The Portuguese city of Lisbon has often been an afterthought when considering the great capitals of Europe, but that seems to be changing. Lisbon is getting increasingly good press of late, culminating in this nice profile in the travel section of Sunday NY Times, which focuses on the city’s vibrant arts scene.
After all, this wasn’t a metropolis with a well-established avant-garde tradition like Paris or Berlin, but dowdy old Lisbon, a small Catholic city that is best known for inexpensive seafood meals, throwback cable cars and faded colonial architecture from Portugal’s long-vanished international empire.
But on a balmy night in March, the throngs filing into the complex made it clear that the city was more than ready for a bit of progressive bohemia in their remote corner of the Continent. Looking like the assembled listenership of some Portuguese version of National Public Radio, a buzzing crowd of tweedy academics, tattooed cool kids, bourgeois couples and bespectacled grad-student types fanned out to sample Fábrica Braço de Prata’s typically diverse offerings: a jazz combo, a reggae outfit, a Leonard Cohen documentary and a 1 a.m. after-party featuring D.J.’s and alternative bands.
“It’s creative in all areas — theater, art, music, dance,” Mr. de Roubaix said of the venue’s appeal, clearly pleased by its unexpected success. “There’s a fast turnover of events and shows that keeps the place very dynamic.”
The same could be said for 21st-century Lisbon…
Portugal languished for much of the 20th century on Europe’s geographic and cultural margins. From the 1920s until the 1970s, a repressive dictatorship smothered the nation, sending the creative classes fleeing to London and Paris and severely stunting any potential arts scene. The economy also slumped. Once the center of a global trade empire, Portugal sunk into notoriety as Western Europe’s poorest nation.
As dust collected on Lisbon’s monuments — Roman theaters, Moorish edifices, Gothic churches, Baroque squares — the city became the Miss Havisham of Western Europe: a relic, forgotten and forlorn.
The last of the Western European capitals to experience a cultural bloom, Lisbon is avidly making up for lost time. All over the city, an upstart generation is laying waste to the sepia-toned stereotypes and gleefully constructing edgy and forward-looking ventures amid the time-worn monuments and quaint cobbled lanes.