Digging Deeper into Lisbon’s History

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Carmo1Chapter 6 – Lisbon Day 2 – Part 2

The Largo do Carmo may have one been the scene of one of Portugal’s greatest revolutions, but now it’s a pretty square filled with outdoor restaurant and café seating, with swarms of tourists eating, hanging out, and listening to the sounds of whatever musical busker is performing there that day.

Next to the GNR Museum where I started my day, is the square’s main attraction and namesake, the Convento do Carmo. The convent is in ruins now, after being destroyed in the great 1755 earthquake, but it’s still beautiful site, and has also been transformed into a small archeological museum.

Originally named the Igreja da Santa Maria do Carmo, this church founded in 1389 was once one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture in Lisbon. It was destroyed along with most of the city in 1755, but it’s basic structures and features have remained. Inside the back of the church that has remained intact, The Carmo Archeological Museum was setup in 1864. Pieces include many items found in the rubble of the church and around the city, prehistoric items found throughout Portugal, and historical items from around the world (such as mummies from both Egypt and Peru).

It also houses the tombs of Dom Fernando and Dona Maria, former king and queen of Portugal.

The architecture of this place is just as amazing as other structures in Lisbon, but the lack of a roof allows for a cool contrast of the ruined appearance of the building set against the bright blue sky above.


View from the Interior of the Carmo ruins


Tomb of Dom Fernando

After exiting the church, I walked down the hill to the Baixa, across Praça do Rossio, and in behind Praça do Restauradores. Walking up the main little strip back in between the buildings, it’s setup as a pure tourist strip, lined with restaurants on both side, with guys standing at the front with menus trying to pull you in. This is usually the type of area I like to avoid, but I wanted to see what was up here, and low and behold, I managed to stumble upon another great find! This is what happens only when you walk around cities, exploring with an open mind and open eyes.

Fabrica Coffee Roasters really didn’t fit in on the strip it was on… in a good way. It’s pretty much like a Queen West or Brooklyn hipster coffee shop, full of natural wood and steel designs, with gourmet coffee poured by skilled baristas, and nice little café food to add to it. This was the last thing I expected to find here, but it was great. The coffee was just as good as I’d expect at home in T.O., and so was the food. So, this is a lesson. Explore everywhere and you’re bound to find a gem that would never have known about before!


Interior of Fabrica Coffee Roasters

I took the azul (blue) Metro line from Restauradores station, down to Santa Apolonia station at the bottom of the Alfama district. The aflama was where Susete and I stayed the first time we came to Lisbon, and I wanted… no, needed to get back there to see it again. It was such a familiar feeling, stepping out of the old station, and appearing at the foot of the Alfama. This is the oldest district in Lisbon, the medina-style layout from when the Moors were here. One thing was different this time though…. a couple cruise ships had pulled into the nearby dock, and the city was PACKED!! aahhggghhh. You already know I hate it when it’s overrun with tourists filling the street. Oh well… deal with it. I trek up to to the Rua dos Remeidos, which is the main small road that runs along the bottom of the Alfama, weave through the streets and arrive at the Museu do Fado.

Fado music is part of the soul of Portugal. It’s built off the foundations of traditional folk music. It developed in the early 1800s, but was popularized even more so, during the time of the oppressive Estado Novo from the 1920s-1970s. This is due to fado, at it’s roots, being a musical style about hardship, and often containing heavily political lyrics. There is a uniquely Portuguese word, “saudade”, meaning ‘longing’, and this one single word pretty much sums up what fado is. In fact, from what I’ve learned about my time being around Portuguese people for the past few years now, saudade sums what it is to be Portuguese overall! hahahaha   The singing style evokes feelings of sadness, desperation, and pain… a longing for something or something that has been lost. The guitarra, the traditional 12 string guitar, creates such a unique Iberian sound. Fado music is really infectious. It’s hauntingly beautiful. Some older Portuguese don’t like to listen to it, because it reminds them of the old dictatorship days, but then there’s also many old Portuguese who love listening to it… well… because they have saudade! If you want to look up fado and here some of it, the most famous from the old days is Amália Rodrigues, but now there is also a rejuvenation with a new generation of singers such as Mariza.


Guitarra used in fado music

Right in front of the Museu do Fado, is an open square with a monument representing a guitarra, and surrounded by restaurants, attracting the cruise ship tourists.

