the western-facing side are Henrique de Coimbra (c.1465-1532, a Franciscan friar and bishop who
was on one of the ships on Pedro Álvares Cabral’s voyage where he
discovered Brazil in 1500, and who later became a missionary in Africa and
de Carvalho (a 15th-century Dominican friar who spread
Catholicism in India and later Congo), Fernão Mendes Pinto (c.1509-1583, an
explorer and writer whose most famous work is the Peregrinaçāo
(Pilgrimage, 1614), which, with dubious
historical accuracy, describes his voyages to India, the Middle East and the
Far East), Queen Philippa of Lancaster
(1360-1415, Prince Henrique’s mother, who was the daughter of John of Gaunt,
cousin of King Richard II of England and sister of Henry IV of England and her
marriage to King João I was important in that it sealed the Anglo-Portuguese
Alliance against the Franco-Castilian axis and prevented a potential challenge
to João’s reign) and Prince Pedro
(1392-1449, another of Prince Henrique’s brothers who was Prince Regent to the
six-year-old King Afonso V until he came of age).
On the eastern-facing side, directly behind Prince Henrique, is King Afonso V (1432-81, Prince Henrique’s nephew and patron of the explorations led by his uncle), followed by Vasco da Gama (c.1460-1524, one of the most famous navigators, who in 1497 led an expedition from Lisbon, around the Cape of Good Hope, onto South Africa and East Africa, discovering Natal and Mozambique and finally arriving in Calicut, India in 1498, thus opening up an important trade route between Portugal and India). Behind him are the navigators Afonso Baldaia (c.1415-1481, an early navigator who, along with Gil Eanes, explored the coast of the Western Sahara south of Cape Bojador in 1435-36), Pedro Álvares Cabral (c.1467-c.1520, who discovered Brazil in 1500, landing in Porto Seguro in the northeast of the country), Fernão de Magalhães (c.1480-1521, also known as Ferdinand Magellan, who in 1520-21 (sailing for the King of Spain), crossed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Magellan (named after him) and onto the East Indies (where he died), which marked the first circumnavigation of the globe), Nicolau Coelho (c.1460-1504, who captained one of the ships on Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India in 1497-98 and on Pedro Álvares Cabral’s voyage where he discovered Brazil in 1500), Gaspar Côrte-Real (1450-1501, who led the voyage in 1500 to find a Northwest Passage to Asia, which resulted in the discovery of Newfoundland) and Martim Afonso de Sousa (c.1500-1564, who commanded an official expedition to Brazil in 1530 and founded the settlements of Sāo Vicente and Sāo Paulo in 1532, becoming the first Royal Governor of Brazil).
Behind them, holding a sheet of paper is João de Barros (1496-1570, a
writer and historian who wrote three volumes of a work entitled Décadas
da Ásia (Decades of Asia) between 1552 and 1563, which describe the
experiences of the Portuguese in India and Asia). He is followed by Estêvão da Gama (c.1505-1576, a fleet
commander, and son of Vasco da Gama, who, like his father before him, became
Viceroy of India in 1540), and behind him, raising a padrão (a pillar the explorers
would to leave on land they had discovered to mark Portuguese possession) between
them, are Bartolomeu Dias
(c.1450-1500, who was the first European to sail around the Cape of Good Hope
(the southernmost point of Africa) in 1488 and opened up a sea route into the
Indian Ocean), Diogo Cão (c.1452-c.1486, who discovered
the Congo River in 1482, the north-west coast of Angola in 1484 and Namibia in
1485) and António
de Abreu (c.1480-c.1514, who was part of the fleet led by Afonso de
Albuquerque that conquered the island of Ormuz in 1507 and Malacca in 1511 and discovered
Timor in 1512). The bearded figure behind António de Abreu is Afonso de Albuquerque (c.1453-1515, who
is considered to be one of the greatest Portuguese naval commanders, by militarily
and administratively contributing to the building of the Portuguese Empire,
including closing the naval passages from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic to
other countries and developing a sea trade with China). At the rear of the
eastern-facing side are Francisco Xavier
(1506-1552, a Jesuit who worked as a missionary in Asia and India) and Cristóvão da Gama (c.1516-1542, a fleet
commander, son of Vasco da Gama and brother of Estêvão da Gama, who sailed to India
in 1532 and later was involved in several battles against the Muslims in
Ethiopia in 1541 and 42, where he died in captivity).
