Monday, 10 August 2015

Postcard from Lisbon 3

Did I mention that Portugal is all about tiles?  In the older streets of Lisbon the exterior of pretty much every building -- including six story tenements -- is covered from pavement to roof with glazed tiles.  Thousands and thousands of hand-painted tiles.  Each building will have a different repeated motif, with a different border design, and the decorative effect is stunning.  It is also slightly disorientating, as to a Brit tiles are very much an interior feature, associated with kitchens and bathrooms.  I'm sure there's a reason for all this external ceramic cladding, but it won't be to facilitate wiping down surfaces after a fry-up.

However, there is also a high degree of dilapidation.  Some older buildings are crumbling and barely upright (even though these almost all postdate the famous earthquake of 1755, which destroyed the city, plus the remnant of Voltaire's faith in a benificent deity); others have either been bricked up or have been completely gutted internally, leaving only their fancy facades standing, as if the tilework has turned out to be stronger than the internal stonework.  However, I assume these are the equivalent of British "listed" buildings, and are awaiting infill with modern apartments.  The Portuguese economy being what it is, there may be a long wait.

Like any European capital, Lisbon shows several very different faces, depending on which streets you walk down, but in general, and despite the economic plight of the southern EU countries, it's a clean*, safe, modern, and welcoming city.  It has benefitted from several waves of development, successfully transforming itself from a post-industrial backwater into a thriving commercial centre and tourist destination.  In that it is reminiscent of Bilbao, that other Iberian Atlantic-facing port city.  I really liked the place, and intend to return.

Typically, as our host was keen to point out -- he has experienced the anarchy of modern London -- lisboetas still take queueing for buses very seriously.  By such signifiers the Portuguese, like their language, show that they are determinedly not Spanish.

Lisbon at night from our apartment

*  In Lisbon, the domestic rubbish is collected every night.  EVERY NIGHT.  Though, admittedly, in the early hours, and Portuguese bin-lorries are no quieter than British ones...

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