Lisbon, Parque das Nações: Lisbon’s ultramodern neighbourhood

Parque das Nações: Lisbon’s ultramodern neighbourhood

‘Gil’, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Parque das Nações (Nations’ Park) is Lisbon’s newest neighbourhood and revels in its modernity. It is located approximately 8km north-east of the centre of Lisbon, on the Tejo Estuary and in stark contrast to the historical centre of Lisbon it is marked by its modern architecture, art and open spaces. It all began in the 1990s when an abandoned, derelict and polluted industrial park was chosen as the site for the Expo ’98 (Lisbon International Exposition). Everything on the site was built from scratch and allowed renowned architects to design creative new buildings aligned to the theme of Expo ’98, ‘The Oceans, a legacy for the Future’. As well as looking to the future, the theme made reference to Portugal’s past as a seafaring nation and combined Expo ’98 with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India in 1498. Many of the buildings are directly named after Vasco da Gama or have a link to the sea and the Age of Discovery.

The Torre Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Tower), designed by Leonor Janeiro and Nick Jacobs, which at 145m is the tallest building in Lisbon. Built on the site of a former oil refinery, it is designed to look like the sail of a caravel (the type of ship sailed by Vasco da Gama). It originally had a public restaurant and observation deck at the top of the tower, but is now part of the luxury Myriad Hotel and is no longer open to the public.

The Ponte Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Bridge) was designed by a team of French and Portuguese architects, namely Michel Virlogeux, Alain Montois, Charles Lavigne and Armando Rito. The bridge goes across the Tejo River from the suburb of Sacavém on the north bank to the suburbs of Montijo and Alcochete on the south bank and is the longest bridge in Europe at 17km in length.

Ponte Vasco da Gama, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Centro Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre) and the twin towers Torre São Gabriel and Torre São Rafael were designed by José Quintela. The two towers are named after two of Vasco da Gama’s ships and the top of the towers are built to look like the prow of a boat and. Each tower is 110m in height and made up of 25 floors of residential flats.

Centro Vasco da Gama, Parque das Nações, Lisbon
Torre São Gabriel and Torre São Rafael, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Pavilhão Atlântico (Atlantic Pavilion, also known as Altice Arena) is a large multipurpose arena designed by Regino Cruz with a roof of wooden beams based on the inverted framework of a 16th-century ship and which appears to be a cross between a marine creature and a spaceship.

Pavilhão Atlântico, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Oceanário de Lisboa (Lisbon’s Oceanarium) consists of two buildings. The original building, the Oceans’ Building, was designed by the American architect Peter Chermayeff and is surrounded by water and accessed by a bridge to give the impression of boarding a boat about to embark on a voyage. The main aquarium contains over 100 species from all the oceans of the world. The newer Sea Building designed by Pedro Campos Costa is covered in ceramic tiles created by the Spanish ceramicist Toni Cumella which represent fish scales.

Oceanário de Lisboa, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Other buildings may have less of a connection to the theme of oceans, but are important in terms of modern architecture.

Gare do Oriente (Oriente station) is one of the most emblematic structures in the Parque das Nações. It was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava the pièce de résistance being the stark skeletal roof of steel and glass, with gothic-inspired arches and columns, which gives it the appearance of a modern cathedral.

Oriente station, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Floating silently above the Parque das Nações are the cable cars which allow a bird’s eye view of the neighbourhood. They run between the two Telecabine Lisboa stations at the Vasco da Gama Tower (to the north) and the Oceanarium (to the south).

Cable cars, Torre Vasco da Gama and Ponte Vasco da Gama, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

The Pavilhão do Conhecimento – Centro Ciência Viva (The Pavilion of Knowledge Science Centre) is an interactive science and technology museum. It was designed by the architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça along minimalist lines where visitors enter the museum along a dark corridor with walls containing mathematical symbols and then find themselves in a large bright foyer with walls made of aluminium-covered panels with cut-out ASCILL symbols (the universal computer language).

The Pavilhão de Portugal (Portugal Pavilion) is a building used for temporary exhibitions with a distinctive inverted canopy roof over the outdoor space, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira.