On the ground in front of the monument is a 50-metre replica of a wind rose; a map used by the navigators in the 15th and 16th centuries showing the directions of the eight principal winds at various locations. The map, which was a gift from South Africa and designed by the architect Luís Cristino da Silva in black and red limestone, depicts the routes and dates of the discoveries, marked by icons of ships, and decorated with images of Neptune, a mermaid and a sea creature.
It is best seen from the top of the monument, which can be reached by a lift or by the 267 steps, and from where you can enjoy views of the Jerónimos Monastery, Maritime Museum, Archaeological Museum, Belém Tower, Belém Cultural Centre, the River Tejo, 25th April Bridge and the Cristo Rei monument on the other side of the river.
Either side of the monument are two large armillary spheres. The armillary sphere was an important navigational instrument during the Age of Discovery (used to calculate distance) and it became the symbol of Portugal, appearing on the Portuguese flag. King Manuel I, during his reign, adopted it as his personal symbol and it features in a lot of Manueline architecture.
The best time to see the monument is towards sunset, when the sun is softer and gives it a golden glow.
Monument to the Discoveries, Avenida do Brasília, Belém
Open: March to September 10am-7pm daily; October to February 10am-6pm
(closed Mondays); also closed 1 January, 1 May and 25 December
Entrance : €5 (as of 2019)
Public transport from Lisbon: tram 15; buses 728, 714, 727, 729 and
751; trains from Cais do Sodré stop at Belém station
The festival of Saint Anthony on 12th and 13th June is the party of the year in Lisbon. It has the same importance in Lisbon as the festival of Saint John has in Porto, but it is celebrated in a very Lisboan style. Saint Anthony, along with Our Lady of the Conception, is the patron saint of Portugal and is the unofficial patron saint of Lisbon along with the official patron saint, Saint Vincent. He was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in what is now Saint Anthony’s church in Lisbon in 1195 and died on 13th June 1231, which is why his feast is celebrated on this day. He is a saint associated with many things including sailors, fishermen, farmers, travellers, the poor, the oppressed, the elderly, financial problems, lovers, marriage, the home and family, pregnant and childless women, single women, missing people and lost objects. The party-like celebrations take place on the 12th June, including the Saint Anthony weddings and the Marchas Populares, and the religious celebrations take place on 13th June.
The Saint Anthony weddings (Casamentos de Santo António) are one of the most endearing parts of the festival of Saint Anthony celebrations. In a tradition dating from 1958 (despite a 30-year pause after the 1974 revolution), the city council of Lisbon pays for the wedding of 16 couples who get married en masse at Lisbon city hall or in Lisbon cathedral on 12th June. The original idea for the Saint Anthony weddings was to help couples whose families couldn’t afford to pay for their wedding and while this may no longer be the case, couples (of which one member of each has to live in Lisbon) have to apply and be selected and in return the city council, through the sponsorship of various companies, provides them with the bride’s wedding dress, shoes, bouquet, hairdresser and make-up artist, the groom’s suit, the wedding rings, photographs, wedding car, honeymoon and money towards furnishing their new home. The weddings are covered throughout the day on Portugal’s national television station, RTP. With careful planning we were lucky enough to see both sets of couples appear after their respective weddings. The first couples to get married were the five couples who had a civil wedding in the city hall in the Praça do Município around midday. This was a simple but moving wedding followed by the couples appearing on the balcony where they were serenaded by the VenusMonti tuna group, made up of students from Lisbon University Faculty of Law. The couples then came down to the square where they danced to more music from VenusMonti, including ‘Se Tu Soubesses’ (‘If You Only Knew’).
After they had gone back into the city hall it wasn’t clear what was going to happen next, but half an hour later (at around 2pm) the 11 brides who were getting married in the cathedral appeared with their maids of honour walking towards the waiting classic cars. One-by-one the cars headed to the cathedral where the brides met their waiting fathers and entered the cathedral.
