“THEN YOU, MOST NOBLE LISBON, PRINCESS
WITHOUT PEER AMONG THE WORLD’S CITIES…
YOU, TO WHOM VAST OCEAN BOW”
Luis de Camões, 1550s tr. Landeg White
LISBON - Portugal’s capital - has undergone more than two millennia of complex political and economic change, as well as natural devastation following several strong earthquakes in the past. Some of them caused severe damage and were responsible for important changes in Lisbon's urban structure and evolution. Several vestiges both of the effects of the most damaging earthquake and of the most remarkable phases of the city’s urbanization process can still be found today.
The OLD CITY addresses the waterfront and is shaped by its local topography, combining a Muslim type of urban fabric, built from the eighth to the twelfth centuries – the ALFAMA DISTRICT - with a medieval type – the CASTLE DISTRICT - made of an irregular network of narrow and steep streets, small squares and belvederes.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, along the Portuguese age of discoveries, the city walls, which had started to be raised during the period of barbarian invasions in the 4th and 5th century and were successively increased up to the 14th century, were partially demolished and the city fabric expanded outwards. The city civic centre and the financial and commercial activities were relocated in the downtown area, following the development of the waterfront area towards the east, giving rise to a burgeoning commercial city which, at the time, aspired to be at the centre of the universe.
Devastated by a STRONG EARTHQUAKE in the mid 18th Century, Lisbon rebuilt its downtown district as a regular planned grid composed of approximately sixty rectangular blocks, the so called “BAIXA POMBALINA”. The RECONSTRUCTION PLAN was based on state-of-the-art illuminist urban theories and on strict principles of functionality and economy, while introducing advanced public sanitation and important technical innovations.
The contrast between PRE AND POST 1755 LISBON’S urban fabric is remarkable, both at the physical and functional levels. Although priority was given to the central downtown area, the reconstruction plan contained detailed briefs for other areas of the city, reflecting the intention to provide Lisbon with a rational development scheme, while at same time controlling its growth. Although the plan proved to be overambitious in view of the limited financial and technical capacities of the time, it was nevertheless one of the first global approaches to the problem of urban growth.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the expansion towards inland and northern areas made Lisbon distance itself from the river, enhancing the North-South axis in detriment to the East-West axis. The EXPANSION TO THE NORTH was achieved by opening two “arteries” perpendicular to the river, following the city’s two main valleys. This was both a landmark in the urban transformation of Lisbon and a support for the NEW EXPANSIONS developed along the XX century.
Until the end of the authoritarian period (1974), Lisbon steadily evolved into an outward-facing cosmopolitan city, being today the centre of a METROPOLITAN REGION of about 2.5 million inhabitants. From the 1990’s onwards, new forms of contemporary metropolitan urbanization began to appear. The expansion of the construction sector, the increase in the supply of large urban buildings and sites (private condominiums, headquarters of firms, gigantic shopping malls, technological and service parks, mixed complexes of services, commerce and housing etc.), frequently located outside the city itself and contributing to the emergence of new ex-urban settlement nodes, are the new elements of these transformation processes. Lisbon region has become today a huge metropolis, extending itself far beyond its ancient hills, river banks and administrative boundaries.
The physical redevelopment of the city is a key component in its current transformation. This is well illustrated in the renewal of the city’s port and early industrial facilities, by redeveloping the waterfront and major brownfield sites in order to create new neighborhoods and reconnect the citizens with the Tagus waterfront. Also, considerable progress has been made in regenerating the historic city core and improving neighborhood public spaces, as well as in finding creative uses for older buildings.
Lisbon possesses a good range of city centre functions, although the development of these has been somewhat constrained by its geo-morphological conditions. As a result, commercial and cultural activities are to be found scattered across the city, particularly in the downtown district and along the waterfront. The quality of the built environment bespeaks a vibrant and living urban culture, reflected in the folk tradition of ‘FADO’.
LISBON IS A CITY TO ENJOY DURING THE 11TH SSS.
“YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ANYTHING GOOD UNTIL YOU’VE SEEN LISBON”
The diarist of Vincenzo Tron and Girolamo Lippomano, 1581