For Portuguese speakers, Fernando Pessoa needs no introduction. But those who are not Portuguese, or Brazilian, may not have heard of this great Portuguese writer and poet of the 20th century. Fernando Pessoa was a somewhat eccentric and enigmatic figure who used heteronyms to sign much of his work. It was Fernando Pessoa who presented me this term, heteronym, and since then I became more and more interested in him and in his work.
The Saturday before Portugal authorities declared “State of Alert”, due to the outbreak of the new Coronavirus, I attended the tour “When I see this Lisbon”, organized by Casa Fernando Pessoa. I would never imagine that it would be my last leisure stroll before social isolation was recommended.
Casa Fernando Pessoa, now a museum on Pessoa life and work, is the house where the writer lived his last 15 years of life in the Campo de Ourique neighbourhood. Currently, it is closed for renovation works. While we have all to stay at home, they are promoting virtual activities on their Facebook page.
The walking tour “When I see this Lisbon” is a 90-minute guided journey through Fernando Pessoa’s life and work through the streets of Chiado and Baixa. These areas were part of Pessoa’s daily life.
We started at Largo de São Carlos (1) in front of the building where Fernando Pessoa was born, in June 1888, and lived with his family in an apartment on the 4th floor until the age of five. By the sculpture “Hommage à Pessoa”, a tribute to the poet by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon, our guides introduced the tour explaining that we would cover eight points of interest related to Pessoa’s life. After a brief explanation about each spot visited, a member of the group would be invited to read a small excerpt from Pessoa’s work. At Largo de São Carlos, we also learned a little about the poet’s early life.
Then, we went to Rua Garret in Chiado, to visit the church where Pessoa was baptized, the Basilica of the Martyrs (2). The church bells located at the same height as Pessoa’s apartment at Largo de São Carlos took an important role in some of his poems.
The present building is on the same place where D. Afonso Henriques ordered to build a chapel in memory of the “Martyrs” who died in the battle for the conquest of Lisbon in 1147. In 1755, the church was already a large basilica. But the great earthquake destroyed it completely and it was only rebuilt in 1784.
As I enter the church by the left door I get immediately impressed by an imposing golden iron door with the inscription “In this parish, the first baptism was administered after the seizure of Lisbon from the Moors in the year 1147. ” Behind the door, we see the sumptuous baptismal font, where Pessoa was baptized. The whole church fascinates me by its size, ceiling paintings, and the light that comes through the stained-glass windows.
We move on. The next stop is Café 3-A Brasileira, a place Pessoa used to go regularly with his colleagues (journalists, writers and artists).
The establishment opened in 1905 as a grocery store for selling Brazilian coffee beans brought by the owner from Brazil. A little later, in 1908, the place was remodelled and started to function as a café, when became the scene of the main literary meetings in the city. The site was the birthplace of Orpheu magazine, a literary magazine created by Pessoa along with other names of literature and arts of the time (1915), such as Almada Negreiros and Cortes-Rodrigues. This publication, considered revolutionary due to its unusual shape and style at the time, had a short life. Only two editions were published due to lack of financial resources.
On the sidewalk, in front of “A Brasileira”, there is Fernando Pessoa’s famous and popular sculpture. The bronze sculpture is by the artist Lagoa Henriques and was inaugurated in the 1980s.
However, due to the pavement restructuring works that are taking place in Chiado, access to the sculpture is closed by a fence and the statue is fully covered.
We continued our journey towards Largo do Carmo (4). Here we stopped in front of the building where the poet lived in a rented room between 1910 and 1912. A sketch of Pessoa’s silhouette on the window on the first floor, suggests that this one is the room where he lived. Largo do Carmo is famous for the Ruins of Carmo, the old Church that was partially destroyed by the great earthquake of 1755. It was also here that in the Revolution of April 25, 1974, the population came together to see the government fall. Since 2016, the apartment where he lived until the age of 24 is available for rent on the platform Airbnb, under the ad “Fernando Pessoa Xperience”.
From Largo do Carmo we continue to Rua da Assunção, passing through hidden streets that I didn’t know yet. Lisbon always has its surprises. We went down towards Pombaline downtown, passing the Santa Justa Lift and arriving at Rua da Assunção, 42(5).
The headquarters of the company Firma Félix, Valladas & Freitas, Lda., where Fernando Pessoa worked as a commercial letter translator, was located on the second floor of this building. It was here that he came to meet the great love of his life, Ofélia Queirós, with whom he had a hidden romance. Ofélia was only 19 years old and her romance with Pessoa, who was already 31 years old, was not approved by her family. Most of their relationship was through numerous love letters and notes.
We then headed towards Rua da Prata, 71(6). At this address on the 1st floor laid the headquarters of the firm Moitinho de Almeida & Cia. Comissões, where Fernando Pessoa worked for over a decade (from 1924 to 1935). It was here that Pessoa wrote most of Álvaro de Campos’ texts on a “Royal” typewriter, which today is part of the Casa Fernando Pessoa collection. When Coca Cola arrived in Portugal, the firm was its official commercial representative and Pessoa got the task to create a slogan for its promotion. The statement “First it is strange, then it enters” was not well accepted by the Portugues authorities and the drink ended up being banned in Portugal until the fall of the dictatorship.
We keep walking along Rua da Prata towards Praça do Comércio, where we stop in front of Café Martinho da Arcada(7). Here I discovered that this is the oldest cafe in Lisbon. The café opened in 1782 by the Marquis of Pombal under another name. Fernando Pessoa was a frequent visitor and made this café his office in the late afternoons. The marble table where he used to sit is still set like in the times Pessoa visited the café. Sitting on this table Pessoa might have written most of the poems that make up “Message” and the Book of Disquiet”.
From Praça do Comércio we continued to the bank of the Tagus river and reached our last stop, Cais das Colunas(8).
Cais das Colunas was a place where Pessoa came occasionally to watch the Tagus, reflect and meditate. On the day of our tour, Cais das Colunas was busy as usual, many tourists taking pictures and street musicians performing. And here was the last stop of our tour.
It was a great morning! The tour is worth even for those who already know the city well. It is a great opportunity to know Lisbon through the perspective of Fernando Pessoa and his relationship with the city.
This itinerary is regularly organized by the Educational Service of Casa Fernando Pessoa. Besides the two guides from the educational service, the tour was followed by a Portuguese Sign Language interpreter, making the visit accessible for people with hearing loss.
Stay tuned to Casa Fernando Pessoa’s schedule on their website. Unfortunately, with the current new coronavirus pandemic, outdoors activities are suspended. But the program continues and can be followed on the official page and Facebook!
Stay at home and stay safe!