A few weeks ago the fabulous ‘Salt of Portugal‘ recommended a great book for those who want to learn a little bit of Portugal’s history. Their post reminded me of the fascinating and rather usual timeline on the lower level of the fabulous Modern Collection at the Gulbenkian museum. The timeline depicts Portuguese 20th century politics, history and economics through its art, literature, design and architecture. Well worth a visit if you are in Lisboa, especially if you want to understand this country a little better. If you can’t make it here’s a quick snapshot from our visit earlier this year.
The exhibition story begins in 1908 with the Lisboa Regicide – the murder of King Carlos and Prince Royal, and is quickly followed by the 5 October 1910 revolution. However I did spot they had included Parque Eduardo VII which actually was created at the end of the 19th century. Still who can blame them it is a rather splendid park, and didn’t acquire its current name until after Edward VII’s visit in 1902.
I seemed to spend most of my time looking at the 1920s and 1930s, partly because that period between wars has always fascinated me, but mostly because photographs of a building had caught my eye. We had seen it from the outside the day before near our friend’s hotel, and had been intrigued by its design.
Cineteatro Capitólio was designed by Luis Cristino da Silva. The doors first opened in 1931, and have recently re-opened following a major refurbishment. The building is considered a major landmark, but if it hadn’t been for our lovely friends we would never have found it! If you click on my third picture above you will discover that there is an enormous space inside (20metres high) topped by a terrace. The upper floor was, and I presume still is, accessed by escalators, and were the first to be installed in Lisbon.
The next four decades are dominated by the dictatorship; a period of great contradictions for Portugal. There was economic growth and some amazing architecture but at the same time the country became increasingly isolated and there was censorship, poverty, illiteracy, a high rate of infant mortality, increased emigration and secret police to enforce policy.
Towards the end of the dictatorship there were also wars as Europe’s last colonial empire became involved in conflicts throughout Africa. The war only ended with the revolution of 25 April 1974.
After the revolution and end of the colonial war half million people returned to mainland Portugal. Not always an easy process, and for a while the docks were full of belongings. Over the next two decades Portugal began its journey to re-engage with Europe first with joining the EU in 1986 and then hosting Expo in 1998. It is however the photograph from 2013 that truly demonstrates how far Portugal has come. A huge demonstration on the streets, not a revolution but a protest over the dramatic economic events that struck the world. Might not seem significant, but only 30 years earlier this kind of protest was against the law.
I do hope I managed to get across just how fascinating this exhibition is. I thought it a brilliant way to connect the country’s political, social, creative and intellectual elements, and only wish we had begun our tour of the Modern Collection here. There is rather a lot to take in!