This is where I met Santos Cabral, the lead singer in the band that busking there in the square, Guents dy Rincon. I only spoke to him very briefly, as he really didn’t speak much English, and they were in the middle of performing anyway, but he mentioned to me they were from Cabo Verde, a former Portuguese colony that’s a series of islands off the coast of Africa. This band, performing there in the Alfama was a great representation of Portugal as a country. The band was made up of members from different races, and their music had influences from several different cultures in it. The music is a connection to the history of the global trade system that the Portuguese had set up. It was hot out, they were working hard, and the music was great, so I bought an album.

My favourite thing to do in the Alfama is wander through the streets, up and down the steps, and through the little alleyways that make up the entire neighbourhood. It’s a tangled mess of streets and alleys, and at every little turn, there’s something to see. Alleys (becos) have small doors lining them, opening up to tiny apartments, tiny stores, and tiny restaurants hidden inside. Even the steep stairways (escadas), have mini doorways running along each side of them, leading into small apartments or stores. Each turn is a journey of discovery.


View of Alfama from the top


One of the many staircases in the Alfama

Before I exit out of the Alfama, I made a stop in the Museum of resistance and liberation, which I wrote about in the previous post, so I won’t expand on that here. You’ll have to go back and read that one if you haven’t already. I was making my way through the city, on my way to the Praço do Comercio, when I passed by a charcuterie placed that just sucked me in like a black hole. Presuntos hanging proudly in the window, and cheeses laid out. Charcuteria Portuguesa is both a small sit down place, as well as a retail spot, showcasing cheeses, cured meats, and wines from around Portugal. Not one item in there isn’t Portuguese, and the sheer variety they had shows how complex and diverse Portguese food can be. Of course, I sat down to have a plate of charcuterie and a glass of vinho verde. Everything was so good. I love eating that way. some cured meats, a variety of cheese, some olives, different types of bread. I was the only one in there and it was such a great find…. so many people miss out because they don’t want to take the chance to hop in these little places, or are just too busy taking photos or looking on their phones to even notice these places. Chalk another one up for the win list!

The Praça do Comercio is the main square sitting a the bottom of the city, on the Rio Tejo, and is one of the largest open squares in Europe. The name (place of commerce) is a tribute back to the days when this was the busiest port in Europe, and the centre of trade around the world. However, before the earthquake of 1755, when it was the bustling trade centre, it was called the Terreiro do Paço. King Manuel I, who is responsible for the now iconic “manueline” style that has defined Portuguese architecture, saw how Lisbon had become the most cosmopolitan city in the world due to trading, and wanted to be closer to the heart of it all, so he moved the royal palace out of the Castelo Sao Jorge on top of the hill above Alfama, and built a new palace on the river’s edge at Terreiro… from then, the area was also referred to as Paço da Ribeira, after the new Royal Palace. Just like all of Lisbon, the palace was levelled in the 1755 earthquake, and the area was rebuilt as an open square with the large gate leading into the city, under the new city plan. I learned a lot of this from the entertaining and interactive attraction located just off the square, called The Story of Lisbon. It’s a fully interactive story, with audio, walking you through the beginnings of Lisbon. There’s a story that connects Lisbon’s origins back to mythological Greece, saying that Ulysses (main character in Homer’s, The Odyssey, and hero of the Trojan Way) got lost on his way home and actually landed here… hence, the name Lisbon, which is taken from the Roman ‘Olisipo’, which is derived from the a Phoenician name ‘Aliçobo’, which comes from ‘Ulysses’.  Ok, confused yet? Ok let’s clear it up a bit:

• Neanderthals c. 100,000 years ago

• Modern Humans c. 35,000 years ago

• Celtic tribes c. 1000 BC

• Phoenicians c. 700 BC

• Romans 218 BC – Lusitania in the South, Gallacia in the North

• Germanic Suebi & Vandals  411 AD

• Visigoths 585 AD

• Moors 711 AD

• Reconquest – Kingdom of Portugal 1147 AD – Dom Afonso Henriques (Lisbon made the capital in 1253)

There’s a lot more little events and details in between there, but that’s the overall gist of the timeline of Portugal up to it’s formation.

In 1415, The Portuguese land in Cueta in Africa, which launched the Portuguese Age of Discovery. While the colonialism that followed later is a dark period for Portugal (and the rest of Europe), discovery and international trade created the golden years.

