“A stroll through Lisbon’s hilly streets immediately reveals why it has become a social media darling. It offers a delicious visual feast that does very well on Instagram,” Yashita Rai, a 26-year-old Delhi based YouTuber who went to Lisbon early last year, tells Media India Group.
“Lisbon is not called an outdoor art gallery for no reason. Besides diverse and historical architecture, one can find a countless amount of extraordinary street art,” she adds.
Often referred to as ‘the capital of urban art’ due to its rich blend of traditional and modern art forms, displayed on the city walls, the Portuguese capital is a favourite among those looking for an artistic recluse. Colourful azulejo tiles that decorate most walls as well as the stone mosaic pavements, called Calçada Portuguesa in Portuguese, have captivated jet-setting aesthetes in Lisbon.
A goldmine for art lovers
Rai says it is a heaven for those interested in modern and urban art forms. Street art in Lisbon has not only helped in decorating and beautifying the city but also infused a new life into the graffiti artists. “Projects such as Underdog and The Crono Project have sought to bring new talent to light and new life to abandoned buildings. Inspiring murals, sculptures and messages can crop up in the most unexpected spaces. Look out for home-grown artists such as Vhils and Bordalo II, as well as celebrated ones from around the globe,” she says.
The city’s commitment to becoming a premier street art destination started back in 2008 when its municipal office launched Galeria de Arte Urbana (or GAU) to identify partnerships with global artists on mural projects. “When it began, it was a way to build up Lisbon’s visual narrative through dedicated public art while simultaneously discouraging random acts of vandalism. Since GAU has been in place, it is estimated that at least 1,500 pieces have been registered through the activation – featuring artists like Spanish duo PichiAv and EAJ from France,” Rai adds.
Despite many steep hills throughout the city, walking is the best way to experience Lisbon, suggests Rai, as each by-lane and every corner has street art treasures to discover. “By not walking, one should not miss the artistic treasures from the streets of Lisbon that cover the country’s history, pop culture and imaginative abstracts,” she adds.
An artistic tribute to Fado music
Mouraria, famed as the hippiest place in the city, is an ideal place to start exploring the street art. In Mouraria, a few walls are dedicated to ‘Fado’, a musical style that developed in this part of the city. The Escadinhas de São Cristovão, a graffiti tribute, is lined in a mural that was created by different artists.
Professional displays of street art have been created to beautify run-down, vacant buildings and add extra brightness to Lisbon’s trendy neighbourhoods. One group of artists, in particular, is Cargo Collective, who are responsible for amazing displays of street art between Alcântara, Avenida Almirante Reis (a long street that runs from Martim Moniz to the airport), and fashion-focused Avenida da Liberdade. The whole city, however, has become a canvas, especially the following areas.
Art at the heart of Lisbon
At the Marques de Pampal y Avenida de la Libertad, the city centre and the entry to Lisbon Baixa, tourists find a piece that sets an eclectic tone for the rest of their Lisbon journey: a portrait of an old man chipped into the wall by native artist Vhils.
Head south past residential streets and green spaces to the Avenida Conselheiro Fernando de Sousa, home to the Amoreiras wall of fame. Countless artists from within the city have laid claim to a portion of this wall. Take in the varied styles before moving on.
Follow the main road, past the Parque Eduardo VII, to the Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo. As part of The Crono Project, 16 artists have brought derelict walls to life around the city with their vibrant art. A block here has been transformed by international talents such as the UK’s Lucy Mclauchlan. Os Gémeos and BLU have painted their Corporate Slingshot onto two walls, symbolically taking down a man wearing a crown of logos. Ericailcane’s enormous Crocodile Tears stands opposite, as does the Shadow Man painted by Spanish artist Sam3.
Trash turned into animals at Belém
“Bordalo has the feat of turning trash into art and spreads it on walls throughout the city,” says Rai.
In Belém, street artist Bordalo II has combined painting and sculpture to create an amazing art piece. For his creations, he used stuff he founds in the trash. He brought three-dimensional animals to life while giving a second life to ordinary items, that would normally end up in the trash.
Tourists can find his famous raccoon behind the Belém Cultural Centre. At the Carriages Museum (Museu dos Coches), one will find a mural that represents the epic poem Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões. The monkey is located in the artist’s studio (Rua de Xabregas 49) and the frog on Rua da Manutenção.
Antique bicycle tires, plastic pieces, computer keyboard, sheet metal, waste bins, cans, cardboard, metals, and glass, are organized and shaped to form the structure of the animal. From here, the painting process begins. Locals say that this piece of work, created in 2017, was a wake-up call as well as an alert for the extinction of some species with the destruction of their ecosystems.
Apart from these, there are many more artworks that are created on the city walls every day as a few old ones get erased. “There are many which keep coming up in place of old ones. Every new and popular TV series or film will have a place on some corner of the city wall. From graffiti paying tribute to series Breaking Bad to those reading slogans of democracy, Lisbon has it all on its walls,” says Rai.
Street art is a part of daily life in Lisbon and if one is lucky enough one can world-renowned artists in action and learn about Lisbon’s thriving art scene, on any regular day.