Travel with books – Lisbon

To know more about this project, and for image credits for the button, please read the Travel with books project page.

Over 6 months after my trip to Lisbon, I am finally ready to tell you about what the city and the books held for me. As with Vienna, Lisbon is not a once-in-a-lifetime destination for me, and you may notice that my take on this post is a little different from previous ones: this time I took the books as suggestions of what to go and discover in Lisbon. Because of that, this post also fits Libby‘s new event, the Book Pilgrimage.

It is hard to keep my eyes fresh after visiting a place so many time, but books do help to discover new facets even of the best-known town.

The Christ the King statue is not mentioned in any of the books I read, but on this trip I had the chance to see it up close

My reading list (links are to my thoughts):

The ferry was the only way to cross the Tagus before this bridge was built in 1966

First, following the example of Gregorius in Night Train to Lisbon, I intended to take a ferry to cross the Tagus — except, I was sidetracked, because I found a convenient river cruise leaving from the same terminal! It clearly does not have the same feeling, but I appreciated the experience.

The Belem Tower, looking like a ship ready to sail

The good thing about the cruise is that we managed to reach and see the Belem Tower, which wold not fit our earlier programs. When you visit the tower (which we did on a previous occasion), you see a nosy sculpture and you learn about the first rhinoceros to be brought to Europe by Portuguese explorers in early 16th century. You can read the full story here on Atlas Obscura. It was interesting to recall it because in The Indies Enterprise Orsenna gives a good fictionalized account of the rhino’s arrival and of the reaction of people in Lisbon. Unfortunately I cannot share the scene with you because I only have the French version of this book, but if you happen to have the English translation, I’d be grateful if you shared the quote in the comments!

The Lisbon castle, as seen from Praça do Comercio

The best part of the day, though, was following the indications given by Saramago and retrace Raimundo Silva’s steps on what was once the Moorish line of fortifications around the city. I have to admit I never felt the charm of this part of Lisbon as strong as on that day. (Following quotes are from the English translation by Giovanni Pontiero, taken from Google Books.)

The idea, which came to him as he watched the roof-tops descending like steps as far as the river, is to follow the lay-out of the Moorish fortifications according to the scant and rather dubious information provided by the historian, as he himself had the good grace to acknowledge.

Lisbon rooftops. The many cruise ships detracted a bit from our 12th-century experience

Raimundo Silva will peruse more slowly whatever remains to be inspected, another section of the wall in the Pátio do Senhor da Murça, the Rua da Adiça, where the wall rose up, and that of Norberto de Araújo, as the street was recently baptised, at the summit an imposing stretch of wall, eroded at the base, these are truly living stones, they have been here for nine centuries, if not longer, from the time of the barbarians, and they survive, they intrepidly support the bell-tower of the church of St Lucy or St Brás, it makes no difference, at this spot, ladies and gentlemen, opened the ancient Portas do Sol, facing eastward, the first to receive the rosy breath of dawn, now all that remains is the square which took its name from this landmark…

Original Moorish wall: I had no idea there was some of it still preserved!

Actually, the plaque says the original wall predated Moorish time and dates back to the Visigots, even!

But here, right before Raimundo Silva’s eyes is a fragment, if not of the indestructible rampart itself, at least of a wall occupying the same space where the other stood, and descending all the way down the steps beneath a row of broad windows surmounted by tall gables.

Not the same segment mentioned in the text, but according to our guide this too was original Moorish wall, and it now houses a café called “Moorish walls”

As usual, here’s a list of more books set in Lisbon I wish to read sometime soon:

  • Antonio Tabucchi, Pereira Maintains
  • Antonio Tabucchi, Requiem: A Hallucination
  • José Saramago, Journey to Portugal
  • José Saramago, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
  • Camilo Castelo Branco, Mysteries of Lisbon
  • José Rodrigues dos Santos, The Einstein Enigma
  • Richard Zimler, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon

Have you read any of these? Any title that you wish to suggest/suggest to avoid? And have you ever visited Lisbon?


7 comments on “Travel with books – Lisbon

  1. If you ever get a chance, do visit Lisbon — I’m sure it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the light there… it’s one of the best things in life!

  2. Yay! What a perfect, perfect book pilgrimage!

    I liked how you said, ” I have to admit I never felt the charm of this part of Lisbon as strong as on that day.” (when you were following Silva’s steps). I think the same thing…that reading about the destination while traveling takes you to a whole new plane of experience.

    I also love the light on the Christ the King statue.

    I am going to direct people back to the Pilgrimage and this post as I go through my ’round of memes.’ I’m going to try out some Facebook travel and book sites too – I hope more people can read this 🙂 Great post!

  3. I don’t get to travel abroad at all (maybe one day that will change) but I really enjoyed reading this. I probably would not have thought to visit there–but now I think this would be on of the places I’d like to see!!

    Cheers, Jenn

  4. @ Libby: reading about a destination helps, following the book’s steps and using it as a travel guide goes even deeper! It was so much more interesting and charming this way. As for the light in that picture: we were lucky to get there just on the brink of the sunset, and saw the light changing around us and around the statue — that was splendid! As I said before, light in Lisbon has a magical quality!
    @ Jenn: I really hope you can get a chance to travel a bit abroad — but do profit of wherever you are in the meantime: too often we forget to truly visit and discover the places we live in!

  5. I’ve never been to the Moorish Walls (or that they existed) either! Must take a look next time I’m in town.

    Regarding Night Train to Lisbon, I’m more curious about the upcoming movie than the book. I actually started reading it, but then forgot it on a taxi in Budapest and never bothered to replace it.

  6. It’s hard to notice them if you don’t know to look for them: they just look like any other wall… That’s why I appreciated the experience so much, because it was like having an historian tell us where and what to look at to discover new sides to Lisbon.
    I’m curious about the movie too, hoping it will pick my interest more than the book did 🙂

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