Archive for June, 2008

Weird Lisbon

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

All cities have their number of oddities and weirdness, so of course Lisbon is no exception. Here are just some examples of strange things in the Portuguese capital:

LisbonThe Garden of Limp Dicks
A small terrace halfway down an Alfama street has for decades been a meeting place for old men to spend their entire days watching life go by or play some cards. This simple place didn’t have a name until young kids started referring to it as “The Garden of Limp Dicks”… The name obviously caught on, and unbelievably, it’s been made official with a street sign that even uses the more vulgar word for the male anatomy. The picture on the right shows it in all its splendor. The old men standing below it every day see the humor in it and don’t seem to mind.

The Man with no Face
Is it a mask? Is that really a face? People stare to make sure it’s real – A man with huge tumors all over his face sits in a corner of Rossio Square looking like something out of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” The poor man has become known as “the man with no face” and there is no treatment for his rare condition. He’s become something of a celebrity, having even been featured in The Discovery Channel’s “My Shocking Story” series.

Use your hands only!
If you want to take photos of Lisbon, be sure to hold your camera with your hands only! That’s because a recent (ridiculous) law has prohibited the use of tripods to take pictures in the city’s public spaces, unless you get a permit first. If caught taking a photo using a tripod without a permit, be prepared to pay a fine.

The Cemetery of Pleasures
There is a neighborhood in Lisbon called Prazeres which means Pleasures in English. The city’s largest cemetery was built there, so naturally it became known as “Cemiterio dos Prazeres” or “The Cemetery of Pleasures”. It’s the last stop of the famous tram 28, which displays “Prazeres” in the front, so if you ride it until the end of its journey, don’t be fooled that you’ll end up in some fun theme park or in a naughty red light district…

The Little Lettuces
If New York is called “The Big Apple,” Lisbon could be called “The Big Lettuce.” That’s because at one time there was a significant migration from rural areas into the big capital city and those new residents brought their country habits with them. They were known to plant crops in their backyards, especially large spaces of lettuce. Lisboans then became known as “alfacinhas” which translates to “little lettuces,” today an endearing term used to refer to anyone born in the Portuguese capital.

Looking Ahead: Lisbon in the Future

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Lisbon in the future Lisbon went through one of the most radical makeovers in the world’s recorded history following the 1755 earthquake that left it almost completely in ruins. That led to the rebirth of the Baixa district, and in more recent times in 1988, most of the Chiado quarter went down in flames in a major fire, only to be revived into an even more cosmopolitan and vibrant center in the city today. Also, in the late 1990s, all of the eastern section of the city was reconverted from an ugly industrial area into an ultra-modern residential and leisure district to host the World Fair Expo 98, which then became what is now known as Parque das Nações.

Therefore, being no stranger to major makeovers, and with its riverfront and entire historical center in desperate need of an extensive intervention, Lisbon is now ready for another major cosmetic surgery. In recent years there have been controversial discussions on how to renovate the Baixa district for an upcoming evaluation by UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site, and just this week an ambitious plan was unveiled to convert the entire riverfront from Parque das Nações all the way to Belem into a mostly leisure zone.

Two major projects will serve as catalysts for their surroundings. One is the upcoming Design and Fashion Museum which will be located in a building taking up an entire block in the Baixa district, and the other is a new building in Belem by Pritzker-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha for the new and expanded Coaches Museum.

For the Baixa, plans include pedestrianizing two of Comercio Square’s sides and opening shops, galleries, and cafes under its arcades, while for Belem pedestrians will also be given more space, with the plan to sink the train tracks underground so that it is possible to walk from Jeronimos Monastery to the riverfront without being blocked by the rail service to Cascais.

Many of these projects have a deadline of two years, so a rejuvenated Lisbon will already be seen by late 2010, with other plans being long-term and completed over the next two decades. That includes a third new bridge across the Tagus that will connect the city to its new international airport that will be located across the river.

Simpler but no less important works in the city includes covering up all graffiti that has infested the entire Bairro Alto neighborhood in recent years, as well as renovating the pretty Santa Luzia viewpoint that currently stands in a moribund state with most of its attractive tiles now broken or missing, as well as creating a new viewpoint next to the ruins of Carmo Convent.

Maintaining, renovating, and making an ancient city evolve is not an uncomplicated task, but despite all the hardships and controversies, Lisbon eventually overcomes its obstacles. And nowhere else in the world will you find a city so melancholically linked to its past and traditions, while at the same time looking to adapt to the challenges of modern and future life. There are plenty of reasons to go to Lisbon today, and there will certainly be many more to return in the future.