Neighborhood sights, Lisbon
In a hill in the north entrance of Lisbon a park surrounds the museums of costumes (Museu do Traje) and theatre (Museu do Teatro).
It´s a large and refreshing park with lots of botanical species and a well conceived sequence of alleys and fountains, with statues composing harmonious sights. A good break, in the outskirts of town.
One of the oldest traditions still in use in Lisbon is the "Volta Saloia" that consists in going out from Lisbon to the surrounding small towns and villages, from where the "saloios" - rural folks - used to feed Lisbon.
It's a search of nature, and culturally unspoilt people. Well, things are changing, and the landscape evidences the hand of progress and new energetic demands. But the volta saloia keeps on, always with a pretext for a meal in the "real country", and the good views of an old vulcanic area, with people progressively spreading across hills and valleys.
Next to Saint George’s Castle there’s a neighborhood full of old houses which is still occupied. I think many people don’t go there but it’s an opportunity to see how the city was, its tradition, and how people (majorly elderly people) live there.
Actually my great grandparents lived there all their life and my grandmother some years too, so I grew up knowing this neighborhood pretty well :)
If you enjoy exploring the areas outside the main tourist centers and historic districts, you could take a short trip out to see some of the largest street art I recall seeing.
There are three buildings all side by side, with each face of them completely canvased with large works. Some are more artistic, while others are more politically charged. Regardless, their size is impressive and you cannot dismiss the skill required to take on such a project.
The location is on the main street, right outside the "Picoas" metro station stairs.
What place is there left in our modern world without graffiti? Graffiti as we all know is something that sadly has become a fact of life everywhere especially in the technologically-advanced western societies. They're very much of an eyesore and many consider them a great assault on one's sense of order and decorum in terms of neatness in a civilized society.
Lisbon is not anymore immune to it. This beautiful city is plagued with graffiti. It is an unfortunate phenomenon which seemed to have taken a giant leap in vicious rapidity since the country joined the European Common Market in the mid-80's. The 'graffiti artists' (if we could call that to refer to some of them) may have been saying to the rest of us, "globalization?, well, here's more to that!."
But like any maligned and much misunderstood work...especially in matters of new creative expression, one would in no time find and discover a hidden message, artistic form and medium which after a well-intentioned search from one's capacity to be open enough the very key that could help bring a certain redemption to that something so easily dismissed.
So, when you're in Lisbon and during one of your leisurely walks especially around the old city wherein you very well noticed the graffitis, take a moment to stop and look to consider them slowly with an open mind and eye...because some and quite many of them actually approach a certain level of creative maturity and great artistry.
Lapa is a district of the capital to the west of the historic centre and, while it does have its run-down buildings, it also happens to be the seat of some of the country’s diplomatic missions. The Americans, Swedish, Chinese and various European countries all maintain beautiful Embassies here (security is tight, though!) and others have Official Residences (where the Ambassadors live). It’s a hill walk and, obviously, you can visit any of the Embassies without official business, but it is still fun to wander around, especially given the beautiful state of so many of the buildings.
Parque de Fonte Luminosa is a large green space in the Alvalade district of the capital, but it doesn’t really have much of a special significance. When I visited Lisbon in June 2010, the Parque was apparently under renovation and was not open to the public. Still, the huge green lawn sprawling up to the top of a hill are largely reminiscent of Fascist urban planning in other countries, and the Parque is a neat throwback to the desire to create super-human architecture.
Avenida Roma is supposed to be Lisbon’s premier shopping district, although I think that Avenida da Liberdade, in the centre of the city, has a better selection of high-end retailers. Nevertheless, this is a great place to see another side of the city, as it is largely devoid of tourists and almost all of the shoppers are Portuguese, including a healthy dose of “tias”, the nickname for the older, bejewelled women for who shopping is a sort of profession. Many of the stores here are independent chains that sell high-end European designer goods, but there are also some of the standard retailers at the southern end of the Avenue. The architecture is rather typical of the Estado Novo-era apartment blocks for the masses, with little to no trace of the original Arab settlements of Alvalade (which comes from the Arabic Al-Balada, or the Town). This is a good place to go to while away an hour or so, and a quick subway trip will always bring you right back to the historical centre of the city.
I’m not sure why there is virtually nothing written up about this institution, but the Casa de Macau is located in a beautiful pastel pink building across from the Praça de Príncipe Real. The building doesn’t seem to be open to visitors or to those looking for some sort of cultural initiation to Macau, but I think that may just be the product of an extremely small Portuguese community in the city (Macau) and the collapse of links between the it and the Metropolis. Nevertheless, the architecture of the building drew my attention, as it’s a great subject for photos.
The Rua do Poço dos Negros, the main thoroughfare of an area that was once known as the Poço dos Negros, used to be the heart of the African section of the Portuguese capital. Today, the area is largely mixed, as the rising prices of accommodation and real estate in the capital have led to people being forced into poorer neighbourhoods in order to live close to businesses and employment. There are still some traces of the neighbourhood’s original character, with a few African restaurants and bakeries, but for the most part it has been taken over by working-class Portuguese.
