Portugal: Peeps at Many Lands - Edith A. Browne

More About Lisbon

Still farther up the river, and inland from it, high on one of Lisbon's many hills, stands the fortress of St. George, another of the very few ancient buildings that escaped destruction in the dreadful earthquake of 1755, when hardly a house remained standing, and over 60,000 people perished.

It is a long climb to where the old Moorish fortress stands dominating the town, up long flights of worn, uneven steps, and through narrow twisting streets; but the visitor will be amply repaid by the splendid view of the town and surrounding country which can be obtained from the time-worn battlements of the citadel, to which he is admitted in charge of a private of the "Casadore," after an interview with the friendly sergeant of the guard. From here he can see the Tagus with its shipping, and the red-roofed, white-walled houses, with here and there an odd one, coloured blue, pink, yellow, or green. From this point, also, he may look down on the two largest pracas, or squares, of the city—the already-mentioned Praca do Commercio, near the river, and more directly at his feet the Praca de Dom Pedro, so called from the statue of Peter IV., which stands on a high column in the centre. This place is known among the English sailors as "Roly-Poly Square," on account of the strange way the pavement is laid. It is in curved lines of alternate black and white, and looks most uneven, almost like the waves of the sea, or the ridge and furrow of a ploughed field, and it is quite a surprise in walking across it to find that in reality it is perfectly flat.

Still farther from the river is the Avenida da Liberdade, a very wide and shady promenade, planted with palms and other trees. It is the finest part of Lisbon, where smart carriages may be seen driving up and down; and it is the happy haunt of children and nursemaids, not to speak of caracoling cavaliers.

Looking round the old fortress, any Englishman would notice the list of battles emblazoned on the barrack walls. They might have been taken from the roll of honour on the Colours of some of our own regiments, and remind one of the time when the Portuguese and English fought shoulder to shoulder throughout the Peninsular War, and Wellington led the allied armies to victory against the soldiers of the great Napoleon.

The Portuguese still have a very friendly feeling for England, which was prettily shown one day by the gentleman in charge of the Arsenal Museum, who was kindly showing me a fine collection of old bronze guns. They were of many nations, and after examining them for some time, I asked if there were no English guns among them.

"Ah, no!" he answered, with a charming smile; "the French and Spaniards have often left their guns behind them, but the English never!"

Another hill in Lisbon, about midway between the Fort of St. George and the Royal Palace, is crowned by the fine church of the "Estrella," whose towers and high dome stand out in bold relief against the bright blue sky. Near by is the English church and cemetery.

Visiting a cemetery is generally rather a gloomy proceeding, but this one is quite an exception. I saw it first in the month of April, when the tombstones were wreathed in masses of pink roses, and everywhere, growing so thickly that no earth could be seen, were beautiful white arum-lilies, rising out of a perfect sea of glistening green leaves. Above them stood the dark cypresses and light, spreading Judas-trees, covered with purple-pink blossoms, which shed a carpet of flowers on the narrow paths below.

Judas-tree in bloom.


There is a wise old proverb which says, "Do in Rome as Rome does," and certainly it pays in Lisbon to do as Lisbon does, and the same applies to any part of Portugal. When you go shopping you must remember to wish the shopkeeper "Good-day," and if you are a man, to bow and raise your hat. You are always expected to be polite, and you receive great politeness in return. Even if you turn out half the shop, and then go away without buying anything at all, the attendant shows no annoyance, but, on the contrary, is sometimes even profuse in his apologies for not having that which the signor is in search of. If, however, you enter in a lofty way—as I am sorry to say I have sometimes seen English people do—and, omitting all form of greeting, roughly demand this article or that, it is quite possible that even should the shopkeeper have exactly what you want, he may tell you he does not stock it, and bow you out of the door.

The people you see in the streets are mostly small and dark, and to judge by the way they stand about talking, sometimes for hours together, they would not seem to have very much to do. Walking down the principal streets of the town any afternoon, you will see little groups of men leaning up against the walls, or standing on the pavement arm in arm, blocking the way for other people, and talking together with much animation. Many are officers in uniform, from bemedalled generals and admirals to subalterns and midshipmen. It looks quite natural in Lisbon, but would strike us as very odd indeed in Bond Street or Piccadilly.

One of the prettiest sights in the whole town is to be seen early in the morning down on the quays along the river, when the graceful, gaily-painted fishing-boats come in, and land their cargoes of shimmering fish. The quays are very wide, and some of them slope right down to the water's edge. Here the fish are landed and piled up in heaps, and a crowd of waiting women set to work to fill their large fiat baskets and take them off for sale in the market near at hand, or to hawk them round the town. Some balance the baskets on their heads, others have them attached to either end of a long pole, which rests on the shoulder. These women are most picturesque. They have gaudy handkerchiefs tied round their heads, beneath small black "pork-pie" felt hats; the sleeves of their cotton blouses are turned up above the elbows, and their bare feet show below very full, short, brightly-coloured petticoats.

These Lisbon fish-wives correspond to our Cockneys in their fund of ready wit and good-humoured repartee. It is sometimes quite amusing to listen to the banter which passes between the busy workers on the quays and the fishermen, who shout their remarks from the much-encumbered decks of the boats. There are other men and women busily employed, salting and packing some of the fish into boxes and baskets for transportation inland, and others are already at work overhauling the nets.

Lisbon fish-wives.


The method of selling milk strikes one as very odd indeed. Instead of a milk-cart and cans, the cows and goats go round to the houses, and in the early morning are to be seen, even in the most busy streets of the town, being driven slowly along and milked as required at people's doors The electric trams which now run throughout the town and far into the country contrast strangely with old-fashioned customs of this kind, for Lisbon is daily growing more up-to-date, though there is still a slowness about many proceedings which makes one sometimes wonder what would happen if a rush of business, such as goes on in our own large towns, were to come that way. Southey, in one of his letters from Portugal, tells an amusing story of an English sailor who happened to see a fire in Lisbon. Assistance came late, and the house burnt slowly. "Confound it all!" cried he; "there is no spirit in this country. Why, we should have had a dozen houses burnt down in London by this time!"