Festivals, Lisbon, The Festival of Saint Anthony in Lisbon: a celebration of weddings, parades and the humble sardine

The Festival of Saint Anthony in Lisbon: a celebration of weddings, parades and the humble sardine

Picture (2142)
Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony’s church, Lisbon

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’).

Picture (1082)
Saint Anthony brides and grooms on the balcony of Lisbon City Hall, Praça do Município, Lisbon
Picture (1137)
Saint Anthony brides and grooms dancing outside Lisbon City Hall, Praça do Município, Lisbon
Picture (1052)
VenusMonti tuna group, Praça do Município, Lisbon

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.

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!’).

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 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 A Canção 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.

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.

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!

Picture (1235)
A manjerico plant

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.

Picture (1571)
Procession of Saint Anthony, Lisbon

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.

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.

Viva o Santo António!

Fado Museum, Lisbon, Lisbon, Portuguese music

Fado Museum, Lisbon

Photo 01522
‘Carlos Paredes’ by Pedro Guimarães, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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.

The Museu do Fado (Fado Museum) is located in the Alfama district in the Edifício do Recinto da Praia, a former water pumping station.

Photo 01525
Fado Museum, Lisbon

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!

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.

Photo 01472
The origins of fado, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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).

Photo 01478
‘O Fado’ by José Malhoa, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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.

Photo 01477
‘Casa da Mariquinhas’, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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.

Photo 01500
Archive film of Amália Rodrigues, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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.

Photo 01496
Censored material, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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.

Photo 01517
Archive film of Carlos do Carmo, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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.

Photo 01490
‘O Marinheiro’ by Constantino Fernandes, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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).

Photo 01497
‘Família’ by Arnaldo Louro de Almeida, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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.

Photo 01499
‘Lisboeta’ by Cândido da Costa Pinto, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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).

Photo 01518
‘Carlos Paredes’ by Júlio Pomar, Fado Museum, Lisbon
Photo 01503
Fado stars, Fado Museum, Lisbon

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.

Buses: 728, 735, 759, 794; Metro: Santa Apolónia

Entrance tickets, Fado Museum, Lisbon


Lisbon, Under the shade of a giant cypress tree

Under the shade of a giant cypress tree

Picture (1457)In the Praça do Príncipe Real, right in the heart of the Bairro Alto in Lisbon, is a giant Mexican cypress tree (Cupressus Lusitanica). Its trunk has a circumference of 4 metres and its branches span 26 metres in diameter, requiring a large iron trellis to support them. Despite suffering a major fire and acts of vandalism the tree has survived for nearly 150 years and offers Lisboetas a lovely shady spot under which to sit.

History, Lisbon, The Marquês de Pombal – the liberal despot who rebuilt Lisbon

The Marquês de Pombal – the liberal despot who rebuilt Lisbon

picture 00001 (0403)If you stand on the viewing platform at the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa in Lisbon there is a wonderful view of the Baixa district below with its grid-like streets and spacious squares, and it is hard to image that it wasn’t always like this. But before 1755 the district was made up of narrow winding streets situated behind the large Ribeira Palace (the former royal palace in what is now the Praça do Comércio, which can be seen in the famous panorama of Lisbon c.1700 in the Azulejo Museum).

picture 00001 (559)-Rua de Santa Justa, Castle and Graca Church
Rua de Santa Justa, Graça church and St George’s Castle from Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon
picture 00001 (325)
Ribeira Palace and the Baixa district c.1700 (from a panel in the Azulejo Museum, Lisbon)

In 1755 an earthquake that is said to have reached up to 9 on the Richter scale hit Lisbon on the morning of 1st November, followed by a tidal wave. Then fires brokes out all over the city, believed to have been started by candles in the churches lit for All Saints’ Day. Much of the city was completely destroyed, particularly the Baixa district and the Ribeira Palace. Although it is unknown how many people died, it is estimated to be between 30,000 and 90,000; many as a result of the famine that ensued.