Classic cars lined up for the Saint Anthony weddings, Lisbon
The Saint Anthony brides walking towards the classic cars
A Saint Anthony bride and her maid of honour on the way to the cathedral
The Saint Anthony brides entering Lisbon cathedral
There were already crowds of people waiting outside the cathedral and as the service, which lasted over two hours (made longer by nine couples who had got married in 1968 renewing their vows), went on more people kept arriving. Even though there was nothing to see, except a man setting up a confetti machine, a brass band arriving and warming up, and the wedding service being broadcast through loudspeakers almost as background noise, people were determined to stand and wait for the newly-weds to come out of the cathedral. After what seemed an eternity, the couples finally appeared to the sound of the Banda de Música da Carris brass band playing Coldplay’s ‘Viva la Vida’ and Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ and we were able to say ‘Vivam os noivos!’ (‘Long live the bride and groom!’).
Banda de Música da Carris brass band, Saint Anthony weddings, Lisbon cathedral
The Saint Anthony brides and grooms outside Lisbon cathdral
The Saint Anthony brides and grooms outside Lisbon cathdral
After the obligatory photos they walked down to the neighbouring Saint Anthony’s church where each couple placed a sunflower on the statue of Saint Anthony, who is known as the holy matchmaker and, as noted above, is the patron saint of lovers and marriage, and more photos were taken.
The Saint Anthony brides and grooms at the statue of Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony’s church, Lisbon
The couples then walked down the hill and through the Baixa to the Praça do Município, where they met up with the other five couples for more photos on the pillory in the centre of the square, before being driven in the classic cars to the Estufa Fria in Parque Eduardo VII for the copo-d’agua (reception). You would think that the couples would be allowed to enjoy the reception, but as the reception is broadcast on RTP the couples have to give interviews during the evening. After the reception, the couples still have one more engagement: at 11pm they make an appearance, still in their wedding attire, at the Marchas Populares on the Avenida da Liberdade where they are photographed with the President of the Republic. After that they are free to go on their honeymoon, although they are not given the chance to spend much time alone, as all the couples go on the honeymoon as a group.
The Marchas Populares (People’s Parades) are a highlight of the Saint Anthony celebrations on the night of 12th June and it felt like the whole of Lisbon had left the cathedral after the weddings were over and come down to line each side of the Avenida da Liberdade to watch the districts of Lisbon compete in a distinctly Portuguese parade which is a singing and dancing spectacular with colourful costumes and movable scenery. The first Marchas Populares were held in 1932 when the districts of Lisbon were invited to take part in a competition based on their traditional celebrations of the popular saints festivals. Over the years things have changed, but the key elements remain the same: people wearing costumes based on traditional clothes sing and dance to an accompanying marching band. The women wear very flared skirts and march on the spot with their hands on their hips while swinging their hips and shoulders. The men also march on the spot, but not as animatedly. Each year the Marchas Populares have a theme set by the organizers, the Empresa de Gestão de Equipamentos e Animação Cultural (EGEAC), and in 2018 the theme was the very famous and much-loved film ACanção de Lisboa (The Song of Lisbon, 1933) and the equally well-loved actor who starred in it, Vasco Santana (1898-1958). (The film is musical comedy about a medical student (Vasco Santana), whose studies are being paid for by his two wealthy aunts who live in the north of the country. Vasco prefers wine, women and song to studying and when he fails his final exam he lies to his aunts that he has passed the exam and got a job as a doctor. However, things start to go wrong when his aunts arrive in Lisbon wanting to see the doctor’s surgery where he has said he works.) As well as the original songs that each group composes, there had also been a competition earlier in the year to write a song that has become the parades’ theme song, that all the teams have to include in their routine. The winning song for the 2018 parades was a very catchy song, ‘Vasco é Saudade’ (‘Vasco is saudade’: a word that doesn’t easily translate as it conveys a notion of yearning and nostalgia for what is lost, whether it be a place, a person or a way of life, and for what will never be attained). Each group is represented by a madrinha and padrinho (sponsors), minor celebrities who do the obligatory RTP interview and give gifts to the President of the Republic and the Mayor of Lisbon. The Marchas Populares are not for the faint-hearted, as they start at 9pm and don’t finish until 1am, when the 23 competing teams, plus a few other groups, including a group of children representing an educational charity, A Voz do Operário (The Voice of the Worker) and a group of market traders, finish performing.