The controversial Casino de Lisboa, which opened in 2006 in the former Pavilhão do Futuro building, which had stood empty for several years after Expo ’98. The original building was designed by Paula Santos, Rui Ramos and Miguel Guedes, but redesigned by Fernando Jorge Correia when it was turned into a casino. It is hard to miss the building with the words ‘Casino Lisboa’ in enormous diagonal letters across the black-glass front of the building.

On the outskirts of the Parque das Nações is a reminder of the area’s former industrial past, the Torre da Galp (Galp Tower), an oil tower which was part of a former oil refinery which has been preserved as a symbol of the area’s industrial past.

Torre da Galp, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Art and sculpture in the Parque das Nações

The Expo ’98 Public Art Project has resulted in over 50 works of modern art and sculpture by famous Portuguese and international artists throughout the area. It is like a free open-air art gallery. Here are a small number of examples.

‘Gil’ (1998), pictured at the top of this article, is a loveable cartoon character with a wave for his hair, created by the sculptor Artur Moreira and the painter António Modesto, and who was the official mascot of Expo ’98. He is named ‘Gil’ as an homage to the 15th-century navigator Gil Eanes, who successfully sailed beyond the dangerous Cape Bojador on the West African coast in 1434.

Homenagem a Dom João II’ (‘Homage to King João II’, 1998) by Manuel Rosa depicts the king who ruled Portugal during the Age of Discovery as an abstract three-legged figure in bronze.

‘Homenagem a Dom João II’, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

Lago das Tágides’ (‘Lake of the Tagus Nymphs, 1998’) by João Cutileiro is a marble sculpture of naked women in a pool of water, some lying in the water, some kicking their legs and others bathing, while an empty boat is nearby. The sculpture is a reference to a verse from Canto I of Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) by Luís Vaz de Camões (1572) in which the narrator calls on the Tágides (the nymphs of the Tejo) to give him the voice to write an epic-poem about the Discoveries.

E vós, Tágides minhas, pois criado
Tendes em mi um novo engheno ardente,
Se sempre em verso humilde celebrado
Foi de mi vosso rio alegremente,
Dai-me agora um som alto e sublimado,
Um estilo grandílico e corrente,
Por que de vossas águas Febo ordene
Que não tenham enveja às de Hipocrene.

[And you, my nymphs of the Tejo, you have created
A new burning ingenuity in me,
If ever your joyful river was celebrated
In humble verse by me,
Now give me a loud and sublime voice,
In a style both grand and flowing,
Because Phoebus orders your waters
To not envy those of Hippocrene.]
(Canto I, verse 4)

Haveráguas’ (‘There are waters’, 1998) by the Chilean artist Roberto Matta has been turned into a large tiled panel with surrealist images of people doing various activities on the sea.

Haveráguas’, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

O Homem Muralha’ (‘The Wall Man’, 2008) by the Angolan-born artist Pedro Pires is a sculpture in iron of five men, all versions of the same man, standing in slightly different poses. Each man is constructed of pixels and the sculptures give rise to questions of identity in the modern world.

‘O Homem Muralha’, Parque das Nações, Lisbon

For anyone who loves modern architecture and modern art, it is worth making the 25-minute journey from the centre of Lisbon to a place totally different from the historic areas, but still with a sense of Lisbon style!

Practicalities

The Parque das Nações is extremely well-served by public transport, so much so that it is possible to use it as a base when visiting Lisbon.
Metro: Red line to Oriente station
Mainline train: Oriente station for the Intercidades and Alfa Pendular lines to Coimbra, Porto, Braga, Guimarães, Viana do Castelo, Évora and Faro; the Renfe sleeper trains to Madrid and Hendaye; and the local lines running between Alverca and Sintra and Azambuja and Alcântara-Terra.
Buses to and from Oriente station: 400, 705, 708, 725, 728, 744, 750, 759, 782 and 794