At the time, the country was ruled by King José I, who was not interested in governing and was happy to let his Prime Minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), better known as the Marquês de Pombal (which he became in 1770), run the country. The Marquês de Pombal is a controversial figure in Portuguese history, as he was a liberal who brought about many reforms, but dealt harshly with anyone who opposed him. He had a no-nonsense response to the situation after the earthquake, summed up in a quotation attributed to him, saying that they needed to ‘bury the dead and take care of the living’. He immediately ordered the precarious buildings in the Baixa to be demolished and, with architects Eugénio dos Santos and Manuel da Maia, set about designing and rebuilding the area in a grid pattern, with low-rise functional buildings, wide streets and large squares, all designed to withstand future earthquakes. He also introduced a sewerage system and wells for clean water to prevent disease spreading. He is even responsible for introducing the calçada (cobbled pavement) to Lisbon. He wanted the Baixa to be the commercial area of the city, with the shops grouped together according to their trade. Today streets in the Baixa still retain the names of these trades, such as Rua do Ouro (Gold Street), Rua da Prata (Silver Street) and Rua dos Sapateiros (Shoemakers Street). The squares of Praça Dom Pedro IV (also known as Rossio), Praça da Figueira and Praça do Comércio were built during this period. The redesign also included retaining the ruins of the Carmo Church as a memorial to the earthquake. The naked gothic arches against the skyline are still one of the most dramatic and sobering images in Lisbon.picture 00001 (0552)

His style of town planning and architecture brought a new adjective, ‘Pombaline’, into the language and with this style he is said to have modernised Lisbon.

As a liberal he wanted to give more power to the middle classes and increase the number of bankers and merchants, in part to finance the rebuilding of the Baixa, but mainly to diminish the power of the aristocracy and the church, in particular the Jesuits. His liberal reforms included abolishing slavery, reforming education, the law, agriculture, industry and trade and giving equal rights to New Christians (former Jews who had converted to Christianity). However, his liberalism didn’t extend as far as people who opposed him; in that respect he ruled like a dictator. He was ruthless in eliminating his enemies, to the extent of implicating some of his opponents in an attempt on the King’s life and having them killed for treason. Political and religious dissenters were imprisoned, he introduced censorship and he was merciless in his suppression of the Jesuits, expelling them from Portugal in 1759 and even having 10 Jesuit priests burnt in one of the final auto-da-fés in Portugal. His period of governance came to an abrupt end in 1777 when King José I died and his daughter, Maria, became queen. He was sacked (not surprisingly, as he had schemed to remove Maria from the line of succession) and then charged with serious offences committed during his 27 years in government. He managed to avoid going to prison due to his advanced years. Despite Queen Maria I’s dislike of him, his legacy of reform mainly survived, except for his religious reforms, which she repealed.

The statue on the Praça do Marquês de Pombal roundabout, built between 1917 and 1934 by the architects Arnaldo Redondo, Adães Bermudes and António do Couto, along with sculptors Francisco dos Santos and (after his death) José Simões de Almeida and Leopoldo Neves de Almeida, is a fitting tribute to the man and his reforms (although it overlooks his darker deeds!). Positioned at the end of the Avenida da Liberdade near the Parque Eduardo VII, the bronze statue of the Marquês de Pombal standing alongside a lion looks down the avenue towards the Baixa area that he created.

At the top of the 40-metre pedestal on which he stands are medallions of men who worked with him: Machado de Castro, Luís da Cunha, Eugénio dos Santos and Manuel da Maia and below them are a list of his reforms.picture 00001 (0393) Lower down the monument are sculptures depicting his main areas of reform, dominated by two large sculptures: on one side an ox pulling a plough alongside agricultural workers, one of whom is carrying a basket of grapes, to represent the agricultural industry; and on the other a horse and a group of manual workers pulling a boat loaded with port barrels and draped with a fishing net to represent the port and fishing industries. The scale and attention to detail is breathtaking.picture 00001 (0043) 0001picture 00001 (0394) 0001 At the back of the monument in front of the mausoleum is a bronze figure of the Roman goddess Minerva symbolizing education. At the front is the prow of a ship with the Lisbon coat of arms and on either side of it are two powerful images of a collapsing building and a tidal wave depicting the earthquake.

Above the prow of the ship is a semi-nude female figure representing the new Pombaline Lisbon. picture 00001 (0396)The fact that the statue was inaugurated in the early years of Salazar’s Estado Novo (New State) can’t be ignored and it played to the nationalist values of the dictatorship. Comparisons can be drawn between the two men, particularly in their fierce intolerance of anyone who opposed them. However, while Salazar’s policies had left Portugal as a backward country at the time of the 1974 revolution, the Marquês de Pombal will always be remembered as the man who rebuilt Lisbon and through his liberal reforms brought Portugal into the modern era.

