TEN MYSTERIES OF LISBON by the city's Historian MARINA TAVARES DIAS
According to the Lisbon historian, Marina Tavares Dias, “Lisbon is geographically one of the most attractive cities in the world, yet it’s also one of the least known, both by tourists and by the Portuguese (and Lisboners) themselves”. Who’s the city’s patron saint? Why is St. Anthony of Lisbon thought to be the patron saint of marriage? And why did Martim Moniz get stuck in the gates of St. George’s Castle? These are only some of ten unfathomable Lisbon mysteries. Some can be unravelled, others can’t. Let’s hear what the expert has to say.
I – St. Genesius “The oldest tradition on record in Lisbon is that of St. Genesius, who was bishop of Lisbon before the city became Christian. Tradition says that any woman that sits down on the 12th-century stone chair where St. Genesius preached will have an easy delivery. You won’t hear differently! It’s a tradition that’s never died. The chair can be found at the chapel of Our Lady of the Mount.”
II – The Varina “The «varina», traditional Lisbon fish vendor, disappeared from the city streets about 20 years ago. Legend has it that these women were descendants of the Phoenicians. Strong, slim proud, they were celebrated by the intellectual élite and famous poets Cesário Verde or Carlos Queiroz. The most plausible explanation for the varinas' vanishing from the imaginary and the memory is that the people of Lisbon have a short memory and know little about their own history”.
III – Rossio or D. Pedro V Square? “The funniest mystery about Lisbon is this: why do some streets and squares have two names? Rossio is also Praça Dom Pedro IV, butno-one calls it that; Terreiro do Paço is «officially» Praça do Comércio; Campo de Santana «became» Campo dos Mártires da Pátria. Across the decades or even centuries, some of the place names in Lisbon were changed, but the Lisbonese didn’t go along with it and continued to use the original designations. As my grandfather used to say, that’s how you can tell who’s from Lisbon and who’s not. People from outside Lisbon use the name Praça do Comércio instead of Terreiro do Paço, and the same applies to Rossio, Campo de Santana and other places”.
IV – Martim Moniz “Lisbon hero Dom Martim Moniz was supposed to have got stuck while blocking a door, during the defeat of the Moors in the Christian reconquest of the city, in 1147. It was this act that enabled the crusaders to enter the city's walls. From what I’ve read about the conquest of Lisbon – and I’ve read everything there is on the subject – there’s no record of this event. So where does the story come from? God only knows!”
V – Folk Costume “Many people think that the folk costume of Lisbon is that of the Fado singer in Malhoa’s painting. However, this Fado singer is not the famous Severa, but is, in fact, the prostitute Adelaide. Somebody decided to dress the Lisbon woman in this way to represent Fado. Not only does it not represent Fado – because Severa didn’t dress like that – but the existing folk costume was then cast aside. The traditional Lisbon woman wore a cape and tarlatan scarf. The last representations of this woman were modelled in pottery by the master Bordalo Pinheiro (19th century)”.
VI – Chiado “It’s practically certain that Chiado doesn’t get its name from the satirical poet Ribeiro Chiado, though the street-plate on the square states so. When they inaugurated the statue to the poet in the 1920s, the Lisbon historian Gustavo Matos Sequeira discovered that there was an innkeeper on the corner of Rua Garrett (which used to be called Rua das Portas de Santa Catarina) and Rua do Carmo whose nickname was Chiado. But I am sure that anyone who often went round this corner knew that their shoes squeak (chiam) on the steep cobblestones, just like the metal cartwheels used to do. What probably happened was that both the innkeeper and the name Chiado came from this squeaking (‘chiar’)”.
VII – The Aqueduct “The St. Benedict arch, part of the Águas Livres aqueduct, was dismantled so that the tram could get through more easily, in the 1930s. Its stones laid on the Belem Palace grounds for decades. It was put back together at Praça de Espanha and dedicated to those who resisted fascism (1926-1974). It just doesn’t make sense. It’s an unfathomable mystery why a centuries-old monument represents something so recent in Portuguese History.
VIII – Three Patron Saints “Many people think of St. Anthony as being the patron saint of Lisbon, but actually he’s not. The patron saint is St. Vincent, but he’s not alone in his mission. Let’s not forget St. George, whose name was given to the city’s castle by King João I. During the Reconquista, the Portuguese Christians distinguished themselves from the Spanish by cheering for St. George (while the Spanish cheered for St. James). So there are sort of three «patron» saints of Lisbon: St. George, St. Vincent and St. Anthony, the most cherished of all”.
XIX – Marquis of Pombal “Tribute is paid to the Marquis of Pombal in an area of Lisbon that should pay homage to the establishment of the Republic (in 1910) because it was here that the Republican barricades were set up. At the time of the Marquis, that area wasn’t even Lisbon, it was Northern suburbs. The homage to the marquis should be in the city centre, which he had rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake”.
X – St. Anthony “St. Anthony was a dedicated scholar, a highly ascetical Doctor of the Church. He’s not known to have set hearts on fire with passion (like St. John the Baptist and Salomé) and there’s no story him performing a miracle to bring two lovers together. Yet, he’s still seen as the patron saint of marriage. So much so that, since at least the 18th century, many have gone to the church of St. Anthony to ask for a partner. St. Anthony is Lisbon's own St. Valentine. Go figure and ask to be loved; because it works!”