Portuguese Fado music, a walk through the bairros, enjoying pasteis de nata and ginjinhha
Numa casa portuguesa fica bem pay e vine sober mesa.
Quando à porta humildemente bate alguèm senta-se à mesa co’a gente.
Fica bem essa franqueza, fica bem, que o povo nunca a desmente.
A alegria da pobreza está nesta grande riqueza de dar, e ficar contente.
In a Portugese home, it looks good to have bread and wine on the table.
and if someone timidly knocks on the door, we invite them to sit at the table with us.
This generosity is typical, which people never forget.
The joy of poverty is this great richness of being generous and feeling happy
So sang Amalia Rodrigues, one of the most prominent voices of Portuguese Fado, in the song “uma casa portuguesa“. And in these words we find the full essence of the city and Lisboans. A picturesque and chameleon place full of colours, lights and charm, immersed in an artistic liveliness that embraces visitors.
On arriving in Lisbon the first thing that strikes you is without doubt the atmosphere you breathe. All written and narrated in Fado.
A city that has inherited the adventures of the many sailors who have coursed through the harbour. And like the ships, the port and docks can tell stories of greetings, loves and friendships that over the years have inspired the Fado ‘melancholy’.
The Fado, not just a musical composition but the real essence of Lisbon.
Destiny, greetings, nostalgia, this is the meaning of the word ‘fado’ and what tells us about wives, children, friends and lovers who, saying goodbye to their loved ones as they set off, trusting in their good fortune through a sort of ‘incantation’.
We also notice the resemblance to the feeling of ‘saudade’ found in the notes of Brazilian bossa nova.
On the other hand, the theme of ‘saudade’ is very contemporary in Portuguese fado, where music and words tell of a nostalgic pain for the absence of someone or something, of waiting for someone or something, of a memory transformed into regret.
Still, Fado, while singing of a desperate sorrow, fills the heart with hope, as it lives in the past looking at a new future.
And this same spirit has always distinguished Portuguese culture as a whole.
Just look at the tiles (azulejos) that decorate the subway and some of Lisbon’s neighbourhoods to breathe in the rich art and colours.
Architectural heritage dominates the late Gothic Manuelitostyle of the Jos Jerònimos Monastery, which houses, among others, the same Amalia Rodrigues and the writer Fernando Pessoa and the Belèm Tower – and the intertwining baroque creating unique wonders that shine throughout the European context.
The colorful mosaics that surround the walls of homes are eye catching, with ‘nuances’ ranging from white to blue, and in general all the Arabic and French influences that Lisbon has inherited.
The Lisbon districts – Bairros – are unique and depending on how much time you have it you can plan what to visit. If you want to mix with the daily lives of Lisboans, you must visit the BAIRRO ALTO, High quartier.
To reach it, you can enjoy a stunning route on the typical yellow funicular that takes you to the top of the neighborhood, so you can admire a breathtaking panorama (Elevator da Gloria or Elevator da Bica).
The famous neighborhood for ‘tascas’, typical local trattorias where you can enjoy traditional dishes such as the famous ‘bacalhau’ – baccalà – in many recipes and very different from the Italian version.
The evening is ideal for entertainment and enjoying a good aperitif, breathing the typical Lisbon atmosphere. Full of small locales, lively and mainly full of locals.
More historical and romantic, the BAIXA district is rich in admirable ,elegant architecture and a famous square, “Praça Dom Pedro IV“ better known as “Piazza del Rossio”.
In addition to its characteristic white and black wave pavement there is also the “Teatro Nacional D. Maria II’ and Café Nicola“, one of the most famous venues in Lisbon.
Then, at Rossio, you find the “A Ginjinha’ café”, come in, take a look at the numerous bottles on display and admire the square sipping a fabulous ‘ginjinha’.
This nectar is based on cherry blossom and served, as you request either ‘with’ or ‘without’ cherries at the bottom of the glass. A must in Lisbon, tasting it is essential.
Connected to Baixa, extends the famous Rue Agusta, a magnificent road linked to the district from the Triumphal Arch of “Praça Do Comèrcio”
In the past this square was the reception point for people arriving by sea. The staircase connecting the river to Cais das Colunas square is even more romantic, with masterful illumination games the architects have designed, setting the atmosphere for evening life in this square. Nature also plays its part here, and while the light of the sunset frames the ferries on the piers, the street lanterns light up, creating the nostalgic-romantic aura that has always been part of Lisbon.
And since we are in the city of Fado, we will visit the “ALFAMA” neighborhood, an excellent place for Fado enthusiasts. Here, of course, you feel catapulted into the real and popular life of genuine Lisboans. The lanes with decorative tiles, the views and the laundry hanging outside the houses give a wonderful glimpse into the magic of Lisbon.
Visiting the CHIADO district, on the Bairro Alto hill, we immediately breathe in the artistic liveliness of the place.
The birthplace of the writer F. Pessoa, an obligatory visit, in addition to the statue of Pessoa in Piazza S. Carlos, is his beloved “Cafè Brasilia”, where the walls seem to tell us the history of the city.
The cafè was awarded the title of “Architectural Heritage of Portugal” in 1997.
It is on the Rua Garrett, an elegant and prestigious street ‘inhabited’ by luxury boutiques, pastry shops and libraries whose furnishings and architecture give it a poetic image.
At the bottom of Rua Garett is the statue of the poet Antonio Ribeiro called “Chado” (which gives its name to this neighbourhood).
Moving away from the centre, we go to discover BELEM and PARQUE DAS NACOES.
In the first neighbourhood, we admire the decorated Manuelino-style landmarks, the famous Belem Tower, the lighthouse and the fortress of the port as well as Mosteriro dos Jeronimos.
The most modern area, where you can visit museums and auditoriums and admire skyscrapers and big fountains is the Parque Das nascose (Nations Park) which also houses the largest aquarium in Europe, the Oceanario.
Lisbon still amazes us with its fabulous Pasteis de Nata or de Belem, typical layered pastries, filled with cinnamon-scented cream. You can eat these anywhere, in the’ padaria ‘(bakeries), pasteles (pastry shops) or simple bars.
They will captivate you, just to look at, when you see them displayed in showcases set up by the patarias and pasteles. With their golden looks and the spicy perfume nt he air.
And ‘sweetly, going to Praça de Figueira, we find an antique pastry shop, Confetteria Nacional, the oldest in Lisbon, decorated with blue tiles and wooden interiors that take us back in time for a moment.
So here, welcome to Lisbon, the city of Fado, home to illustrious writers and which fascinates us with its many colourful contradictions.
Perhaps at the end of this journey we still cannot yet unveil the ‘secret’ of its magic, but by visiting and re-reading the words of Pessoa, we understand it so precisely because it is incomprehensible to ‘reason.’
“The countryside or nature cannot give me anything worth the irregular majesty of the tranquil city, under the moonlight, seen from Graca or S. Pedro de Alcantara. There are no flowers for me like Lisbon’s rich chromaticity in the sun. (Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet)”
Lisbon, an enchanting siren, a city of irresistible charm, a place that kindles the urge to return as soon as possible, almost as if you have the same nostalgia as sung in its Fado.