Art, Lisbon, The Azulejo Museum, Lisbon: a celebration of a Portuguese art form

The Azulejo Museum, Lisbon: a celebration of a Portuguese art form



The azulejo (decorative tile) is without doubt the art form synonymous with Portugal and it is fitting that it should have a museum dedicated to it, but the great thing about azulejo art is that it can been seen all over Portugal: on the facades of buildings, on walls of churches and palaces, and even in Lisbon metro stations. The word azulejo originates from the Arabic az-zuleij which refers to the smooth polished stones they used to create mosaic-patterned tiles and the azulejo art form in southern Europe originated with the Moors, who brought it to Spain in the eighth century. The Azulejo Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) in the Xabregas district of Lisbon charts the history of tile-making in Portugal from the early Hispano-Moresque tiles to the present day and shows the changes in techniques and styles throughout the centuries, beginning in the early-sixteenth century when tiles made in Valencia and Seville were imported to Portugal. These were designed in an Islamic style comprising colourful geometric patterns and so that the colours didn’t run into each other during firing two techniques were developed: the corda seca (dry cord) method, in which a groove was carved into the damp clay; and the aresta (ridge) method, in which ridges were produced in the damp clay.

picture 00001 (218)
Hispano-Moorish tiles (16th century)

In the mid-sixteenth century, Italian artists came to live in Lisbon and brought with them a method of painting directly onto the clay using a tin oxide coating to stop the colours running and this allowed the tile to have a smooth surface rather than the grooves and ridges of the Hispano-Moresque tiles. This method, known as majolica, was adopted in Portugal and hence the Portuguese azulejo was born. Early Portuguese azulejo panels depicted religious imagery and one of the most beautiful examples is the retable of Nossa Senhora da Vida (‘Our Lady of Life’, attributed to Marçal de Matos, c.1580), which includes images of the adoration of the shepherds and St John.

picture 00001 (220)
Retable of ‘Nossa Senhora da Vida’ (c.1580)

The seventeenth century saw a great variety of styles developing in the azulejo art form. Azulejos de Padrão or Tapetes (rugs) were so named as they resembled Moorish rugs hanging on a wall. They usually comprised repeated patterns in blue, yellow and white and often had an inset panel depicting a religious scene. In this century the wealthy were decorating their houses with secular azulejo panels, often depicting battles from Portuguese history, episodes from the Discoveries, scenes from mythology, and hunting scenes. Techniques used to create Dutch delftware were adopted by the makers of azulejos and allowed artists to include more detail in their pictures. It was also popular to use exotic patterns on altar frontals, inspired by those on printed textiles imported from India, rather than traditional religious imagery.


A major change in the style of the azulejo occurred in the late-seventeenth century, influenced by blue and white porcelain imported from China, which had become fashionable in Portugal. Artists began painting pictures solely in blue paint on the white background of the tile and it is still the style most associated with the azulejo and is one reason some people erroneously assume the word azulejo comes from azul (the Portuguese word for ‘blue’). By the eighteenth-century Portugal had become the largest producer of tiles and in this decade panels depicting scenes of daily life, such as people on a terrace or a lady at her dressing table, and others decorated with colourful vases of flowers, known as Albarradas, became popular. The influence of the Baroque and Rococo movements resulted in azulejo panels gaining ornate flourishes, such as colourful borders of cherubs, shells and plants. After the earthquake of 1755 it also became common to cover the exterior of buildings with azulejos, to protect it as well as decorate it. To meet the demand an earthenware factory opened in the Rato district of Lisbon which produced tiles with simple repetitive designs for the walls of kitchens and hallways.


The mass-production of azulejos in the mid-nineteenth century meant that ordinary people could afford them and they were no longer just for the elite. However, one of the highlights of this period is a series of self-indulgent azulejo panels telling the rags-to-riches story of António Joaquim Carneiro, a wealthy Lisbon hatmaker. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries fashions continued to evolve, from art noveau works by the notable late-nineteenth-century artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, through the early-twentieth-century Art Deco movement to later-twentieth- and twenty-first-century works such as ‘Lisbonne aux Mille Couleurs’ (1937) by Paolo Ferreira, ‘Os Reis Magos’ (‘The Three Kings’, 1945) and ‘A Pintura e a Escultura’ (‘Painting and Sculpture’, 1954) by Jorge Barradas, ‘Camões’ (1988) by Júlio Pomar (from a panel in the Alto dos Moinhos metro station), and ‘Albarrada’ 2001 by Bela Silva (an homage to the eighteenth-century fashion for panels depicting vases of flowers).