The Praça de São Bento is part of the area that leads up to the Palace of the same name and the Portuguese National Assembly. As such, it has a nice, interesting park as well as a statue dedicated to a great orator. Much like the road of the same name, the Square is bounded on one side by various buildings that are great examples of the tiled homes. There’s also a building, next to the municipal library, that is dedicated to the people of Timor, one of Portugal’s former city-state colonies in South-East Asia.
Cacilhas is a small town which is located on the southern bank of the river Tejo. It is home to a large dockyard and an historic city centre.
Most of the tourist activity takes place just around the Largo Alfredo Dinis square near the ferry port, where several fish restaurants can be found.
What I like about Cacilhas is the old and deserted quay which leads along the waterfront.
The oldest buildings on this quay date back to the late 17th century. The quay offers panoramic views of Lisbon on the other side of the river.
The quay ends at the lift "Elevador Panoramicoda Boca do Vento" which carries you up the cliff to Almada. Please read my "Off the beaten path tip - Trip to Almada" for more info about Almada.
Cacilhas can be reached with the orange Transtejo ferry from Cais Sodre. A single ticket is only 0,70 Euro (2006).
It all probably started for the Santos district of Lisbon when it became the site for a design school, the Instituto de Artes Visuais, Design e Marketing, commonly known as IADE nearly twenty years ago. But, over the last few years, the area has been attracting not just students but designers and architects. A supply of young creative talent plus large office spaces at very affordable rents has proved to be quite a pull for the creative industries ranging from furniture designer and architects to computer graphics artists.
Santos is near Lisbon’s docklands area but neighbouring districts include Lapa with its smart homes and embassies and Estrella, a pretty and very desirable but slightly less expensive area than luxurious Lapa. Buildings in Santos range from nineteenth century warehouses to older apartment blocks. Some, complete with French windows and wrought iron balconies, date back over two hundred years when the great earth quake of 1755 resulted in a rebuilding of much of the city.
Along side these classic buildings are plainer, more functional twentieth century apartment blocks and light industrial workshops. Towards the docks themselves the area naturally becomes rougher – but for many of Lisbon’s hip young crowd this edginess has been part of the appeal.
For many years the area was considered slightly dangerous with its wild night life but it has now reinvented itself as a funky area full of night clubs and restaurants and, latterly, designer furniture shops, showcasing Portuguese products, and art galleries. These days there are around 4,000 students studying design, architecture, illustration and the audiovisual arts in some of Portugal’s cutting edge design colleges which have been set up down there in old warehouses and factories.
The real impetus for change in the area came about in 2005 when it was rebranded by a group of local design businesses, interiors shops and smart restaurants as The Santos Design District, complete with website and unofficial marketing operation. Smart shops include a branch of Armani Casa which was something of a trailblazer when it opened.
Ligne Roset is another well known name but many are one off stores owned and managed by Portuguese designers and retailers. Outlets such as Santos de Casa showcases Portuguese talent and Paris-Sete is where Santos residents can find homewares by names such as B&B Italia and Vitra in an airy, neo-industrial setting.
Santos is very much the place for designers to show their work in Lisbon these days. Every month the design shops are open until 10pm and people come and look around, have a drink and then go on to eat in one of the restaurants. This event which was initiated by the Santos Design District group has made a big difference in the area.
A new high speed train link between Lisbon and Madrid as well as a new Lisbon airport will stimulate growth.
There are cafes and bars outside the traditional apartment blocks in the area and, as with most of Lisbon, the beach is a twenty minute drive out of Santos.
Although Santos’ transition has been slow, one factor that should speed up the gentrification process greatly is a new development by the British architect Norman Foster which is currently going through the planning process. This 65,000 square metre mixed development in the middle of the district will include homes, shops, restaurants, arts spaces and a hotel. It will also be environmentally friendly and have as a landmark a tower which pays homage to the Campanile in St Marks Square in Venice.
Is Santos to be the Venice of the Atlantic? You’ll just have to go there to find out!
Lapa is the upscale neighbourhood in which you will find the Museu da Arte Antiga (see my tip on that museum). Its a bit out of the way, especially if you are coming from Baixa, but I suggest coming here from Estrela, north of Lapa. You have to walk along steep, narrow streets and you eventually emerge onto the Rua das Janelas Verdes, which runs parallel to the river. My particular favourite is the plaza in front of the Museu, which is crammed in between narrow, tall buildings and provides for great picture-taking.
Estrela is a neighbourhood that is off the beaten track and far from the maddening crowds of the tourist sights. Indeed, to find it you will need a good map of the city, like the one you get at the information booth at the airport. Maps in books by Lonely Planet or Rough Guides may not even include Estrela. This is not just some neighbourhood park: it is a beaifully sculpted and huge garden that includes a carp pond, statues of famous Portuguese and ancient heroes, cacti, gifts of roses from the people of Galilee and a host of tropic plants and flowers. I'm not much a flora and fauna person but I was truly amazed by this unassuming spot of greenery in an otherwise grey city - hence the large numbers of photographs. Supposedly there are sometimes bands that come to serenade those who sit in the park.