1457, the Portuguese discovered the Açores, which would turn out to serve them well in the future as a perfect stopping point to and from the new world. Really, I just mention this because my in-laws are from there. Bonus points. 🙂

The Portuguese and Spanish were constantly walking on eggshells around each other… half the time being at war, and the other half working together, hesitantly. In 1496, the Pope had gotten sick of all the bickering, and in order to usher in some peace from these two devoutly Catholic countries, he effectively split the world, as arrogant as that sounds. He gave the western world, not including Brasil, to the Spanish, and the eastern half of the world, from the mid-Atlantic onward, to the Portuguese. He also included Brasil as Portuguese territory, as they already had control of that area. This deal turned out to be a golden ticket for Portugal, as it was only a short time later that Vasco da Gama had found his way around the southern tip of Africa and found the much sought after route to India, which gave them access to the spices the world was craving. This instantly made Portugal the centre of the trade world.


portuguese sailing

In the early evening, I met up with my friend Luis Lopes. He’s the co-owner of Cooking Lisbon, a cooking school targeted towards foreigners who want to learn about Portuguese food. This is where Susete and I went the first time we came to Lisbon, to learn the infamous Pasteis da Natas. yummmmmmmmmmm

Luis isn’t a chef, but he’s an amazing business person and has a strong passion for food and sharing Portuguese culture and gastronomy with the world. He’s a true ambassador for the local cuisine and culture. We chatted about my plans for the restaurant, and his plans for some amazing future projects he has. After meeting for a coffee and chatting for a bit, we then went to see the new location of his school, which is 4 times larger than the original location which I attended. It’s a really beautiful space that Luis and his business partner have built. They’ve also staffed some really great chefs to teach us touristas, making for an informative and entertaining experience. Being the great guy he is, Luis made good on his promise and made some calls to help me find connections in the Alentejo region, which Phil and I will be heading to next. We’re headed to the Alentejo, because it’s much thought of as the soul of Portuguese gastronomy, as the region is the agricultural centre of Portugal, and is much compared to Provence in France, or Tuscany in Italy. Alentejo is large and flat. It’s the home of cork, and it’s the home of the famous black pigs (porco preto), which are the same pigs as the world renowned Jamon Iberico. The Portuguese just don’t export it much like the Spanish do. This is why we’re going to Alentejo, for the pigs, and Luis has gotten us in with a farmer who is going to show us around his farm and teach us more about the importance of the porco preto to Portuguese culture.


Cooking Lisbon’s new space

I came home to work on my blog again.. I seem to spend hours throughout the day on these damn things! You better appreciate it. lol  After working and falling asleep for a bit, and then working some more, it was really late and I realize that I hadn’t eaten jantar (dinner) yet! It was about 11:30 pm, which would normally count as a lost opportunity for a good meal, at home (I’m not talking about snacks or drinks at a bar, I’m talking about REAL dinner), but this is Lisbon, and Lisbon’s nightlife starts late, and continues all night. After some difficult decision-making, I decided to head down to Chiado again and make a hail mary attempt that there would be an Avillez place open… as luck would have it, I made it into José Avillez’s Pizzeria Lisboa, 10 minutes before it closed at midnight. As a chef, I felt really bad going in there minutes before closing, as I know the cooks still have about another hour of kitchen cleaning after they get to shut down the kitchen. The waitress said it’s no problem and had me take a seat. I told her I will order easy food and eat quick. I think they all felt bad because they kept coming to tell me “You can eat you know. Order whatever you want.” Even though it was closing time, the staff was extremely professional and nice, but it’s a mutual respect thing for me. I work in the industry and I know what it’s like to have to extend your shift just cuz some asshole can’t respect your restaurant hours, and then comes in right before closing and ends up extending your shift another 2 hours. So, as promised, I ordered light, ate relatively quick, and ended my meal so they could get out at a decent time. In fact, I was out even before the other customers who were already in there eating before me. The food was simple, yet it was amazing. I had beef carpaccio, with truffle oil, shaved fois gras, pine nuts, and shaved parmesan. These are all very expensive ingredients, yet the dish only cost me $10! I also had oven-roasted aubergine (eggplant) with mozarella and tomato, with parm on top… a refined version of eggplant parmesan. After an excellent meal, I left, and the staff was clearly appreciative at the effort I made to respect their time, and bid me a fond farewell.

So my second day in Lisbon, overall, a very successful one. I learned a LOT about Lisbon’s history, found two gem restaurants, and had another great Avillez meal. Goodnight Lisboa, até amanha.

aubergine parmesano

aubergine parmesano

Beef carpaccio @ Pizzaria Lisboa

Beef carpaccio @ Pizzaria Lisboa

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