The Azulejo Museum is housed in the former Madre de Deus convent which was founded in 1509 by Queen Leonor (wife of João II and sister of Manuel I who succeeded João II). It was built in the Manueline style, but much of it was damaged during the 1755 earthquake and it was rebuilt in the eighteenth century. However, some Manueline elements can still be seen on the façade and in the cloister with the Saint Auta fountain and geometrical tiles (although these tiles date from the nineteenth century). The church and the Chapel of Saint Anthony are wonderfully Baroque, with opulent gold decoration, panels of azulejos depicting biblical scenes and scenes from the life of Saint Anthony, ornate altars and paintings on the walls and ceilings. The café is also worth visiting for its eighteenth-century azulejo panels depicting fish and animals hanging up waiting to be prepared for cooking.


The pièce de résistance, on the top floor of the museum, housed in a room of its own, is a 23-metre-long panorama of Lisbon dating from around 1700 (attributed to the painter Gabriel del Barco). It gives a detailed view of how the city, from Xabregas to Algés, looked before the devastating earthquake of 1755. It is fun to try and find at all the recognisable buildings that survived, such as Saint George’s Castle, Lisbon Cathedral, the Madre de Deus Convent, the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower, but it is also fascinating to see the buildings that didn’t survive the earthquake, such as the Dukes of Braganza Palace and the Ribeira Palace (the former royal palace in what is now Praça do Comércio). It acts as an important historical document of what daily life was like in Lisbon in the early 1700s, with scenes of activity in the Ribeira market and on the river.

picture 00001 (321)
Panorama of Lisbon (c.1700)


In the past the process of creating an azulejo panel was labour-intensive. A clay square was fired and then covered with a glaze onto which a picture was drawn and then painted with a special paint. Larger panels were painted as a whole and then each tile was numbered before the panel was taken apart and reassembled after firing. Nowadays the majority of azulejos are made in factories where each tile is printed by a machine. However, some are still hand painted and are keeping this most Portuguese of art forms very much alive, as the museum makes testament to.


Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Rua da Madre de Deus, Lisbon

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm (closed Mondays, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June, 25 December, 1 January)

Entrance: €5

Bus: 718, 742, 794 and the open-top buses

On foot: it is a 20-minute walk from Santa Apolónia station. Ensure you walk in a north-easterly direction along Rua Caminhos de Ferro  (with the railway lines on your right) – we made the mistake of walking to the right of Santa Apolónia station and found ourselves in an unsavoury area underneath the flyover and not sure if we would be able to get across the railway lines (thankfully we were able!).


Lisbon, Time Out Market Lisbon

Time Out Market Lisbon

Photo 00090
Time Out Market, Lisbon

The Time Out Market is housed in the late-nineteenth-century Mercado da Ribeira building, which is locally referred to as the ‘Turnip Mosque’ because of the cupola on the roof. The market was originally one of the main food markets for the city and even had its own slaughterhouse, but by 2000 it had lost its role as a wholesale market and the building needed to find a new purpose. The Lisbon branch of Time Out magazine had the idea of turning it into a place where people could buy good quality tried-and-tested food and drink from independent stalls, based on the notion that good eating and drinking places are included in the magazine, so why not have the same principle with the market? All the food is tested by an independent panel of experts before the stall is included in the market. This means that, in theory, there is only very good quality food and drink on sale. The Time Out Market opened in 2014 and is now one of the must-see places for tourists to visit in Lisbon, with over three and a half million visitors in 2017.

There are 24 eateries and eight bars catering for all tastes in the market. They all have established and respected restaurants or cafés elsewhere and range from those selling savoury snacks, such as Olhó Bacalhau, Croquetaria and Manteigaria Silva, or ice cream or cakes, such as Santini and Nós é Mais Bolos, to those serving main dishes designed by respected Portuguese chefs, such as Henrique Sá Pessoa, Miguel Castro e Silva, Miguel Laffan, Marlene Vieira and Alexandre Silva, and food from around the world, such as Asian Lab and Pizza a Pezzi. Some of the food stalls serving fish dishes have fish tanks where you can choose your dinner just like the expensive restaurants in the city, although this isn’t something I enjoy seeing. There are also plenty of stalls selling drinks ranging from fruit juices at Compal Frutológica to cocktails at Cinco e Meio. The centre of the large hall is full of communal tables where you take your food, so you can order a starter from one stall, a main course from a completely different stall and a dessert from another. If you time it right you may even get to see a cookery demonstration.

