According to a report from UNESCO, in 2020 museums around the world were closed for an average of 155 days, and since the beginning of 2021, many of them have been forced to close their doors again, causing a 70 percent drop in visitors, and between 40 percent to 60 percent drop in revenues, compared to 2019. After months of lockdown, re-opening museums and monuments will not only be a big relief to cultural workers, but also to tourists discovering the city, as well as Lisboetas ready to re-discover it.
The president of the Portuguese Observatory of Cultural Activities (OPAC), José Soares Neves, indicated back in March, that approximately 660 museums in the country lost between 70 and 80 percent of their visitors, due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic, a decrease he considered “drastic”. In view of this dramatic situation, many museums, and other touristic sites, are doing anything they can to keep afloat. The city has therefore decided that municipal museums and monuments will reopen free of charge (until the end of the month). That includes Casa dos Bicos, Museu da Marioneta (Puppet Museum), Museum of Fado, Casa Fernando Pessoa, Museu de Lisboa - Teatro Romano, Museum of Aljube - Resistance and Freedom, Museu Bordalo Pinheiro, Museum of Lisbon - Santo António, Museum of Lisbon - Pimenta Palace, Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar, Monument to the Discoveries and the Castelo de São Jorge.
Making culture “more accessible to the general public” Jessica, Daniela, Sandrina and the rest of their family came from France for a few days of vacation in Lisbon. The Parisian family came to the Fado Museum because their mum, originally from Portugal herself, adores Fado music. “It’s a very original type of music, you can’t find this anywhere” says one of the daughters. Back in France, cultural workers were protesting in the streets about the current situation artists are confronted with in pandemic times, some occupying theatres with a strong message to the government demanding culture be re-opened. While many associations here in Portugal accused the government of leaving out cultural workers from the emergency support, the municipality announced that “so far, 5,151 requests for extraordinary support have been requested from artists, authors, technicians and other cultural professionals” and the Lisbon City Council supported 264 cultural sector entities, worth €1.5 million.
The family was very excited to be able to set foot once again in a museum. The fact that tickets are free all month “allows culture to be more accessible to the general public” says Jessica. “It’s really just the best, we clearly came at the right time”, her sister Daniela adds. Regarding the virus spreading, the family isn’t worried. “As long as everyone respects the rules, there really isn’t reason to worry. We are all wearing masks, disinfectant gel is always nearby and there is enough space for everyone to move around” says Sandrina.
Indeed, museums and monuments are reinforcing their sanitary rules and making sure every protocol is followed. The front desk will politely ask you to clean your hands with disinfectant gel on your way in. On your way out, someone will be there to open the door for you in order to avoid people touching it. Going to the museum now is kind of like meeting a newborn baby when it comes to hygiene, but it’s worth it.
At the Castelo São Jorge, at the top of the capital, rain starts to pour. But the clouds couldn’t keep away the visitors. After climbing the stairway to what I hope will be heaven after all those steps, a group of French tourists see the security guard waiting to check our temperatures, and chuckles. “Man, I just finished climbing this huge hill, I’m sweating, I have no idea what my temperature is going to be” says one of the girls.
She managed to pass the temperature check, but reminders of sanitary measures are everywhere. There are posters reminding people the safe distance to keep with others, to use disinfectant gel, and some parts of the castle are closed off. Guided tours are still available: for the archaeological site tours are available for up to 8 people per session, tours of the castle and theme tours can have up to 10 people per session and cost €2.50.
A group of six friends visiting the city decided not to take a tour guide, but just walk around and visit the beautiful site. Two of them are tourists, “the others already live here” Maria, from Brazil, tells me. Her friend who came all the way from Belgium says “it’s really nice to be out and to be able to visit the city, and the tickets were free so it’s great. It gives us something to do.” The others from their group have been living in the city for five years now “and they’ve never even been to the castle before!” Maria exclaims. I ask them what they think about museums and monuments re-opening, and whether or not they think it’s safe. “If stores like Zara can open, I don’t see why museums shouldn’t open too”, Maria points out.