I left Évora late this morning by train and I arrived back in Lisbon, where I started this trip, early this afternoon. I’m here for two nights. Then it’s back home. This afternoon, I visited the Lisbon Cathedral and the National Tile Museum. I also did a fair bit of walking.
The initial construction of the Lisbon Cathedral (Sé Catedral de Lisboa) finished in 1150. However, it’s undergone some renovations since then, including a major one instigated by an earthquake that shook the place in 1755.
To my eye, the Lisbon Cathedral is very austere. There’s little decoration. It’s mostly raw concrete or stone-block walls and pillars, with a soaring vaulted ceiling.
I’m not saying there’s no decoration. It’s just that there isn’t as much as I’ve seen in most other cathedrals I’ve visited. To be honest, its starkness is not much of a drawback for me.
An art historian reads this journal regularly. She may be the only person who reads it regularly. (I was going to say she reads it “religiously,” but, considering this section is about a church, that would leave an entirely wrong impression.)
She probably has a very different view, but, to be honest, the evocative, centuries-old paintings and sculptures that adorn, sometimes in great abundance, most old cathedrals, even many churches further down the ecclesiastical buildings hierarchy than cathedral status, are not what most draws me into them.
I like their soaring, overpowering architecture. To my mind, the starkness of the Lisbon Cathedral adds to, rather than subtracts from that. I marvel that these structures could even be built in a time before motorized cranes and modern architecture and engineering technologies, and current building materials.
View from the Lisbon Cathedral
Other features of the Lisbon Cathedral beyond the sanctuary include an upstairs choir area from which I gazed upon the sanctuary from on high. Off that, a narrow balcony provides views of the city.
There is also a “treasury.” It’s a museum that displays religious items such as monstrances, vestments, crosses, and yada, yada, yada.
In addition, the Lisbon Cathedral has a cloister. Regular reader(s) know that I’ve grown very fond of nice cloisters. However, I can’t say I liked the one here. I can’t say I disliked it either. In fact, I can’t say anything about it at all. It was closed due to an archaeological dig.
An archaeological dig? Why do they need to do that? I can tell them what they’ll find. They’ll find ruins. There’s no secret about that. Ruins. Maybe some ancient tchotchkes too. But mostly ruins. I think. But, then again, what do I know?
National Tile Museum
The National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) is a museum. It exhibits tiles. What more do you need to know?
Alright, alright. I’ll give you more, stop your griping. The National Tile Museum is housed in a former convent that Eleanor of Aragon, Queen of Portugal, founded in 1509.
The nuns are long gone now. Don’t ask me when they departed. Or where they went. I don’t think they left a forwarding address. Besides, why do you want to know where they are? I doubt the nuns want the likes of you chasing after them. We’ll have none of that, thank you very much.
Lots of Tiles
Now, tiles occupy the former convent. Lots of tiles. Some of the tiles have pictures on them. Others show patterns.
The tiles date from the 15th century to modern times.
Some of the tiles are of many colours. Others are monochrome, with hues of blue painted on white. I don’t know if it’s unique to Portugal, but I’ve seen a few churches here decorated inside with similar blue-on-white tiles. On at least a couple of churches, those tiles are on one or more outside walls as well.
The museum resides on three floors, but the top one is smaller than the other two. The top floor’s star attraction is one of those monochrome blue-on-white white tiles. Or rather a series of such tiles that form a panorama of the Lisbon skyline from before the 1755 earthquake. The panorama spans the full width of one wall and angles around a corner.
Tiles may dominate the exhibits, but the museum also displays some porcelain and ceramics of varying ages.
And beyond the exhibits, the former convent also has a pleasant cloister and a beautiful little church that are still a pleasant cloister and a beautiful little church. Although, I don’t know if the church still functions as a church.
The walk from my hotel to the Lisbon Cathedral was non-trivial. I hoofed it even farther between there and the National Tile Museum. And, because the museum took me farther in generally the same direction from my hotel as the cathedral, my longest trek of the day was from the museum back to my hotel.
Following my GPS-based mapping app’s plotted route, if I saw a street that looked interesting, I serendipitously veered off-route to explore it. People who know me know that I’m all about spontaneity. And people who know me very well know I’m lying about being all about spontaneity.
Then again, if I’d lie about being all about spontaneity, I might lie about lying about it. I will tell you this, if you want to place a bet on which it is, bet that I lied about being all about spontaneity. Unless, that is, I’m the one taking the other side of the bet. In that case, bet that I am indeed all about being impetuosity. I’m not opposed to me making some money off these trips. They’re not cheap.
Be all that as it may, I did take a few serendipitous diversions. The point is, I undertook considerable walking this afternoon.
I walked along some streets and through some neighbourhoods that I visited on my first days in Lisbon. But I also walked through some places I hadn’t seen before.
I now feel confident in making this statement: Lisbon has an exceptionally eclectic mix of streetscapes.
I mentioned Avenida de Liberdade, the wide, treed, multifunctional boulevard in front of my hotel, in my first post on Lisbon. It is spectacular. But it’s only one of the many streetscape varietals in Lisbon.
There are narrow twisting streets, some of which are one-way because two cars couldn’t fit side-by-side on them. Others are wider. Most are paved with cobblestones.
Vintage trolley cars ply some of the streets.
And some streets aren’t streets at all, but staircases. Obviously, those are just for pedestrians.
Here and there, public squares—some small, some large, some truly grand—create their own special streetscapes. Or is that squarescapes, to coin a word? Some are just fairly plain squares, or whatever shape they may be. But some have grand fountains, statues, and/or other monuments.
Lisbon also delivers up a few broad, pedestrian-only streets. Shops and restaurants line these pedestrian ways, with the restaurants’ tables spilling out generously onto the street. This helps to make them very vibrant. In my opinion, many cities could benefit greatly from the amazing vitality that similar streetscapes would give them. (Looking at you, Toronto.)
Lisbon is a hilly city. Getting from A to B often requires walking up and down a hill or two. On the hilltops, I sometimes came across gaps in the rows of normally continuously abutting buildings, such as to accommodate cross-streets or cross-stairs, or just because there is a gap for some unknown reason. At least, unknown to me. Those gaps often provide magnificent vistas.
What I’m trying to say is, I’ve come to really like Lisbon. I have one more day here. Maybe I’ll come to love it even more before I head back home. Or not. We’ll see.