Chiado (25)

Walking through the streets of this neighbourhood, located between the districts of Baixa and Bairro Alto, you notice the quantity of statues dedicated to various literary figures. Therefore it surely comes as no surprise that Chiado has always been an area associated with intellectuals. Despite the terrible consequences of a fire in 1988, amidst its streets, cafes and bookshops there still remains the feel of days gone by.

The strange name, Chiado, in use since 1567, has a mysterious but interesting origin. It is said to come from the Portuguese verb, chiar, which means ´to screech`, and refers to the sound made by the carriages that used to travel the area’s streets. However, there is also a theory that the name derives from the nickname given to the well-known poet, António Rieiro, ´O Chiado`.

It has to be said though that if the neighbourhood is associated with any literary figure, it is Fernando Pessoa. The famous poet, who introduced vanguard movements to Portuguese literature, was born at number four “Largo de Sao Carlos”, opposite what was once the Lisbon opera house but today is the National Theatre of Sao Carlos. 

He was baptised very close by, in the small “Mártires” church, but soon left the Chiado area and went to live in South Africa due to family problems. After many years of coming and going between countries, Pessoa returned to his homeland in 1905 at the age of 17. He not only came back to Lisbon but to the exact same neighbourhood he had left behind. He was to stay there until he died from liver complications years later. It is said that his passion for the spirit “Aguia Real” was what finished him off. 

During the 1920’s Chiado became a meeting place for intellectuals and bohemians like Pessoa. They would gather in groups to talk in the neighbourhood cafes. One of them, the “Café A Brasileira” is a place you can still visit today and remains one of Chiado’s identifying features, as well as a charming, authentic establishment. Its modernistic design and lively atmosphere still attracts painters and other artists, and is complemented by a statue of Pessoa at one of the terrace’s tables. A stop here has become an essential part of the tourist trail through the district.

After suffering the 1755 earthquake, Lisbon also had to bear other disasters. One of these was the famous fire of Chiado in August of 1988. 

Originating in the street named “Rúa do Carmo”, it spread to the main artery of the neighbourhood, the “Rúa Garrett”, and had devastating effects. 18th century palaces, shops, streets…, the fire destroyed everything and left the district economically broken and depressed.

The famous architect Álvaro Siza Vieira was in charge of the main restoration project. There were two schools of thought regarding how to rebuild the neighbourhood, one idea was to make it exactly the same as it had been, using 18th century plans, and another proposed a modernisation of the area, with new, contemporary architecture. With fine taste, de Siza Viera integrated both ideas into the project and ensured that everyone was happy.

Thanks to its restoration project, the neighbourhood has completely recovered its identity and has again become an elegant district of grand shops, bohemian cafes and a perfect spot to sit and take in the atmosphere. Who knows? Maybe another poet will come from here. 

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