Marcha Infantil ‘A Voz do Operário’ with madrinha (Debora Monteiro) and padrinho (Rui Melo), Marchas Populares, Lisbon
Marcha dos Mercados, Marchas Populares, Lisbon
Judging of the competition is done in two stages: the first is held in the Altice Arena at the beginning of June and the second on the night of 12th June and teams are judged on criteria such as choreography, music, lyrics, costume design and set design. In 2018 the Alfama district was the overall winner. The groups perform at points along the Avenida da Liberdade, the main one being opposite the monument to the First World War and knowing this we positioned ourselves near there before the parades started. However, we soon realized that in order to see the dancing we needed to be sat in one of the stands in front of which the groups perform and those stands are not available to the general public. Therefore all we managed to see on the night were the groups walking down the avenue before and after they had performed. There are a few small TV screens on the back of the stands where we could watch what was being broadcast on RTP, but we decided it would be better to watch it later on catch-up TV and went off in search of the traditional arraiais (street parties) which are held in different neighbourhoods.
On the night the streets are decorated with brightly coloured streamers, the unmistakable smell of sardines being grilled fills the air and loud music can be heard everywhere, particularly songs dedicated to the popular saints such as the strangely titled ‘Marcha do Pião das Nicas’ (‘March of the Punchbag’) by Carlos Paião, the chorus of which goes: Viva o Santo António, viva o São João! Viva o dez de junho e a Restauração! Viva até São Bento, se nos arranjar! Muitos feriados para festejar! (‘Long live Saint Anthony, long live Saint John! / Long live the tenth of June and the restoration! / Long live even Saint Bento, if it can be arranged for us! / So many holidays to celebrate!’)
On our walk around we came across various parties ranging from an informal gathering on the steps of the Calçada do Lavra, to streets with improvised food and drink stalls and live music that were so crowded with people we couldn’t get down them and a big food fair selling all kinds of food and drink at the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. In true Saint Anthony style we chose to have a simple but delicious grilled sardine on a slice of bread and a glass of beer served in a plastic cup. Although the sardine is the food most associated with the Saint Anthony festivities, other Portuguese street food is in demand at this time, including febras (slices of grilled pork), bifanas (bread rolls filled with pork), caldo-verde (soup made with potatoes and a green leafy vegetable similar to kale), grilled chouriço (a spiced sausage) and snails, along with the ubiquitous sangria.
Street party, Calçada do Lavra, Lisbon
Typical Saint Anthony decorations, Lisbon
Food fair, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, Lisbon
As well as the street parties a feature of the Saint Anthony celebrations is the giving of a manjerico plant (a type of basil) in a pot decorated with a carnation and a small flag with a quadra (a four-line verse) on it. Many of the famous quadras were written by Fernando Pessoa, one of Portugal’s most famous twentieth-century poets. In the past a young man would give the plant to his girlfriend as a commitment to marriage. The giving and receiving of the pot of basil is not so binding nowadays, but the recipient is expected to look after the plant for the next 12 months, when it is replaced with a new one. Traditionally single women received a plant with a pink carnation and married women received one with a red or orange carnation, but nowadays any colour goes!
The main event on 13th June is the procession of Saint Anthony which starts at 5pm at Saint Anthony’s church from where the statue of Saint Anthony is carried through the streets of the Alfama stopping at the cathedral to collect the relic of the saint and at other churches to collect icons of other saints on the way, and returning to the cathedral at 7pm for a religious ceremony before carrying the statue back to Saint Anthony’s church. The procession is followed by thousands of people, many carrying candles or carnations which can be bought from a stall outside the church.
In the entrance to the church we spotted a stall selling very small bread rolls wrapped in paper, the pão de Santo António (Saint Anthony’s bread). These rolls are sold at 30 cents each by the church during the week of the festival of Saint Anthony to raise money for the poor.
Stall selling Saint Anthony souvenirs, Saint Anthony’s church, Lisbon
Saint Anthony’s bread
The tradition originates from a story that when Saint Anthony was a friar he gave all the monastery’s bread away to the poor and as a result there was none left to feed the monks. The monastery’s baker, believing the bread had been stolen, told Saint Anthony who advised the baker to check again and on doing so the baker found a plentiful supply of bread. Other legends tell of people who over the years have prayed to Saint Anthony and promised to give bread to the poor if he could answer their prayers: one concerns a baker who was unable to unlock the door to her shop until Saint Anthony intervened; and another concerns a mother whose child is believed to have drowned but after praying to Saint Anthony she finds the child is alive.
