Sketches of Lisbon
38.7223° N, 9.1393° W
We arrived in the late afternoon, and were immediately taken with the city’s relaxed charm. Bright yellow, vintage trams clattered up hilly streets lined with colourful shops. Dangling plants and flowers adorned balconies, and drying laundry flapped on clotheslines above us. Warm laughter and clinking glasses beckoned us from every lively petisqueira (a bar serving petiscos, the lesser- known Portuguese relative of tapas) we passed. Everywhere we went, there seemed to be something magical to be found just around the bend – a vibrant plaza, an endearing café, or a stunning vantage point of the city.
Streams of golden light trickled through the winding, cobbled streets as the sun began to set, and the beautifully melancholic notes of fado (a traditional Portuguese musical style) echoed around each corner. And the pastel buildings – with intricate wrought iron on their facades, terracotta tiles on their roofs, and centuries of history and experiences etched in their walls – seemed to sigh knowingly. This was Lisbon.
Past and present
We headed out with our cameras at sunrise to shoot at the Arco da Rua Augusta, the magnificent triumphal arch crowning the entrance to the expansive Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square). The waterfront plaza and its stately, arcaded buildings were built where the Paços da Ribeira (Royal Ribeira Palace) once stood, after the palace and most of the city were destroyed in the great 1755 Lisbon earthquake. As a commercial hub and a symbol of Portugal’s power and influence, this plaza and port saw the wealth of the nation converge on its storied grounds. And in 1908, it witnessed the assassination of Carlos I – the beginning of the end for the Portuguese monarchy.
History and modernity
We made our way west, following the Tagus River to the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology). Located in Belém – the historic district from where the great Portuguese explorers set sail – the MAAT is the progressive cultural centrepiece of Lisbon’s riverfront. The iconic main building, designed by London-based firm AL_A, is a gem of contemporary architecture that is at once magnificent and modest.
Low-slung and respectful of its surroundings, the sweeping curves of the building rise gently from the waterfront promenade like a cresting wave, rolling toward the Tagus River. From the street, the grandeur of the building isn’t apparent. But as we followed the path from the ground to the rooftop terrace, we felt the structure gradually emerging beneath our feet, as if we were climbing onto a massive, half-buried seashell of steel and stone.
We paused to take it all in. It was still early and there was no one else around – just the river in front of us, Bélem behind us, and the clear Lisbon sky above. It felt like we were in a dream, and in a way, we were. Monos started as a dream of what travel means to us, and now, it was materializing.
We stopped for lunch at a tasca (a simple, traditional eatery serving home-style Portuguese dishes) and we were on the move again. It was time to pick up our local friends, Gus and Tarla, and head to the outskirts of Lisbon, where surf photographer Zé Pedro Alvarez was waiting for us with a beautifully restored Land Rover Defender 90.