Lisbon, The bohemian vibe of Lisbon's Lx Factory

The bohemian vibe of Lisbon’s Lx Factory

There is no denying that the Lx Factory in Lisbon’s Alcântara district, next to the iconic 25th April Bridge, has a vibrant hippy-chicness and creative energy about it and as a result it is very popular with both Lisboetas and tourists who want something a little different from the standard shopping centres. The Lx Factory (‘Lx’ is pronounced ‘el sheesh’ and comes from the abbreviation often used for Lisbon) is a 23,000m2 complex of shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and small businesses in a former industrial area of Lisbon, which from the 1840s housed textile manufacturing, food processing and printing companies until it was finally abandoned and fell into disrepair. In 2008 the site was revived as a new creative space with small (but expensive) independent shops, ranging from clothing, jewellery, cosmetics and eyewear to wine, canned fish, books, art and home décor, alongside restaurants selling dishes from around the world, including one located in the original factory canteen of the former printing company. Many of the buildings on the site are as they were when they were abandoned and this gives the place a certain grittiness. The Lx Factory really comes alive after dark when the bars become full of young Lisboetas on a night out and the atmosphere changes completely from that of the daytime. The independent spirit of this place makes it the perfect location for drag events which are run by a group of drag queens at a venue in the complex. There is even a hostel in the complex, the Dorm, which adds to the youthful, communal spirit.

In keeping with the bohemian vibe, the Lx Factory boasts a large variety of urban art throughout the complex (and in the separate, but similarly creative, Village Underground co-working community next door, which has shared workspaces made of double-decker buses and shipping containers). Many pieces are by respected urban artists, such as Bordalo II, Mário Belém, Hugo Makarov, Mariana Dias Coutinho and Derlon, that even people a bit too old to embrace the Lx Factory’s youth-centric nightlife scene can still enjoy in the daytime!

Practicalities

Lx Factory, Rua Rodrigues Faria 103,Lisbon
Tram 15; buses 714, 727, 732, 751 (nearest stop Rua da Junqueira e Alcântara); train from Cais do Sodré or Cascais ( Alcântara-Mar station)

Art, Art on the Metro 5: Jardim Zoológico, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 5: Jardim Zoológico

When the Jardim Zoológico Metro station in Lisbon was expanded in 1995, the Portuguese artist Júlio Resende (1917-2011) was invited to decorate the walls of the platforms. He was inspired by the nearby Lisbon Zoo (Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa) to create large-scale hand-painted murals on the glazed tiles, depicting exotic animals and plants in tones of blue, green and yellow, so that the traveller is immersed in a lush Expressionist-style tropical forest.

Art, Art on the Metro 4: Martim Moniz, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 4: Martim Moniz

The Siege of Lisbon (also known as the Conquest of Lisbon), which took place in 1147, is a significant event in Portuguese history. That year the newly crowned King Afonso I of Portugal formed an army made up of Crusaders from Northern Europe to overthrow the Moorish presence in Lisbon, promising them the spoil. Despite the attacks on St George’s castle, which enclosed the Moorish city, the Moors held King Afonso’s army off for four months, but eventually the Christian army gained entry, overpowering the Moors, and then going on to ransack the city and murder anyone who got in their way. There is a legend that a knight called Martim Moniz, who was fighting in King Afonso’s army, lay down in the doorway so that the Moors couldn’t shut it, thus allowing the Christian army to enter. Despite being badly injured, the legend goes on to say that he got up and continued fighting until he finally died of his injuries. He is considered a hero in Lisbon and there is a small bust of him on a wall in the castle and he even has a square and the adjacent Metro station named after him in Lisbon.

In the Metro station the story of the Siege of Lisbon is told on the walls of the platforms through stylised minimalist cartoon-like characters created in marble by the sculptor José João Brito (b.1941) in 1997. Characters include two horses; the two bishops, D. João Peculiar (who successfully negotiated with the King of León and Castile for Portuguese independence in 1143) and D. Pedro Pitões (who persuaded the Crusaders to join King Afonso I in his attack on Lisbon); Crusaders, represented by Hervey de Glanvill (the leader of the Crusaders) and Simon of Dover (the leader of the Anglo-Norman forces); D. Afonso Henriques (King Afonso I of Portugal); and, of course, Martim Moniz, shown throwing himself between the doors.

