Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

Most of the Portuguese history books I’ve read dealt with older events and times in the country’s history- the 1755 earthquake, Henry the Navigator, the Templars, etc.  This is the first modern history book I’ve found about Portugal.  While many younger people may regard World War II as ancient history, let me assure you, in a history that goes back thousands of years, World War II is modern.

Neill Lochery’s book gives a fascinating look at António de Oliveira Salazar’s efforts to maintain neutrality during World War II while playing both the Allies and the Axis powers to the benefit of Portugal.  Initially, Salazar’s insistence that Portugal remain neutral during the conflict was built around his fears that either Germany or Spain would invade his country, and that Great Britain, Portugal’s oldest ally, would not be able to help the country if an invasion did happen.  His fears were valid; Spain actually had plans in place to invade Portugal, but never followed through with them.

Lisbon, as Portugal’s largest and most important city, was awash with Allied and German spies during the war, each side monitoring the other’s activities.  Among the agents was a young British Intelligence agent named Ian Fleming, whose Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel, drew heavily on his time in Portugal.

Additionally, Lisbon was crowded with refugees, many of them Jewish, who were fleeing Nazi persecution in their home countries.  Several chapters describe the events of various organizations to help Jews escape the war through Lisbon.

While remaining militarily neutral, Salazar had no qualms about selling wolfram, also known as tungsten, to Nazi Germany.  Because counterfeit currency was common, and the value of the currency fluctuated wildly, Salazar insisted that the wolfram be paid for with gold.  By the end of the war, Portugal’s gold reserves increased from 63.4 tons at the beginning of the war to 356.5 tons near the end of 1945, much of it Nazi gold.

The story of wolfram and Nazi gold is the most fascinating part of the book for me.  Much of the gold was taken by the Nazis from the occupied countries’ banks.  Some also was obtained during the Nazi persecution of Europe’s Jews.  While the Allies insisted that the neutral countries return the gold to the countries of origin after the war, Salazar negotiated an agreement where only 3 tons of an estimated 122 tons of Nazi gold was returned.  It’s a fascinating story.

While the book focuses on Salazar, wolfram and Nazi gold, there are plenty of other side stories to keep you interested.  One chapter covers the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s attempt to return to Great Britain from France, Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst’s similar escape from Burgundy, and the death of Hollywood star Leslie Howard, when the plane he was returning to Great Britain in was shot down by Nazi fighters.

It’s an interesting read, with plenty of the twists and turns associated with wars and spies.  In this case, though, it’s not a James Bond novel, it’s history.

If you’re interested in reading Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945, you can purchase it from Amazon here.

 

Rossio Square, Lisbon

Rossio Square has been a major gathering point in Lisbon for centuries.  Officially named Praça de D. Pedro IV, the square was virtually destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, fire, and tsunami that devastated Lisbon.  Marques de Pombal, the famed statesman who took control of the recovery and rebuilding of Lisbon after the earthquake, had a city plan developed.  At the center of the plan was a rebuilt Rossio Square, connected to Praça do Comércio by two straight streets, Áurea and Augusta Streets.  This area became known as the Pombaline Downtown.

I like this photo because you see the beautiful calçada portuguesa, the patterned pavement of the square, as well as catching a glimpse of two of two major landmarks of the area, the Santa Justa Lift and the Carmo Convent.

Rossio Square

Rossio Square, Lisbon

Lisbon is a beautiful city and the people of the city enjoy the many outdoor spaces scattered throughout Lisbon. Rossio Square has been one of the major squares and gathering places in Lisbon for centuries.

This photo of Rossio Square was taken from the Santa Justa Lift just before sunset.  I used a graduated filter to color the otherwise grey clouds a bit.  I like the way the touch of color in the sky ties in so well with the red roofs of the buildings.

Rossio Square

Lisbon Cathedral

The Cathedral of Lisbon has been a major part of the city since the 12th century.  It has undergone many changes over the centuries and was seriously damaged in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.  After the earthquake and accompanying fires, the Cathedral underwent a major reconstruction.  What you see today was the result of this reconstruction.

I took this photo from atop the Santa Justa Lift.  I love the colors of the buildings around the Cathedral and the way the Cathedral stands watch over the city.

I loved our time in Lisbon and, if we’re ever able to move to Portugal, I look forward to spending many days exploring this great city.

Lisbon Cathedral

Bairro Alto at night

On our last night in Portugal we had the pleasure of dining at Flor da Laranja, a Moroccan restaurant in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon.

Ann Marie and I have lived in and around several large cities, including New York and Atlanta.  Usually, it’s not a good thing to wander the streets of these cities after dark.  Bairro Alto was different.  The neighborhood seems to come alive after dark and the streets are full of people.  We actually felt safer after dark in Bairro Alto than during the day.

I think this street scene captures the vibrant feel of Bairro Alto after dark.

