1. What makes you happy in this city?
The light—the light in Lisbon is unique. It’s the kind of light that inspires the artists and many poets of this city. But it also inspires and makes the common citizen happy. The people of Lisbon make me happy, because of their ingenuity in the old quarters, their urban thinking in Chiado—the most central neighborhood of the city—, and because of their relaxed state of mind on the river bank.
The smells, the colors, the tastes, the aromas, walking through the peaceful and narrow streets, the sunshine, and also the morning mist that hides the bridge over the river; the trees in Monsanto—the biggest green area of the city—with their multitude of birds that chirp in the late afternoon. The river: walking along it, in a ferry, in a boat, always with the Atlantic in the background. The saudade (nostalgia/longing in Portuguese) that each Lisboner has in his heart, wherever he/she may go.
Built on seven hills, bathed by the Tagus River, and with an eye on the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon is an enchanting mosaic of memories—a trip back in time where stories and influences mark the urban landscape of this peculiar city. Lisbon is warmly painted with an amazing and singular light, defining the contours of a city of myths and realities, past and present.
On November 1, 1755 (All-Saint’s Day) the city was struck by an earthquake (magnitude 9) that destroyed 85 percent of the city. The historical building of Carmo Convent lay in ruins and is now the main trace of the earthquake, visible in the rebuilt city to remind people of the worst day in Lisbon’s history.
2. WHAT INSPIRES YOU IN THIS CITY?
Once again: the people, their diversity, their different ways of being, and the way in which together they empower their differences. The traditional and also the new, but mostly the mixture of both. In this image you see an actor who I photographed at a little conserve shop called Conserveira de Lisboa during an event. Conserveira de Lisboa is one of the world’s most famous conserve shops, delivering gourmet conserves made in Portugal worldwide.
Cais das Colunas (in English called Columns Pier) is one of my favorite places in the city. The River Tagus, passing along Lisbon, embraces the Atlantic ahead. The view, the smells, the sunset, the walks alongside the river. On the other side of the river (Cacilhas) we can see Cristo Rei (Christ the King). With the ferry, it just takes ten minutes to see an amazing view of Lisbon and it’s seven hills. Navigators and explorers went out from here, and “they opened new worlds for the world”.
3. WHAT WORKS FOR YOU VERY WELL IN THE CITY?
The multi-culturality and the absence of grave conflicts. The natural way in which everything comes together. The hospitality, the friendly and genuine way in which we receive others. The great sympathy and tolerance of the Lisboner.
The Santa Justa Lift was designed by the architect Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard and connects the lower streets (Baixa) with the higher streets (Carmo Square). Since its construction in 1902, the Lift has become a tourist attraction and is the only remaining vertical lift. In 2002 it was classified as a national monument.
On the top floor of Santa Justa Lift you can sit and drink a bica (a regular espresso) and enjoy the panoramic view of the city, including Saint George’s Castle and the Tagus.
Lisbon’s natural setting, spread across seven hills, offers many magnificent miradouros (viewpoints), usually located at the highest points of each hill—places where you can contemplate the beauty of the city. Contemplation is one of Lisbon’s pleasures and is what makes it such a romantic city.
4. WHAT WOULD YOU DO BETTER?
One of the big problems of our city is the degradation of our heritage and the great number of unoccupied and abandoned buildings, making Lisbon feel deserted. In addition to this problem, there is a systematic destruction of historic theaters and cinemas here in order to substitute them with shopping centers. One example of this process is this historic theater/cinema, the last remaining example of Art Deco, right in the city center. It has been abandoned for decades and is now waiting to be transformed in a shopping center. It’s urgent to “re-populate” and restore Lisbon’s center in order to revive it and make it a desirable place to live.
The Eduardo VII Park is the biggest public park in Lisbon, taking up 25 hectares. At the end of the park we can see the Marquês de Pombal Statue. There are many other gardens and public parks in Lisbon. Many of those parks are used as outdoor venues for summer festivals and concerts, or simply as spots to enjoy the sun. However, those great gardens often look very empty. Perhaps it’s something cultural, because—even in the good weather—Portuguese people seem not to use the great public spaces like they could.
5. HOW WOULD YOU DO IT BETTER?
In spite of all the problems, I believe that Lisboners are enjoying and visiting the green areas of our city more often, especially the young people.
The degradation of buildings that are not occupied and the high cost per square meter pushes the city’s inhabitants out and makes Lisbon into an increasingly depopulated city. The city is becoming empty as the population moves from the center to the suburbs. Only Erasmus students who, each year, arrive in the city appear to contribute to some life. If all the empty buildings were occupied they could accommodate 40,000 people.
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