Archive for November, 2011

The World Heritage Fado and Other Sounds of Lisbon

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Portuguese music

Fado has just been given World Heritage status by UNESCO, meaning it’s protected as “intangible cultural heritage of humanity,” joining other unique cultural expressions such as the tango and flamenco. This musical style (which is actually more like a poetic recital) is strongly connected to the streets of Lisbon where it was born and has come to be symbolic of the Portuguese soul. Those interested in listening to Fado should look for the greatest Fado diva of all time, Amalia Rodrigues. She defined the style of the genre and has influenced an entire generation of young singers. The album to get is “The Art of Amalia Rodrigues” which should be available wherever World Music is sold. The queen of the new generation of “fadistas” is Grammy-nominated Mariza, and her album “Fado em Mim” is a great introduction to the singer and Fado music itself.

Not Fado but greatly representative of the sound of Lisbon is Madredeus, a band that received great acclaim and worldwide success in the 1990s. Their “Best Of” collection is called “Antologia” where you’ll hear their now-classic hits mixing the influences of Fado and modern folk. A former member has gone solo to great success, with his album “Cinema” having been considered one of the albums of the year by Billboard magazine in 2004. That’s Rodrigo Leão, a musician/composer with an obvious passion for Lisbon reflected in his music.
Also mixing Lisbon’s Fado with folk and pop is Dulce Pontes, a well-known name in World Music. Her biggest hit is “Canção do Mar,” first performed by Amália Rodrigues. You’ve heard that song if you watched the movie “Primal Fear” (starring Richard Gere) or the NBC/TNT drama “Southland” (it’s the theme song). Pontes’ “Best Of” CD is one of the top-selling Portuguese albums of all time.

To understand the relevance of Fado in Lisbon and on Portuguese culture in general, visit the Fado Museum whenever you’re in the city.

3 Very Strange Finds in Lisbon

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Chinese ceramic bowl

Archaeological excavations in an old convent have found a piece considered to be unique in the world for its rare erotic images on a Chinese ceramic bowl from the 1600s. It seems to have been painted to “teach” several sexual practices, and these types of explicit images were thought to have only been used in similar pieces in the late 1800s. How would such a thing end up in a convent, of all places? Well, for one thing, Lisbon’s convents weren’t always the most sacred places on Earth. Their male and female residents were actually known to live with bigger freedoms than those on the “outside world.” Inquisition documents show that love affairs and homosexuality were actually frequent. Many nuns were even lovers of the Portuguese kings. One of them even had to build a palace just for his bastard children born of those relationships (that palace is now the Spanish Embassy). These nuns were also quite rich, receiving precious gifts which may explain the origin of this well-kept treasure.

Recent research has found that one of the mummies in Lisbon’s Archaeology Museum died of the first known case of prostate cancer in an Egyptian mummy. Using scans and X-ray technology, they came to the conclusion that this is a unique specimen and the second oldest case of cancer found to date, dating from 305 to 30 BC. This is even more special for Lisbon’s museum, since it only has a few mummies on display, as most of its collection is finds from around Portugal, dating from the Celtic, Germanic, Roman and Moorish occupations of the country.

Investigators looking into a burial site of the victims of Lisbon’s 1755 earthquake have come to a macabre conclusion. During the apocalyptic days after the catastrophe, the city was a living hell, where even cannibalism took place. Some survivors were actually murdered for food, judging from the evidence found on many skulls. Many of the victims were shot or simply hit on the head, which in itself would not prove cannibalism if a bone hadn’t also been found to have had careful cuts made with a big knife used to help peel off the meat.

Lisbon is One of Europe’s Best Shopping Cities, Says Study

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Lisbon shoppingWhen you think of shopping in Europe, the cities of Paris, London and Milan automatically come to mind. Lisbon, still completely undiscovered in every aspect, doesn’t even enter a top 10 list in that category. But a recent study says otherwise. The Economist Intelligence Unit analyzed shopping in 33 European cities and Lisbon ranked in seventh place behind London (not surprisingly at number one), Madrid (a surprising number 2), Barcelona, Paris, Rome and Berlin. The Portuguese capital actually ranked better than other cities that receive much bigger buzz such as Amsterdam, Milan and Vienna. The Globe Shopper City Index says Lisbon has competitive prices, affordable hotels and a wide selection of restaurants. Naturally, it also points out the sunniest weather in Europe, ranking number one in climate. Another category in which it ranked at the top was international cuisine (the number and variety of restaurants), and also scored high in safety and quality hotels. Unsurprisingly, it was also found to be Western Europe’s most affordable city.
In terms of culture it ranked sixth behind Paris, Rome, Berlin, Barcelona and London. However it did poorly in accessibility for the number of available flights.

Lisbon Awarded “European City of the Year 2012”

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Rossio Square, Lisbon

Lisbon has just won the European City of the Year 2012 award from the Academy of Urbanism based in London. That’s an autonomous, politically-independent organization made up of a diverse group of people involved in the development of towns and cities, and the award results from the votes of over 500 members. A total of 15 European cities were considered after visits of assessment this summer.

Lisbon was singled out for its local character and distinctiveness, environmental and social sustainability, and most improved urban environments.
According to the Academy, Lisbon is a city which has survived two millennia, facing enormous challenges over time. It’s now a unique setting for the expression of Portuguese culture while attracting influences from Portugal’s links to Brazil, Africa and other world regions.
Among the projects analyzed in the Portuguese capital were the renovation of the historic Mouraria quarter and of the riverfront.

5 Major Reasons Why You Must Visit Lisbon Before the End of the Year

Monday, November 7th, 2011

War Propaganda

So what if the weather won’t allow you to have the typical Lisbon experience (culture and beach)? Even if it rains, it won’t be freezing cold (even in December), and you’ll be able to catch some world-class temporary exhibitions that invite you to go indoors. Here’s what’s happening in Lisbon until 2012:

There are even more reasons to visit the free Berardo Museum. One of its temporary exhibitions (which can be seen together with the permanent collection) is a fascinating display of war propaganda. It includes over 200 original posters from the United States, Germany, England, France, Italy, Japan, and the former Soviet Union.

The City Museum presents a selection of 257 photographs from the Frida Kahlo Museum’s collection. Kahlo is recognized as one of the top female artists of all time, and these works served as a record and working tool. You can see it until January 29.

The Gulbenkian Museum has put together works by some of the world’s major artists, including Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Matisse. What each piece has in common is still life imagery. Some belong to the museum’s own collection, others are loans from other museums from around Europe. It’s all on display until January 8.

The Cordoaria Nacional building (found on the way to Jeronimos Monastery) is presenting a great attraction for families. It’s Europe’s largest dinosaur exhibition, allowing visitors to understand the natural setting of these extinct animals. Portugal is one of the countries with the most dinosaur fossils, found in the last couple of decades by the coastline north of Lisbon (a total of 25 dinosaur remains have been found). On display until January 1st are life-size replicas of these gigantic reptiles.

The Paula Rego Museum in Cascais has added new works by Rego, considered one of Europe’s greatest living artists. They’re in two temporary exhibits (to be seen until December 31st) and include more than 100 iconic pieces from the permanent collection. It’s all free, and a must-see if you’re going by the sea in Cascais now that it’s no longer beach weather.