Night Scene

Trams, Lisbon

A popular mode of transportation in Lisbon, particularly with visitors, are the trams.  Four of the five tram routes are serviced by the historic “remodelado” trams.  These trams date from the 1930s and were upgraded in the 1990s, with new brakes, engines and electronics.  Because of Lisbon’s steep hills and narrow streets, modern trams are too large and cannot make the tight turns needed to navigate the city.  Only Route E15 uses the newer “articulado” trams.

The most famous of the remodelado trams is Tram 28.  Because it’s the longest route and circles through much of the tourist areas, it’s almost always standing room only.  Be prepared to wait to board the tram as well.  It took us over an hour before we were able to work our way through the queue and board the tram.

We rode Tram 28 because tourist guidebooks all tout it as an inexpensive way to see the sights.  I would advise against it and recommend, instead, any of the other trams, which are less crowded and more relaxed than Tram 28. We rode Trams 18 and 25 and had much more enjoyable rides.

Lisbon Trams

 

Portuguese Pavement, March 2018

I love the calçadas Portuguesa, or Portuguese pavement that is so common throughout the country.  The tradition goes back to Roman times when the Romans used stone laid in patterns to pave roads, plazas and even floors.  The Roman mosaic style of pavement can be seen in Conimbriga and on the ancient road turned walking trail located at Alqueidão da Serra.

The years of Moorish occupation had an influence on the pavement as well.  Many of the calçadas Portuguesa feature geometric patterns and designs that show the Arabic influence.

Several earthquakes in the 16th century and then again with the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon, were great drivers for the use of Portuguese pavement.  Many of the streets were paved this way after the 1755 earthquake.  General Eusébio Furtado used Portuguese pavement to transform the grounds of São Jorge Castle into walking places using the mosaic pavement.  He was also responsible for “Mar Largo” at Praça do Rossio, as well as Camões Square, Principe Square and Town Hall Square, all in Lisbon.

Rossio Square
Mar Largo, or Open Sea at Praça do Rossio, Lisbon

The stone is predominantly limestone quarried from the Aire and Candeeiros mountains of Portugal.  Black, white, grey and occasionally red stones are commonly used.  While geometric patterns are most common there are examples of the stones being used to display floral patterns, symbols and even portraits.  Most of what we saw was geometric patterns.

Praca Sousa Oliveira
Praca Sousa Oliveira, Nazaré

Much like Portugal’s azelejos, the stonework has become a part of the cultural identity. Unfortunately, the future of the art form is at risk.  It takes years to learn to cut and lay the stones and there are less expensive forms of pavement available.  I hope that the cultural value of the Portuguese pavement outweighs the economic cost and the tradition continues.

Coimbra Sidewalk
Rua Ferreira Borges in Coimbra

Flor da Laranja, Lisbon, March 2018

On our last night in Portugal we had the pleasure of dining at Flor da Laranja, a Moroccan restaurant in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon.

Morocco and Portugal have a history that goes back to the eighth century.  Moorish influence can be seen in architecture and art (Portugal’s famous azulejo tiles are of Moorish origin) and heard in place names throughout the country.  Despite this history, Moroccan restaurants are relatively rare in Portugal.

We asked our hotel to make reservations at the restaurant, which was fortunate, because without a reservation you will not get in.  The owner keeps the door locked and you must ring the doorbell to get in.  If you don’t have a reservation, she turns you away.  There was never more than three groups dining at one time, which allowed for a very personal and intimate experience.

Stepping out of the night and into the restaurant was our first indication that this would be a unique dining experience.  The interior is bright, with lots of flowers and candles, and Moorish-influenced art and furniture.  Moroccan music added to the vibrant atmosphere.

Flor da Laranja
Flor da Laranja

Flor da Laranja is truly a one man- or in this case, one woman show.  The owner, Rabea Esserghini, does it all, from waiting on the tables, to cooking the food, to answering the door.  I asked her about doing everything herself and she replied that it’s not much different from cooking dinner for her family.  A native of Casablanca, she loves sharing her country’s food with her guests.

And the food is really good.  We started with a glass of white vinho verde, or green wine.  The wine gets its name from the fact that it’s made from young grapes, not from its color.  It’s a bit sweet and slightly bubbly.  With dinner Sra. Esserghini recommended a bottle of rosé vinho verde, which was very good.

For the entrees, I chose a stuffed pepper and Ann Marie chose chicken with preserved lemons.  There were several small plates of eggplant, spinach, chickpeas and potatoes, which were all very good.  Sra. Esserghini made sure I didn’t forget about the sauce from the pepper, actually scooping it up and pouring it over the pepper.  She was right.  The sauce was awesome.

We enjoyed our dining experience at Flor da Laranja.  The food was outstanding and it’s obvious that Sra. Esserghini loves to share her culture and cuisine with her customers.  If you’re in Lisbon I recommend you make Flor da Laranja a stop on your journey.  But don’t forget the reservation.