It is clear from the celebrations that Saint Anthony is a much-loved saint in Lisbon, even if he isn’t the official patron saint of the city, but as a Lisboan told me, if a saint is born in Lisbon he automatically becomes a patron saint in the hearts of the people.
Fado is the music of Lisbon. In effect it is the Lisbon equivalent of the blues, but with a uniquely Portuguese quality summed up in the term saudade, a word that doesn’t easily translate as it conveys a notion of yearning and nostalgia for what is lost, whether it be a place, a person or a way of life, and for what will never be attained and is particularly felt by Portuguese émigrés, who feel something more powerful than homesickness for Portugal. In fado music the singer is the conveyor of the message, both through the lyrics and more importantly through the emotion they express in their dramatic performance, often looking wistfully into the distance as Camané does or even bursting into tears mid-song as Mariza has done. The singer is accompanied by two seated musicians, one playing the viola (a six-string Spanish guitar), which acts as the rhythmic accompaniment and one playing the guitarra (Portuguese guitar), a 12-string pear-shaped guitar (based on the citra, which was introduced into Portugal in the eighteenth century, just before the birth of fado) and, with its steel strings, has a resonant melancholy tone.
Display of violas, Fado Museum, Lisbon
Display of guitarras, Fado Museum, Lisbon
The Museu do Fado (Fado Museum) is located in the Alfama district in the Edifício do Recinto da Praia, a former water pumping station.
It opened as a museum in 1998 to document the history of fado from its beginnings to the present day through photographs, posters, periodicals, paintings, music scores and lyrics, archive film, audio recordings, instruments and even a scale model of a brothel! The museum has an auditorium where a film of the leading fadistas (fado singers) talking about what fado means to them is shown and a listening room where you can listen to a variety of fado songs. If you like what you hear you can buy a CD in the gift shop!
Fado records, Fado Museum, Lisbon
Fado albums, Fado Museum, Lisbon
Fado Museum, Lisbon
Periodicals dedicated to fado, Fado Museum, Lisbon
‘Aldeia da Roupa Branca’ film poster (1939), Fado Museum, Lisbon
Cover of sheet music (1923), Fado Museum, Lisbon
Fado lyrics, Fado Museum, Lisbon
Auditorium,Fado Museum, Lisbon
Listening room, Fado Museum, Lisbon
The origins of fado (which means ‘fate’) are a little vague, but some theories say it originated from African or Brazilian dance forms, which evolved into song, while others say it came from North Africa or even from the sailors’ sea shanties. The truth is probably a mixture of all of them.
It developed in the working-class districts of Alfama and Mouraria, and was mainly performed in insalubrious brothels and bars. The songs told stories of the lives of people on the edge of society and from 1860 some of the songs took on a political theme. The most famous fado painting in the museum’s temporary exhibition, ‘O Fado’ by José Malhoa (1910, on loan from the Museu da Cidade), captures the underbelly of these districts perfectly, as it depicts a poor and dirty prostitute listening with rapture to a man playing the guitarra. In order to get authenticity Malhoa used real people as models, a petty criminal called Amâncio and a prostitute called Adelaide da Facada (named after a scar she had on her left cheek).
In contrast to the seedy setting of this painting, a model of a brothel deceptively made in the style of a doll’s house depicts a rather genteel version of this profession (these types of discrete brothels were tolerated by the Salazar regime until 1962). It was made by the fadista Alfredo Marceneiro (a former cabinet maker) and is named ‘Casa da Mariquinhas’ (‘Mariquinhas’ House’) after a song he recorded in 1961.
The first fadista to gain fame and notoriety was the gypsy singer Maria Severa (1810-36), who led a short but intense life. She was a prostitute who was famous for a love affair she had with a nobleman and who died at the very young age of 26. Not surprisingly, a film of her life was made in 1931 (based on a 1901 play by Júlio Dantes) and she lives on in the memory of female fadistas, many of whom wear a black shawl as homage to her. By the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries fado had started to become popular in mainstream society with theatres hosting fado performances and periodicals dedicated to it, and in the mid-twentieth century it became widely popular due to radio and TV broadcasts and films featuring fado. The spread of its popularity was largely due to the singer and film star Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), nicknamed ‘The Queen of Fado’, who performed in concerts in Portugal and in many countries abroad and introduced fado to an international audience.
