The first thing that strikes me about Lisbon is the sidewalk under my feet. Constructed with 5-inch stone cubes – worn smooth with time in varying shades of white, tan, or grey – pounded into mortar and undulating across a ground that isn’t quite flat so that I always have to watch my step. What an effort it must have taken to cut and insert each individual stone, for miles and miles, to form the labyrinth that is Lisbon.
This effort is an art form that began in 1842 called Portuguese pavement. The technique uses limestone and black basalt cubes to cover everything – sidewalks, streets, courtyards, and stairways – to form beautiful mosaic patterns everywhere you look. As I strolled up Rua dos Remédios in the historic Alfama district, I noticed a man on his knees on the sidewalk, a pile of white stone cubes beside him, hunched over as he painstakingly pounded one stone into the mosaic sidewalk in a restoration effort. The work is hard and tedious, but the result gives Lisbon a unique and distinct look – no dull, lifeless concrete here! However, craftsman skilled in this way of paving are fewer and fewer, and maintenance is expensive. These stones are also very slippery when wet (I know this from experience) and navigating the slick sidewalks, which are quite steep in many places, can be hazardous – a rising concern among the aging population, so I’ve read. They aren’t always the easiest to walk on, I’ll admit, but they are certainly beautiful.
Take notice of the pedestrian street below, Rua Augusta. This street takes you past all kinds of shops and under the Arco da Rua Augusta (Rua Augusta Arch), which was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. Rua Augusta is a great example of the beautiful walkways found all over Lisbon – though this one is quite wide and flat. 🙂
The second thing that I notice is the tile work covering many of the building facades. These Portuguese tiles, called azulejos, were first introduced into Portugal in the 15th century by the Moors. In the early 20th century, the use of tiles went out of vogue, only to be revived again in the 1950s. Some of the tile facades are geometric patterns, others depict saints or a historical scene. They can be found on churches, palaces, in train stations, and on ordinary homes. Just another example of the artistry of the Portuguese – and they certainly add interest and flare to the city.
The third form of artsitic expression prevalent in Lisbon is the street art. I hate graffiti – and there is plenty of that here – but what commands attention are the bold and bizarre works of art scattered across the city, on the sides of buildings and on walls. There are several walking tours dedicated to observing street art, which I think would be quite interesting.
One Portuguese street artist named Alexandre Farto, otherwise known as Vhils, has gained worldwide fame from his inventive technique – a combination of painting and chiseling away parts of the building’s exterior to give his pieces texture and dimension. The following images are a collaboration between Vhils and another artist, Pixel Pancho:
I was in Lisbon for 5 days, but I could have been there for 5 weeks and only then would I have begun to scratch the surface of this fantastic city. The warmth of the people and the pride they have in their city resonated with me. I truly hope I can return soon.