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Under our feet in Lisbon

calcadaAn excellent exhibition, organized by the Museu de Lisboa, is about to enter its final week. I apologize to readers for not having reported on it earlier, I have been in Porto and the Douro Valley.

‘Under our feet’ can be seen in the Torreão Poente on the Praça do Comércio until the 24th of September. I always like visiting this exhibition space because some of the rooms look out over the River Tagus. Standing facing the first floor windows it is not difficult, if we close our eyes a little, to imagine the battle ship of some great power slowly approaching the city with all sails hoisted.

‘Calçada portuguesa’ (Portuguese pavement) is one of the glories of not only Lisbon town planning, but of many other towns throughout Portugal and its former colonies. It is interesting to discover that this very distinctive form of Portuguese paving only began to be deployed from the mid-19th century, most notably with the paving of Rossio, with its iconic wave motifs, in 1848.

The exhibition contains a number of the pavement moulds in wood that were used to create the motifs of ships, crows, butterflies and so on, that still today adorn Lisbon’s pavements. It was as if the parquet floors customary inside elegant buildings had suddenly taken on an ‘exterior’ role that could be enjoyed by all citizens.

We can see a 19th century lithograph of the Rua Augusta, a very different thoroughfare in those days, unadulterated by the vulgarity of this street’s present-day commercial design.

The most interesting work in the exhibition, however, is an oil painting by the 17th century Dutch painter Dirk Stoop. Painted in 1662, it is a large panorama of the Terreiro do Paco, through which we have walked to reach the exhibition. The painting shows this immense public space covered with people from most categories of society: merchants, sailors, clergy, children, servants (some of them black slaves), ordinary townspeople, military and royalty. For this painting, in addition to being a ‘sociological’ and topographical work, records an important historical event.

This event was the departure of Catarina de Braganza, the daughter of King João IV of Portugal, to marry Charles II of England. Stoop’s work shows us the procession of the Princess and her escort from the royal palace towards the fleet of British ships that will convey her to her new life in England. British naval officers are supervising the embarkation of the Princess’s no doubt substantial dowry. Catarina is accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting and a priest or two. We can only wonder if she was facing her journey with a sense of dread or whether she was excited by the prospect of her new role as consort to the English king. We know, however, that Catarina was responsible for introducing to England the habit of drinking tea and for this we can be grateful to her.


The author, James Mayor, is the founder of Grape Discoveries, a wine and culture boutique travel company

See the 'Grape Discoveries' website

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