Art, Art on the Metro 3: Restauradores, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 3: Restauradores

As travellers leave Restauradores Metro station at the Avenida da Liberdade exit they come face-to-face with a large colourful tiled mural by the Brazilian artist Luiz Ventura (b. 1930) called ‘Brasil-Portugal: 500 anos – A Chegança’ (which roughly translates to ‘Brazil-Portugal: 500 years – The Historical Folk Play’). It was completed in 1994 and added to the station to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s discovery of Brazil in 1500. It is a depiction of a symbolic reenactment of the Portuguese explorers landing in Brazil and comments on the impact of the Age of Discovery. The Portuguese colonialists are shown aboard a caravel wearing expensive clothes and holding the navigational tools associated with the 15th– and 16th-century explorations, including a map, a compass and an armillary sphere, as well as one holding a book and pen and another, a soldier, holding a spear. They represent science, culture and military power. Also on board the caravel is a man in religious robes holding an open Bible and looking up to Heaven, representing the Catholic religion that the Portuguese brought to Brazil. Beside him is an angel and in front of her is a devil, symbolizing good and evil. In front of the devil is a chest containing chains and restraints, which disturbingly reminds us of the slave trade. On the left-hand side of the mural, outside of the caravel, are exotic fruits, flowers, plants, a bird, decorative pots and a mask, all representing the differences between the newly discovered Brazil and the old world Portugal. In the background is a caravel sailing towards the Brazilian coast, about to bring major changes to the indigenous societies. Look closely and you will see a ghostly figure on the far left of the group of Portuguese explorers, giving rise to a sense of uneasiness and foreboding.

Art, Art on the Metro 2: Cais do Sodré, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 2: Cais do Sodré

Travellers using the Metro station at Cais do Sodré are greeted by a series of floor-to-ceiling-high rabbits painted in blue on the white tiles. On one wall the rabbits are running towards the trains and on the other they are running towards the exit. The rabbits, all wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch, are based on the John Tenniel illustration of the White Rabbit character from the children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865), who famously runs down the rabbit hole saying, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ The paintings were done by Pedro Morais (1944-2018) in 1998 when the Metro station first opened, but they were based on sketches that the Surrealist painter António Dacosta (1914-1990) had done for the station before he died. The White Rabbit seems very a fitting image for a busy commuter station, where, like Alice, we follow him down the rabbit hole into the bowels of the station!

Art, Art on the Metro 1: Aeroporto, Lisbon

Art on the Metro 1: Aeroporto

The Lisbon Metro was extended as far as the airport in 2012 when an additional section was added to the red line, finally offering a quick and easy link between the airport and the centre of Lisbon. The artwork on the walls of this station, which was added at the same time, shows caricatures of 50 famous Portuguese men and woman from the late-nineteenth century to the present day, ranging from the worlds of literature, art, music and film to science, politics and sport. Most are unknown outside of Portugal, but they are there as familiar faces to welcome returning Portuguese travellers and also to introduce themselves to curious tourists. The caricatures, which are made of white and black stone, were created by the cartoonist António Antunes and depict: Francisco Sá Carneiro (politician (Social Democratic Party) and former Prime Minister of Portugal, 1934-1980), Álvaro Cunhal (Communist politician who fought against the Dictatorship, 1913-2005), Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (artist and ceramicist, depicted with his most famous creation, Zé Povinho, 1846-1905), Carlos Lopes (former long-distance runner, b. 1947), Paula Rego (artist, b. 1935), Mário Cesariny (surrealist poet, 1923-2006), Duarte Pacheco (engineer and politician who is associated with a number of public works, 1900-1943),

Duarte Pacheco

Carlos Paredes (composer and accomplished Portuguese guitar player, 1925-2004),

Carlos Paredes

João Abel Manta (artist, b. 1928),

João Abel Manta

Vitorino Nemésio (writer, 1901-1978),

Vitorino Nemésio

Aquilino Ribeiro (writer, 1885-1963), Júlio Pomar (artist, 1926-2018), Luís de Freitas Branco (composer, 1890-1955), Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (Abstract Expressionist artist, 1908-1992), Maria João Pires (pianist, b. 1944), Virgílio Ferreira (Existentialist writer, 1916-1996), Amália Rodrigues (Fado singer, 1920-1999),

