Archive | What to see RSS feed for this section
June 1, 2014

Santos Populares – Popular Saints

June in Lisbon means grilled sardines and Sto Antonio and the feast days of the santos populares (“popular saints” or “people’s saints”)…

The feast days of the most popular saints in Portugal — St Anthony, St Pedro and St John– are all in June, and every year this is an excuse for Lisbon (and much of Portugal) to turn the month into one big party.

Sto Antonio (St Anthony) is said to have been born in 1195, in Lisbon, and his saint’s day (June 13) is  a municipal holiday. He is held to be the patron saint of matchmaking and on the June 12th each year the St Anthony weddings are held. Dozens of couples vie for the honor of participating in the group weddings (since 1997, those selected can opt for either a religious or purely civil ceremony). Around 15 couples are chosen to be the Noivos de Santo Antonio, and the festivities are paid for by the city.

(The grey-haired gentleman who appears repeatedly in the video–kissing people, handing out statues and making a speach at the end–was the mayor of Lisbon at the time the video was made.)

St Anthony’s Day is also the height of the arraiais, or street parties, that the festas populares are best known for, and which pepper the city throughout the month of June.
Look for streamers strung over the roads, music in the streets – often live – and fresh sardines grilled over charcoal, served on a slice of hearty bread. The most famous festivities are in the Alfama, but almost every neighbourhood has their own arraial for the Popular Saints.

The biggest party, though, is on the Avenida da Liberdade, where people gather to watch the marchas populares, in which the bairros (neighbourhoods) compete with coreographed march/dances down the Avenida. This year the marches will be held on June 12th, and if you happen to be in town that evening, you should stop by, since it really is quite a spectacle. The whole event will be televised, as well, but it loses much of its flavor that way.

The weeks of the Popular Saints are an excelent excuse to visit Lisbon, since it’s the time of year when the Portuguese–normally a private and somewhat reserved people–are the most open and friendly. I’ve even seen Portuguese families invite total strangers and tourists to share their dinner of grilled sardines.

June 7, 2013

Quality Lisbon Busking, II: Lisbon celebrates its Arabic roots

Lisbon was an Arab city before Portugal even existed. The Moors held Al-Isbunah, as they called it, from 711 until D. Afonso Henriques and the crusaders drove them out in late 1147.

And even then their influence remained. From the twisting streets of the Alfama (Arabic: al-hama, for fountain or bath), to the still-standing remains of the old Cerca Moura (Moorish wall), to the lofty minaret-like spires of the Manueline architecture at the Rossio train staion and the Belem tower, Lisbon often tips her hat to her Moorish ancestors. The collection of Islamic art at the Gulbenkian Museum highlights these Arabic influences as well.

Belly Dancing Buskers remind us of Lisbon's Arabic past

Belly Dancing Buskers remind us of Lisbon’s Arabic past

Legend has it that, long ago, poor unmarried women would dance for money in the streets (and then sew the coins onto their dance scarves for safekeeping), until they had earned enough for a dowery. But once they were married, they could only dance for their husbands.

So it seemed fitting when I saw these dancers… Surely some other woman danced these same dances on a Lisbon street, almost 1000 years ago?

Belly dancer – Lisbon’s Arabic roots

Sword dancer – Lisbon’s Arabic roots

February 15, 2013

Quality Lisbon Busking

For every dozen street acts that are annoying or just odd, you get busker that has quality: original, beautiful, fun… or otherwise brightens your day.

Floating man busker

Floating man busker

I walked past this guy and thought “Meh. Another statue-man painted gold…” Then I did a double-take when I realized his feet weren’t touching the ground!

* What was the best busking moment you ever saw in Lisbon?

June 21, 2008

Annual Street Party!

Here’s a 2 minute video clip of the annual “Midnight Sardine and Fado Festival” on our tiny little street.

Friends, Fado & Sardines:  the essence of Lisboa

January 3, 2006

Donkeys & Castles

During the month of January, donkeys from Portugal’s Trás-os-Montes regionburro from tras-os-montes will be inside the Lisbon castle São Jorge in a “re-encounter with the city’s history.”

Rides from 9am to 6pm, included in the standard €3 castle entrance fee.