Sunshine city

Sunshine city


Rich culture: A bird’s eye view of Lisbon. Photo by Author

Lisbon wears many hats. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is also a city that spelt intrigue during the World War and where Graham Greene worked for the British Secret Services. Interestingly, it is while holidaying in Lisbon that Ian Fleming visualised the setting of his book Casino Royale and James Bond was born. It is also a city with a survival spirit, which rose up from the ashes of devastation after an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, ripped it apart. Most importantly, it is a sunshine city.

Lisbon, with ancient trams trundling down its streets and antique funiculars hurtling down the old town’s steep hills, is a place where the quaint and contemporary co-exist peacefully. Stretched over seven lofty hills, the city flanks the Tagus River. Sunshine vies with sunny temperaments of the Lisboêtas. The Moorish construction blends harmoniously with the Manueline style creating an interesting skyline. Azulejos, those startling blue and white tiles that are a hallmark of Lisbon, adorn the frontage of many houses, restaurants and shops. These cover everything — walls, floors and ceilings of palaces as well as the railway stations. Initially introduced by the Moors, the azulejos continued to adorn the structures of Lisbon much after they had gone. The tiles, apart from adorning walls, provide a practical and protective cover to them, according to my guide.

Perhaps, it was the city’s intriguing image that took me there. Always a lover of spy stories, I half expected to run into James Bond as he came careening down the street, revolver drawn to shoot his foe. Visuals from the famous Bond movies and those of the last flight to Lisbon in the movie Casablanca filled my senses. But there was nothing remotely undercover as I wandered along the riverfront of Lisbon one sunny morning, admiring the Discovery Monument on the banks of the Tagus River. Shaped like the prow of a ship, it was constructed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry, the navigator. In the background, the river was spanned by the famous 25 de Abril Bridge, that looks like Golden Gate. The bridge became famous after it was featured in the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The Jeronimos Monastery is one of the best examples of Manueline architecture. It is also the last resting place of Vasco da Gama, the famous son of Portugal. But it was Fado that had brought me to Lisbon. Fado — the mysterious, tragic and soul-stirring music that has undertones of Moorish influence. I was told that the medieval parts of the city housed more Fado performers than anywhere else and so it was to the Alfama I made my way that evening, for a spot of culture and history. A walk through the labyrinthine lanes of Alfama is enough to provide a glimpse of the city as it was during the Moorish rule. The narrow streets flanked by houses with wrought iron balconies overhung with potted flowers, remain unchanged.

That evening, as I listened to lyrics of love, longing and loss, I forgot all about my dinner. The melancholic notes rang through the restaurant, bringing all activities to a standstill.

The Fado singing was in phases between the servings of different courses. The lights came on intermittently and we attacked the food before us and then there was darkness and the singer took the floor as we put down our cutlery. According to my guide, Fado is believed to be inspired by Moorish songs, which were given a new form in the early 19th century by Portuguese sailors. They used Fado to pour out the sorrow of their desolation and danger as they sailed for long voyages away from home.

It is difficult to remain melancholic for long whilst in the sunshine city. In the morning, I snapped out of all gloomy thoughts as I traipsed around the lively neighbourhoods of Chiado and Bairro Alto and surrendered myself to the decadence of extensive shopping.

After a hearty meal comprising the Portuguese bacalhau, caldeirada and caldo verde to replenish my energy, I travelled towards the unsullied beaches on the fringes of Lisbon. But then, that’s another story.

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