Despite its bohemian origins, fado had so become popular with the masses by the 1920s that the Salazar regime encouraged it, believing that fado, football and Fátima (religion) would keep the working classes quiet. Not surprisingly, from 1927 fado was regulated by the government meaning that lyrics were censored and fado was only allowed to be performed in licensed venues, which included the setting up of fado houses, which still exist today.
After the 1974 revolution fado, and Amália Rodrigues, fell out of favour in the new democracy, as they were associated with the dictatorship. Nevertheless, when Amália died in 1999 there were three days of national mourning and her body is now interred in the National Pantheon in Lisbon. Fado reinvented itself in the 1990s, with a new generation of fado singers, including Mariza, Ana Moura, Carminho, Camané and Hélder Moutinho, many of whom mix traditional fado with other genres and bring in other instruments in addition to the guitarra and viola. Mariza, possibly the most internationally famous fadista, who introduced modern fado to an international audience when she appeared at the WOMAD festival in 2002, acknowledges the influence of Amália Rodrigues and has included songs made famous by Amália on her albums, such as ‘Barco Negro’ (‘Black Boat’), which was recorded by Amália in 1955 and by Mariza on her debut album Fado em Mim in 2002. The song tells the story of a woman on a beach watching as her lover leaves on a boat. The old women on the beach are telling her that he won’t return, but she refuses to believe them. The lyrics were written by the poet David Mourão-Ferreira, who along with other renowned poets, wrote many fado lyrics in the twentieth-century:
‘São loucas! São loucas! Eu sei, meu amor,/Que nem chegaste a partir,/Pois tudo em meu redor,/Me diz qu’estás sempre comigo.’ (‘They’re crazy! They’re crazy! I know, my love,/That you haven’t really left,/For everything around me,/Tells me that you are always with me.’)
In 2011 fado got full international recognition when UNESCO named it an Intangible Cultural Heritage worth protecting, largely helped by the fadista Carlos do Carmo, who acts as an ambassador of fado.
In addition to the permanent exhibits the museum also hosts regular temporary exhibitions associated with fado and we were lucky enough to visit the museum during an exhibition of fado in art, which included the aforementioned ‘O Fado’ by José Malhoa. Other works on display included ‘O Marinheiro’ (‘The Sailor’) by Constantino Fernandes (1913, on lean from the Museu do Chiado – Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea), a triptych which evokes the spirit of saudade through the depiction of a sailor preparing for a voyage, saying goodbye to his family and then, once at sea, listening wistfully to a fellow sailor playing the guitarra.
‘Família’ (‘Family’) by Arnaldo Louro de Almeida (1947) is in the censored material section of the permanent exhibition as it was seized by the PIDE (Salazar’s secret police) presumably for not showing the working class family in the positive way he would have liked (or it may have been the woman breast-feeding a baby that was so offensive).
‘Lisboeta’ (‘Lisboan’) by the surrealist Cândido da Costa Pinto (1952, on loan from the Museu da Cidade) shows Lisbon and fado as inextricably linked through the depiction of a female figure with a tragedy mask for her face and a guitarra for her body.
However, it is the portraits of the fado stars that dominate, from the intimate portraits by Júlio Pomar to the large-scale works by contemporary artist Pedro Guimarães, alongside photographs of the stars of fado, one of which includes all the classic fado musicians (with labels to identify them).
Amália Rodrigues is quoted as saying ‘O fado é um mistério. Nunca ninguém vai conseguir explicá-lo!’ (‘Fado is a mystery. No one will ever be able to explain it!’), and like anything intangible this is true up to a point, but the fado museum goes some way to demystifying it.
Museu do Fado, Largo do Chafariz de Dentro Entrance: €5 (free on Sundays and public holidays) Opening hours: 10am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed 1 January, 1 May, 25 December) The museum runs courses in guitarra and viola playing and fado singing. The museum’s restaurant, A Travessa do Fado, has live fado on some evenings.