Amália Rodrigues

Raul Solnado (comedian, 1929-2009), João Villaret (actor, 1913-1961), António Silva (actor, 1886-1971), Vasco Santana (actor, 1898-1958), Beatriz Costa (actress, 1907-1996), António Sérgio (philosopher, 1883-1969), José Saramago (Nobel Prize-winning writer, 1922-2010), António Egas Moniz (Nobel Prize-winning neurologist, 1874-1955), António Lobo Antunes (writer, b. 1942), Stuart Carvalhais (artist, 1887-1961), Amadeo Souza-Cardoso (artist, 1887-1918), Fernando Pessoa (writer, 1888-1935), Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (artist, 1857-1929), José Cardoso Pires (writer, 1925-1998), Alexandre O’Neil (Surrealist poet, 1924-1986), Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (poet, 1919-2004), Fernando Lopes-Graça (composer and conductor, 1906-1994), Cassiano Branco (architect, 1897-1970), Porfírio Pardal Monteiro (architect, 1897-1957), David Mourão-Ferreira (writer, 1927-1996), Leopoldo de Almeida (sculptor, 1898-1975), José de Almada Negreiros (Modernist artist and writer, 1893-1970), Carlos Gago Coutinho (1869-1959) and Artur Sacadura Cabral (1881-1924) (aviators who made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic in 1922), Natália Correira (writer, 1923-1993), José Viana da Motta (pianist and composer, 1868-1948), Ferreira de Castro (writer, 1898-1974), Calouste Gulbenkian (businessman and philanthropist, he created the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, 1869-1955), Agostinho da Silva (philosopher, 1906-1994),

Agostinho da Silva

Eusébio da Silva Ferreira (football player, 1942-2014), Diogo Freitas do Amaral (politician (Social Democratic Centre Party) and former Prime Minister of Portugal, 1941-2019), Eça de Queiroz (writer, 1845-1900), and Mário Soares (politician (Socialist Party) and former Prime Minister and President of Portugal, 1924-2017).

Architecture, Cais do Sodré station: an Art Deco gem in Lisbon, Lisbon

Cais do Sodré station: an Art Deco gem in Lisbon

Opposite the lively Time Out Market on Avenida 24 de Julho in Lisbon is the busy Cais do Sodré station, where passengers arrive and leave by train, metro or ferry throughout the day. Commuters and tourists alike travel to and from places such as Belém, Estoril and Cascais by train and Cacilhas, Seixal and Montijo by ferry.

As people hurry through the station concourse, few stop to notice the beautiful Art Deco design of the original parts of the building, which were built in 1928 by the architect Porfírio Pardal Monteiro, to replace the basic station that had been there since 1895. The original features of the Art Deco station include the main facade of white concrete, glass and iron. The top of central section of the facade, which is the main entrance to the station, is curved and at ground level there are large rectangular glass doors in iron frames topped by a large glass arched window decorated with Art Deco features in blue, black and gold, all of which allow light to flood into the station. Over the main entrance is a large steamlined unsupported portico. This central section is flanked by two rectangular sections with decorative bronze columns running down the sides, symbolic bronze Bas-reliefs depicting naked muscular men holding industrial tools and modernist mosaics.

The original entrance hall which leads into the modern main concourse is a clean light space with a light-reflecting marble floor and angular marble columns and marble walls with entryways to the main station. Covering the entire back wall of the upper level is another window which mirrors the one on the facade, but (reminding people that this is station and time is of the essence) this one has a clock in the middle of it. The walls are decorated with panels of blue geometric-patterned tiles and the arched ceiling is decorated with black, grey and white square tiles within larger black rectangles, with a border of coloured semi-circles below. An Art Deco-style wrought-iron balcony surrounds the upper level.

The design of this part of the station creates a clean, streamlined, stylish, modern effect which symbolised train travel in the 1920s. Unfortunately this design doesn’t extend to the main concourse where you are transported back to the 21st century with a jolt!

