A City with a Thousand Faces: Lisbon

A City with a Thousand Faces: Lisbon

Saudade, a Portuguese word that cannot find its direct equivalent in English. Emptiness. Sadness. Happiness. Longing. Memories. A vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist. 

There’s a feeling of saudade haunting each of the beautiful streets of Lisbon, a city that hid itself behind a thick layer of fog when I set my foot for the first time on its pavement. It didn’t want to reveal me anything at all, I just had to start discovering it step by step, walking along the colourful but sad-looking walls, slowly leaving my footprints on the abrupt streets.

Honestly, I felt a bit disappointed. My mind had already created the image of a romantic, sunny Lisbon, which apparently didn’t want to show itself to me. Instead, I was getting to know an empty gloomy city.

I was moving from one miradouro to another, trying to get a glimpse of the lovely Lisbon I had created in my mind. But the fog stubbornly refused to show me anything more than some dark red rooftops and a hint of monumental buildings rising behind the sea of buildings and blending in with the fog.

By the time the fog decided to get lost I had already understood that Lisbon is a city you simply have to feel, you have to breath it with all your cells.

It’s a labyrinth – both as construction and in terms of feelings inspired. From streets full of life and activity you run into empty narrow abrupt streets. Behind a bush you discover a staircase that gets you right on the street below you.

Then, you turn right at the corner and get a glimpse of the sea that seems to be right at the end of the sloppy street.

Tireless old women climbing the steep slopes while chatting. And on the next street you have to run for your life ’cause a yellow tram is making its way to the top of the street, courageously and rapidly climbing the hill.

Grandmas are stretching clothes out to dry. Children are playing football on another narrow street and then you bump into an extremely poor area with ruined houses and ugly smells – you don’t like it but you can’t hate it.

It’s a surprising mixture of such different things.

In Alfama, the oldest area of Lisbon and one that had survived the 1755 earthquake, there’s a lot of life happening behind the old walls of the houses. There are people of all ages and nations sharing this district and its difficulties. Living, loving, dreaming, hoping. Makes you wonder how much sadness and happiness do this walls carry with them among the decades? How much saudade?

And there’s their music – fado -, that can really give you goosebumps if you listen to it at the right place and the right time. It’s nostalgic and heartbreaking, yet it doesn’t necessarily feel sad.


“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” – Night Train to Lisbon

Lisbon is the perfect city to fall in love and then to long for what you leave behind. I did fall in love there and I do long for what I left behind: on important thing being their most popular dessert – pastel de nata.  One of the most delightful treats I had the chance to eat and, believe me, the foodie in me would take the road back there just to have a couple (or two) of them while watching the sun setting over the amazing city!

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