Throughout Portugal’s history, Lisbon has been the centre stage of many coups, insurrections, and rebellions, which forever changed the whole country. So what better day than the anniversary of the revolution to travel back in time to Lisbon’s most iconic revolution sites and discover how Portuguese lives were changed for the better?
On a cloudy but warm Sunday morning, an intimate group of eight people met in the Teatro Romano museum at the top of a hill in the Alfama district with a view of the Tagus river, waiting for the cultural mediator to show us all the history the city has to offer. We meet Paulo Cuiça, a cultural mediator since 2014, 'specialised in Lisbon history'. He starts off by bringing us just down the road from the museum, near the Centro de Estudios Judicarios, established in 1979.
This historic building has had many names: Paço de-a-par-de São Martinho, Paços de Infante Duarte (meaning Palace of the Heir to the Throne), and Paço do Limoeiro in reference to a lemon tree that used to be on the premises. Kings have stayed there, as well as their children and nuns. But most interestingly, the building was a former prison (found below the building), and a courthouse (on the upper floors). It served as the City Prison (Cadeia da Cidade) and the Prison of the Realm (Cadeia da Corte). The earthquake of 1755 severely damaged the Limoeira, causing the collapse of the City prison and part of the Prison of the Realm. Some reports claimed all the prisoners had escaped. Criticism against the prison and its living conditions continued to grow in the 19th and 20th century. In July following the revolution of 1974, inmates were transferred elsewhere, marking the end of the Limoeiro prison.
We make our way further down into the city, learning more about other monuments like the Cathedral of Lisbon (or Sé de Lisboa) and the Saint Anthony church, until we arrive to our next stop: Praça do Comercio. It is not only one of the most beautiful squares in Lisbon, but also where we learn the juiciest historical anecdotes. On 1 February 1908, the Portuguese royal family were crossing the square in their open carriage when two assassins, Alfredo Luis da Costa and Manuel Buiça, opened fire on the carriage, instantly killing King Carlos I and his son Prince Luis Felipe. This event marked the end of the monarchy and established Portugal's first republic. Today, if you look closely, you'll find a discreet plaque in the square, that marks the spot where the king and prince were killed.
The Carnation Revolution in Portugal (25 April 1974)
Learning about the past, “in order to build the future”
While we made our way to our last stop, I spoke with Peter Coville, a British tour guide for Lisbon Lives, who came with his five-year-old son. He took this public guided visit in order to “learn more” about “a very important day” for the country. He wanted to learn about “the little details”, he could share with his clients during his own tours, as well as with his son, “but in more simpler terms he can understand”.
Luckily in Praça Dom Pedro IV, there are lots of little details to learn. Paulo Cuiça tells us about Dom Pedro himself, known as 'the Liberator' or the 'Soldier King'. When the country was invaded by French troops in 1807, he and his family fled to Portugal’s largest and wealthiest colony, Brazil. His father having returned to Portugal after the outbreak of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, left Dom Pedro to rule Brazil as regent. This led him to declare Brazil's independence from Portugal on 7 September 1822 and on 12 October, he was acclaimed Brazilian emperor.
Just above us, is the Carmo Convent, which during the Carnation Revolution was encircled by military rebels who opposed the Estado Novo regime. The regime's last president, Marcelo Caetano was holed-up in the building, eventually surrendering to the future democratic president Antonio de Spinola. Our cultural mediator Paulo Cuiça, trying to talk louder than all the cars, busses and people that pass by the busy square, tells us that this revolution also greatly advanced women's rights. For example, until 1969, Portuguese women could not travel abroad without authorisation from her husband or father.
Despite us all wanting to talk more about these fascinating facts, we realise that the tour should have ended almost an hour ago. We were so caught up in the city's history, that time just flew by and we found ourselves back in present-day Lisbon. When crossing the Dom Pedro square, after parting ways with the others from the group, it just hit me then that every street we walk on and every square we rush past to get to the subway station, tells the story of people who fought to make the country a better place. As Paulo Cuiça put it, "it is important to know the history of the city, the stories behind each street name, in order to build the future".