Just a warning. Even though it’s a food market, don’t expect it to be cheap. A night out with food and drink can work out as expensive as ordering a meal in a restaurant but without the waiter service or comfortable seating. For example, we paid €12 for two glasses of wine. It also gets really busy at night, especially at weekends, and I saw many people having to eat their food standing up. It has recently become popular with stag and hen groups who make a day of drinking here.

The upstairs area is an open space which is used for a variety of things. Concerts are often held here, but on the day we visited there was a clothes fair, which was a bit like a jumble sale. It’s worth going upstairs to see the pretty azulejos at the bottom and top of the stars and for the view of the Time Out Market from above. If you’re a fan of traditional markets there is still a daily market (Monday to Saturday mornings) in the hall in the other half of the building.


Time Out Market Lisbon, Mercado da Ribeira, Avenida 24 de Julho, Lisbon (opposite Cais do Sodré station)

Open: Sunday to Wednesday 10am-midnight; Thursday to Saturdays 10am-2am

There is a list of all the stalls here.

Lisbon, Palácio da Assembléia Nacional de São Bento – the home of Portuguese democracy

Palácio da Assembléia Nacional de São Bento – the home of Portuguese democracy

picture 00001 (1386)
Palácio da Assembléia Nacional de São Bento, Lisbon

Some days the god of travellers smiles down on us and he must have been smiling on the day we stopped at the Palácio da Assembléia Nacional de São Bento, on our way back into the centre of Lisbon from the Basílica da Estrela, to take some photos of the Neoclassical exterior of the parliamentary building. We had finished taking photos of the allegorical Homeland by Simões de Almeida (1938) above the porch and the four sculptures of Prudence, Justice, Strength and Temperance by Raul Xavier, Maximiano Alves, Costa Mota and Barata Feio respectively (1941) and were about to continue on our way when we spotted people entering the building through a side door. We decided to find out what was happening, expecting to be turned away, but to our surprise and joy we discovered that the Portuguese equivalent of the House of Commons was hosting a European Heritage Day and had opened the building to the general public. After passing through an airport-style security check we were handed a glossy self-guided tour brochure in Portuguese and English, which gave detailed information about each area of the building. We were able to wander through the rooms at our own pace and there was no restriction on photography (so much better than the guided tour (with photo restrictions) that I took around the House of Commons in London).

picture 00001 (1312)
Palácio da Assembléia Nacional de São Bento, Lisbon

The original building was the Monastery of São Bento da Saúde, designed by Baltazar Alvares and dating from 1598. Parts of the original monastery still exist, but much of the building was redesigned by Ventura Terra in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries to make it look more parliamentary. Even if you are not interested in politics, the building is worth a visit for the architecture and the vast collection of art and sculptures by important Portuguese artists throughout. Inside, areas of the original monastery are still evident, such as the atrium with its pink and white marble floor which is part of the original church. The former saints have now been replaced with busts of eminent politicians, a statue of King Carlos I and an incongruous bust of Luís de Camões sculpted by José Aurélio in 1999.

From here a 1930s staircase leads to a landing on the walls of which are two breathtaking triptychs painted by Martins Barata in 1944, The Cortes of Leiria and Agriculture, Industry and Commerce. The Cortes of Leiria depicts the thirteenth-century cortes (parliament) with King Afonso III at the centre surrounded by the clergy, the nobility and, significantly, representatives of the common people. Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, as the name suggests, shows the importance of these three economic activities in fifteenth-century Portugal. In the central panel is Saint Vincent, representing Lisbon as the head of the country. Above the doors leading off the landing are eight pediments and on top of each are sensuous Neoclassical-style reclining figures by Leopoldo de Almeida representing the former Portuguese provinces.

More works of art are on display in the Lobby (also intriguingly known as the Sala dos Passos Perdidos (Hall of the Lost Steps)), which, positioned next to the Session Chamber, is a very grand waiting room and if it looks familiar, it is because this is where TV news reporters often interview politicians. It was designed by Terra in 1895 and its pink and white marble walls are decorated with paintings of former kings and statesmen, while the ceiling is decorated with allegories of concepts such as Homeland by Benvindo Ceia and Law, Justice and Wisdom by João Vaz.

The Lobby leads to the Session Chamber, probably the most famous room in the palace, as the Portuguese news shows the MPs orating and debating here on a daily basis. The chamber dates from 1903 and once again Terra used pink and white marble for the walls. It is dominated by a large oak desk with Lex (law) carved into it, which is where the President of the Assembly sits. Above the desk is a statue of Republic by Anjos Teixeira (1916) and a painting showing the 1821 Constituent Assembly by Veloso Salgado, surrounded by coats of arms by Benvindo Ceia. Statues representing democratic concepts, such as Constitution, Law, Eloquence, Justice and Diplomacy by sculptors including Costa Mota and Maximiano Alves, dating from 1921, are positioned around the chamber. The MPs’ seats are arranged in a semi-circle in front of the President’s desk and they are watched over from two public galleries.

