The streets of Lisbon

A nicely looking colorful street, many house facades richly covered with azulejos (Portuguese style tiles >>>) and much dynamic traffic climbing the hills, at which the city is located. A quite nice view. My favorite photo from Lisbon, Portugal.


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Although showing a true location, the picture is barely representative for the Lisbon historic city. As our guide took us for a walk through the old city quarters at first we were not asking any questions about ruined and deserted houses we saw around. Each city, especially a historical one has problems with renovating facades of old houses. The bigger the historic city, the bigger the problem. But in Lisbon the problem seems to be indeed very acute. The number of deserted or simply neglected houses we saw around us was outstanding. The same evening we came back to spend a fado evening in the historic city (fado is traditional Portuguese music). The streets were empty, almost no nightlife in the middle of the summer.

It was indeed surprising. The layout of the city and its architecture are great. The city is one of the kind. The historic quarters, like in other great European cities: Paris, London or Rome are widespread. This would be a tremendous place for small hotels, restaurants, clubs and poshy apartments. And much much life from the very morning till late in the night.

Back home I did my small investigation in the internet. Found articles about the ageing city, a half a million people choosing small cities surrounding Lisbon at the coastal side and commuting day by day by railways or cars. Apartments and houses are at last tree times cheaper there than in the historic Lisbon quarters. But also people, who could afford higher rents avoid the Lisbon historic centre. It is a chain reaction. As people prefer suburbs, it is no longer profitable to offer daily and leisurely services in the city. Those who would afford higher rents, had however have no life quality. There is also a historical background behind the problem. In times of the Salazar regime, the rents had to be very low by low. Low rents meant for years no funds for renovation at the disposal of house owners. Through years houses went into ruin. Now, only rich investors may afford an all-around renovation. But later on, they have to demand high rents to reach break even in foreseeable time. The circle is closing. The other problem are the property rights. To sell a house one has to agree on with all owners. As the city has been deserting for decades, we deal here with outstanding inheritance issues. They can prolong the investment process forever. The outstanding proprietary issues are particularly problematic for foreign investors.

Walking the streets of historic Lisbon you can see the greatness of the city. But when you are on vacation and look for a place to spend the night and before enjoy the evening, just choose the location more carefully than in other European capitals.

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Manueline and the Templars

Sounds like a title of a romantic plot. But it is not … Although the first time used in the XIX century, manueline refers to a late Gothic architectural style popular in Portugal in the early XVI century. The style is extremely decorative. Its main feature are opulent ornaments. You can only imagine how labour intensive and hence costly it was. You will recognise many oriental and maritime influences, and if you look more attentively – the cross of the Order of Christ (former Templars) put in between other ornaments. One of the most prominent examples of buildings decorated manueline style is the Tower of Belem on the shore of the Tagus river in Lisbon. It was built as fortress to protect the Lisbon from the attacks from the sea.

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Tower of Belem, at the shore of the Tagus river. Originally it was built on an island in the middle of the Tagus. Due to earthquakes the alignment of the river changed  bringing with time the tower closer to the shore.

But now let us link the dots. Manueline derives from a name. King Manuel I of Portugal, called the Fortunate, ruled Portugal in times as the first fruits of the Discovery Age brought fortune to the relatively small Kingdom of Portugal. The receipts from trade with India and Africa allowed to finance the great and highly decorative architecture. King Manuel I was the one who commissioned the works, hence the name: manueline.

The Age of Discoveries began only half a century before Manuel’s coronation (1495) in times of his grand grandfather’s reign as his grand grand uncle known by the name Henry the Navigator organised and financed the first Portuguese expeditions (>>>). Later on, the Portuguese sailors discovered the sea route to India (eastwards: Vasco da Gama, westwards: Ferdinand Magellan), Brazil (Pedro Álvares Cabral), in the meantime seizing for Portugal trades with a number of African countries. (The Age of Discoveries was highly profitable for the maritime powers. We should not however forget its shadows for the local communities.)

Now, you may ask how the Templars, the military order brutally dissolved 1312 on charges of heresy fits in the story. The Templar’s were haunted, tortured and killed throughout Europe. It is common knowledge that the French King and the Pope wanted to confiscate their various assets and properties. The heresy was just an excuse. This is however not true for the whole Europe. The Portuguese king refused to prosecute the Portuguese Templars, gave shelter to Templars from other countries, who escaped the haunt, revived the order under the name Order of Christ (preserving its military status) and negotiated with the Pope that they would keep all of their assets and properties (>>>). In 1420, a Portuguese king’s son Infante Henrique of Portugal, the one who will later be called Henry the Navigator, became the Grand Master of the Order. Initially he used the Templars money to finance his ideas and expeditions. Later on, the expeditions had been financed from trade taxes. The Order of Christ played quite a role and was the one, who profited much. Needless to say that Manuel I himself was the Grand Master. Magellan, da Gama and Cabral were among the knights, too.

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Cabo da Roca

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The farest spot west coast of the continental Europe (see map). It is located in the Sintra region in Portugal. If you are in Portugal near Lisbon, just hit the road to see that place, feel and hear the ocean and make a selfie. It is one of those (!) spots. (As it can be really windy there, watch to not to loose your cellphone).

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