Lifestyle, Ludotheque

Lisbon seen through graffiti

While living in Lisbon I was often struck by the variety of the graffiti, sometimes political, sometimes artistic, sometimes whimsical, but with a distinctive character different from graffiti in London.

Text and photos: Graham Douglas

And I began to take pictures of them as a record that hints at other stories beside the public face of the city which is endlessly reproduced in glossy pictures by the tourist office and in magazines across the world.

Not all of the pictures here are of unofficial graffiti, they should be seen in the context of the official street art and politics of Lisbon, which includes the elaborate blue painted tiles of the 19th century, and the beautiful murals in the metro, as well as memorials.

In the latter category there is the small plaque in verse, too high to be easily noticed, on the wall of the building once used by the PIDE, Salazar’s secret police as a torture chamber, which says:


From the silence of the “gavetas”

From the country that was muzzled

From the breasts disfigured by the tortures of the PIDE

Arose the clamour for freedom

Flowered Abril.

Referring to the Carnation Revolution of 25 April 1974. The word gaveta in Portuguese and Spanish means a drawer, but here refers to punishment cells that were so low that prisoners were forced to lie down all the time they were inside them.

The deep respect for literature in Portuguese culture is shown by the official posters which appeared on bus shelters to say “Thank You” to the famous author Jose Saramago who died in 2010.

The small local commemoration of a more socialist period in Portugal’s recent history, is apparent in this plaque on the wall of a communal housing project in Galineiras on the outskirts of Lisbon, which says “Here began the cooperative housing neighbourhood. The world is our house. Thanks to the Municipal Council of Loures, 5 fev. 1986.”

Very down to earth is the notice that a news kiosk has put on a wall nearby saying

“ Please do not urinate here, the smell is insufferable”

Then there are the anarchist graffiti referring to NATO as the death factory, and those which appeared last year at the time of the pope’s visit referring to the “Three F’s my father taught me”.

During the time of Salazar the régime was said to be supported by the three ‘F’s’, Football, Fatima (the catholic shrine) and Fado.

This was one reason that Fado music became unpopular among young people during the period after the 1974 revolution.

In the 1990’s it began to be seen as a genre of World Music and has since been declared a part of the UN World Cultural Heritage. In the graffito shown here the third ‘F’ seems to be Fascism.

Others have been done for fun, one appears to be a collection of laughing eggshells like humpty-dumpties quite happy to have fallen off a wall, and been painted onto another.

The walls speak the richness of Portuguese culture as well as the voices of the marginalised.

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