History, Lisbon, Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon: an homage to those who perished in a war that should never have happened

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon: an homage to those who perished in a war that should never have happened

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

The Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar (Monument to the Overseas Combatants) is an important war memorial which pays homage to all those who died in the Portuguese Colonial War which ran from 1961 to 1974 and it is the Portuguese equivalent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (both honour the people who died in controversial wars). The Colonial War (also known as the Overseas War) was a dark time in recent Portuguese history in which the right-wing dictatorship led by António de Oliveira Salazar (who was Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968) wanted to maintain Portuguese control of the African colonies, namely Angola, Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) and Mozambique, against the growing independence movements in these countries. Salazar’s reason was two-fold: the income from the colonies helped to support a financially impoverished Portugal; and through the idea of the Empire he aimed to remind people of Portugal’s glorious past and divert attention away from the difficult situation at home where his economic policies had left many people in poverty. In order to suppress the rising African nationalist movements Salazar embarked on a bloody and expensive war that would involve, at its height, approximately 217,000 members of the armed forces (mainly young men who were conscripted for three years military service, totalling over the 13 years of the the war almost 1 million conscriptees) and resulted in the death of around 10,000 of them (the large majority of whom were in the Army). There was a growing opposition to the war, but any signs of dissent were met with arrest, torture and often deportation. Portugal was also being sanctioned by other countries that opposed the war (and in some cases even supported the nationalist movements). The war finally came to an end in April 1974 when a group of army rebels comprised of left-wing officers from the MFA (Armed Forces Movement) held an almost bloodless revolution that overthrew the dictatorship. The new government almost immediately withdrew the military from the African territories and agreed to give these countries independence.

The Monument to the Overseas Combatants, which was inaugurated in 1994, is located next to the Combatant Museum at the Forte do Bom Sucesso in Belém. It was designed by a team of architects led by Francisco Guedes de Carvalho and is marked by its peacefulness and simplicity. The main focus is a striking abstract triangular sculpture made of stone, metal and mirrored glass, which sits over a pool of water and in the centre of the sculpture is a burning flame. There are two small guard huts in front of the sculpture which are manned by various sectors of the armed forces. At six o’clock every evening there is a simple but moving changing of the guard where the guards honour the dead servicemen. In 2000, plaques with the 10,000 names of all the people who died in the conflict were added to the walls that surround the monument, separated out into year and alphabetical order within each year. It is quite sobering to see how many people died as the names continue around the three sides of the Monument. The memorial wall also includes names of people who died in peace and humanitarian operations and there is also a separate sculpture commemorating these people to one side of the Monument. On Portugal Day (10th June) former combatants of the Colonial War gather at the monument to remember their fallen comrades.

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Memorial wall, Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to Combatents of Peace Missions at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

Behind the Monument is the Capela do Combatente (Combatant’s Chapel), a small chapel which is accessed through a doorway in the memorial wall. The chapel has a simple marble altar, above which is the ‘Mutilated Christ’, a wooden sculpture that survived a battle of 1916 in France and on the back wall there is a replica of the maimed ‘Christ of the Trenches’ crucifix in which Christ has lost a hand and the bottom half of both legs (this watches over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Batalha Monastery and the symbolic importance of this crucifix to Portuguese soldiers dates back to the First World War, as it is all that remains of the crucifix from Neuve-Chapelle which was destroyed in a battle of 1918 and was later donated to Portugal by the French Government in recognition of the Portuguese soldiers’ bravery in the battle). A small passageway leads to a room lit by natural light from a skylight. This room houses the tomb of an unknown soldier whose body was brought back from the Colonial War in Portuguese Guinea and over the tomb is a suspended Christ, symbolically risen from the dead.

Altar of chapel at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the chapel at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

The Monument is surprisingly close to the very popular Belém Tower, where large groups of tourists gather all day long, but thankfully they don’t tend walk as far as the Monument to the Overseas Combatants and it remains a tranquil place to pay homage to the 10,000 people who died in a war that should never have happened.

Practicalities

Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar, Forte do Bom Sucesso, Avenida de Brasília, Belém
Open daily, free access.
Public transport: Tram 15; Buses 714, 727, 729, 751

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-Mar station)