The Hall of Honour, which was the former high chancel of the church of the monastery and is now used for official receptions, is notable for the frescos depicting nationalistic scenes of the Portuguese discoveries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, painted by Sousa Lopes, Domingos Rebelo and Joaquim Rebocho in the 1940s.

In contrast to the pink and white marbled walls of the Session Chamber, the Senate Chamber walls are covered with plaster designed to look like Siena marble and the room is dominated by a large walnut desk and on the wall behind it is a panel of carved cedarwood with figures of Royalty and Justice by Leandro Braga and a portrait of King Luís I by José Rodrigues (1866) in the middle of it. For me the pièce de résistance in this chamber is the ceiling, which appears to be bas-relief, but is in fact a very clever optical illusion painted by Pierre Bordes to look three-dimensional. Up until 1976, the year that Portugal’s political system became unicameral, this chamber was where the Peers of the Realm met. Nowadays this very formal-looking chamber is a used for committee meetings, conferences and most interestingly the biannual Young People’s Parliament.

Nearing the end of the tour, the library takes up four rooms in what were formerly the monks’ bedrooms. Although it was designed in 1936, it looks considerably older as the design by Adolfo Marques da Silva was based on libraries of the Renaissance period with shelving on two levels.

picture 00001 (1379)
Library, Palácio da Assembléia Nacional de São Bento, Lisbon

Despite this homage to the Renaissance, Neoclassicism is the dominant style throughout the palace and it continues into the formal garden at the back of the palace, the focus of which is two statues of Justice (Maximiano Alves, 1935) and Strength (sculptor unknown). The garden has a wall at the back separating the palace from the Prime Minister’s residence. In contrast to the garden, a small interior cloister with olives trees and an eighteenth-century fountain still has a monastic tranquillity to it.

With the exception of a couple of other rooms of little interest, the tour more or less ends at the Monks’ Refectory in the north-east wing of the building. It still contains the impressive eighteenth-century azulejo panels on the walls depicting events from the life of Saint Benedict alongside scenes of daily life. However, it is now a rather soulless visitors’ welcome centre and was full of white plastic chairs on the day we visited!

As I left this room I noted how the former monastery had been eclipsed by the Neoclassical architecture and had lost its original features in a way many other former monasteries in Portugal that I have visited haven’t. Ventura Terra had definitely fulfilled his brief to make it look more parliamentary.

Portuguese politics

Portugal is a republic and as such has a President as the head of state and a Prime Minister as the head of the government. The role of the President of the Republic is mainly a ceremonial role, but the President does have the power to dissolve parliament. As of February 2018 the Prime Minister is António Costa of the Socialist Party (elected in 2015) in coalition with the far-left parties (Left Bloc, Portuguese Communist Party and Ecologist Party ‘The Greens’). The government serves a term of four years. The current President of the Republic is the popular and charismatic centre-right Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (who stood as an independent) and who will serve a term of five years. He is not to be confused with the President of the Assembly of the Republic, which is a role equivalent to that of Speaker in the UK parliament and is elected by MPs. This role is currently held by Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues. There are 230 MPs who sit in the Session Chamber to the left or right of the President of the Assembly of the Republic’s desk in their parliamentary groups. The two main parties are the Partido Socialista (PS) (Socialist Party – a centre-left party) and Partido Social Democrata (PSD) (Social Democratic Party – a centre-right party). The other parties represented in the government are: Bloco Esquerdo (BE) (Left Bloc); Partido Comunista Português (PCP) (Portuguese Communist Party); Partido Popular (CDS-PP) (Central Democratic and Social – Popular Party); Partido Ecologista ‘Os Verdes’ (PEV) (Ecologist Party ‘The Greens); and Pessoas – Animais – Natureza (PAN) (People – Animals – Nature).


Palácio da Assembléia Nacional de São Bento, main entrance is on Rua Correia Garção (off Calçada da Estrela), Lisbon

Public transport: Metro: Rato (yellow line); Tram: 25 and 28; Bus: 706, 727, 773


Guided tours of the building are held on the last Saturday of the month. Tours are free but must be booked online in advance.

There is a virtual tour on the parliament website.