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Lisbon – Day One: Decadence and Decay

The time had come to escape the freezing London cold; the dark afternoons and the desolate faces; the post-winter desperation of the human races; coughing and sneezing spread between packed commuters on the tube; time to head south for the sun, for warmth, for good food. Swapping London for that other great European ‘L’, we abandoned the swift descent into winter and gathering approach to Christmas. We have come to the land of rich tawny-deep port wine, the ceramic cockerel and the vibrant yellow tram; where life is a little slower and architecture decadent and tired. We’ve come to Lisbon, the rolling, rambling hilly maze of streets which adjoins the grand Tagus river and sits at the heart and soul of Portugal as its capital.

As a regular to the Spanish side of the Iberian peninsular, there is something familiar about Portugal, which I now visit for the first time, but also something tangibly different. Wafts of garlic, of almonds and the thick smoke of strong cigarettes fills the air as it does in neighbouring Spain. However here there is something altogether more hardened, more real; you look into the faces of the Portuguese and you can read a thousand tales, of toil and struggle, of monotony and difficulty; you feast upon the pungent flavours of the food, noting the strong, crudity of the elements, the untempered brilliance of the colours, and the sharp contrasts of the flavours. In Lisbon, the Portuguese do not so much fiesta by night – rather, walking the streets of Lisbon at night, as we did shortly upon our arrival, we felt there was something close to menace in the air – something unsettling and almost unforgiving or discordant echoing off the cracked decaying buildings and shady streets.

Lisbon’s streets are littered with photographic inspiration…

I could not help but notice on our arrival a resilient attitude and a robust confidence, as though the country, which stands on the edge of Europe has hardened itself to the battering forces of the Atlantic ocean spread all along its Western coast. Portugal’s struggles are not just geographical however. The well-known financial woes of the country are tangible all around its capital. We were immediately struck by the huge number of empty properties right in the centre of town. Huge decadent palaces, abandoned to disrepair; once gloriously colourful tiles chipped at the corners or missing great sequences; elegant iron balconies left to rust, and plaster, paint and concrete cracking and falling apart; many of the buildings are covered with graffiti, and some have been left to the elements to such an extent that grasses and moses have started growing over the walls and in between great cracks growing deeper every day.

This is the Lisbon of today, a city of fading grandeur, whose geographical location and undulating topography provides a breathtaking backdrop to a European city which was once, clearly, a city of exceptional elegance and architectural glamour, but which in time has been left to slowly deteriorate and wither, a once pert fresh rose left to stagnate in the brown waters of a once crystal clear vase. But for all this, Lisbon has lost very little of its beauty. In its fading glory, it is a withering beauty, a tired duchess whose wrinkles grow deeper everyday, but whose innate elegance is lost on no one. The bigger the cracks, the more excited I became – for my camera, this decay is like a gold mine of sparkling inspiration, and Lisbon lets set to provide plenty of that.

Lisbon’s glamour is not all faded…

But for all the sadness, the financial misfortunes and the architectural deterioration, Lisbon is a city with a strong undercurrent of creativity and panache. We found this immediately in the guise of our hotel – the Lx Boutique Hotel, which exudes boutique sophistication from each of its photograph-covered, wallpaper lined walls. Our bedroom, with views over the Tagus, oozes Parisian chic, with oversized frames, velvet armchairs and wall stickers emulating contemporary baroque. Meanwhile our bathroom is a glass prism, stood, self-contained to one side of the room, complete with handy blinds set within the glass for the purposes of a little privacy. Meanwhile, conveniently located adjacent to the hotel is the Restaurante Confraria Lx where we headed for sushi and where, feasting upon a plate of some 34 sushi pieces, we ate sashimi  so fresh that the fish almost melted away on our tongues and evaporated like a cloud.

The Lx Boutique Hotel

Our bathroom cube

The hotel’s reception

Day One in Lisbon is over, but already we have discovered the best of two worlds – decadence combined with contemporary style. Looks like Lisbon has vintage chic done to a tee.

More tomorrow! But in the meantime, here are my photos of the deterioration visible on many of Lisbon’s streets, from graffitied walls and filled in windows of empty houses, to marble monuments left to turn a slimy shade of green – yet through it all there is beauty and character – the great contradiction of decadence and decay.

Photographs and content © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on filmcamera999.

    November 15, 2012
  2. MindMindful #

    When I fantasize about Life in London (frequently) it always includes a regular sojourn in ….. Portugal! So, thanks for blazing the trail for me, haha. Love your descriptiveness……….

    November 15, 2012
    • Thank you! We are lucky in London to have Europe so close on our doorstep, especially our proximity to Paris – 2 hours by train but a word apart.

      November 15, 2012
      • MindMindful #

        That’s one of the things I like about London, & anywhere on the Continent — so much, so handy!

        November 15, 2012
  3. milliega #

    Omg i love your bathroom cube!! Sad to see such beautiful tile be so chipped and destroyed.

    November 16, 2012
  4. lovely photos!

    November 16, 2012
  5. petit4chocolatier #

    I love your perception and pictures! I too see underneath the disrepair; and find the beauty of every single creative and distinctive facet.

    I hope you don’t mind if I reblog your link on my reblog page?

    November 16, 2012
    • Of course not – I’d be delighted! Look out for part 2 today 🙂

      November 16, 2012
  6. Looking forward to following you the rest of the trip.
    Fine post, suggestive the images of urban decay.

    November 16, 2012
  7. Did you go to Alfama, that’s the most historical borrow in Lisbon, most of the houses are as it was for many years ago, I would strongly recommend a visit.

    November 22, 2012
    • didn’t get past day 1 off course you did go to Alfama, great articles and photos.

      November 22, 2012
      • I did indeed – it was probably my favourite area. Would have gone there first but wanted to savour it for the best weather 🙂 Thanks for recommendation anyway!

        November 22, 2012
  8. Vasco #

    Lisbon had rent control (frozen rents) during 112 years, from 1910 to 2012. That’s why you see so many derelict buildings.

    April 4, 2016
  9. Vasco #

    * 102 years not 112

    April 12, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Captivating glance « aminobuana, inc.
  2. Lisbon – Day Two: The Ages of the Sea | The Daily Norm
  3. Lisbon – Day Three: The Prince of Belém | The Daily Norm
  4. Lisbon – Day Four: Alfama the Survivor | The Daily Norm
  5. Lisbon – Day Five: Bye Bye via the Baixa | The Daily Norm
  6. Lisbon – The Food: Amazing Alma and the masterpiece of 100 Maneiras | The Daily Norm
  7. Lisbon – The Photos: Part I | The Daily Norm
  8. Lisbon – The Photos: Part II | The Daily Norm
  9. The Lisbon Sketch II – Norms on a Tram | The Daily Norm

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