Lisbon, overlooking the Tagus, is, in addition to being one of the most irresistibly beautiful cities in the world, one of the most literary. The trams go up and down the steep streets and walk the human types that inspired Fernando Pessoa and his infinite heteronyms, José Cardoso Pires and Antònio Lobo Antunes and even Miguel de Cervantes. And, of course, to José Saramago, Nobel Prize for Literature and the most widely read of contemporary Portuguese writers.
On June 26, 2010, in the Alto de San Juan cemetery, thousands of people from Lisbon said their last goodbye to José Saramago. The author, born in 1922 in a village in Ribatejo, lived in the Portuguese capital from 1925 to 1991 when, after the controversy that led to the publication of one of his best-known works, The gospel according to manand the refusal of the Portuguese authorities to present her for an international award, she moved to Lanzarote, although she would continue to visit the city frequently and always be one of its best-known ambassadors.
Saramago turned the city into another character in his work, and Lisbon owes him one of the best definitions that have ever been made of it. “The place where the sea ends and the land begins”, defined the Nobel Prize winner, appealing to the marine character of a city -and a country- that always looks to the sea and that continues to preserve, filtered by saudade, the greatness of a empire in which, as in the Spanish, the sun never set.
‘Memorial of the convent’, a guide to travel to Lisbon
That imperial past is best reflected in the impressive and excessive Royal Convent and National Palace of Mafra, north of Lisbon. The immense palace – which houses the largest collection of Baroque sculpture in the world outside of Italy, more than 1,200 rooms and a library of more than 360,000 volumes, among other figures and dimensions of fable – was ordered to be built in the 17th century by King John V to its greatest glory, and on its construction it turns convent memorialSaramago’s most famous work.
Translated into more than thirty languages, the novel, in addition to being a tour de force narrative, serves as a tourist guide around Lisbon. Its main protagonists are Blimunda and Baltazar, a couple who meet for the first time in Praça D. Pedro IV, although the people of Lisbon call her Rossio, as did the Saramago characters. In the heart of the Baixa neighbourhood, in the square, one of the oldest and most charming in the city, the autos de fe of the Inquisition were held for centuries -it was precisely by attending one of them that the characters met-, as recalled a monument; Today, locals and tourists fill one of the most traditional establishments in the city, the Suiça patisserie.
The Costa do Castelo, which goes up to the castle, is one of the seven hills of the city. The tuk-tuks go up with tourists through its convoluted streets, but it still retains its usual flavor: traditional shops, modest eating houses and old buildings. Lovers of novels lived here, strolling through the Plaza del Comercio, just as popular today as in the 17th century, and where sailors and merchants disembarked at Cais das Colunas, the pier taken today by tourists in search of the perfect selfie.
The ashes of the author are in an olive tree in Campo das Cebolas, overlooking the Tagus, in front of the Casa dos Bicos
Fray Bartolomeu de Gusmão lived in the square, another of the main characters in the book, the inventor of the flying machine that had to take the protagonists to Mafra and whose replica is exhibited in the square’s tourist office.
An olive tree to remember the writer
On the first anniversary of his death, Lisbon once again honored Saramago. On this occasion, and in front of hundreds of people from Lisbon, his widow, the writer Pilar del Río, deposited the author’s ashes in an olive tree planted in Campo das Cebolas, with views of the Tagus and in front of the Casa dos Bicos, a beautiful building from the 16th century that has housed the José Saramago Foundation ever since. With its facade of stones carved in the form of stone diamonds –bicosin Portuguese-, the foundation hosts a permanent exhibition on the life and work of José Saramago.
And no trip to Lisbon following the work of José Saramago is complete without visiting two of the most literary places in the city, much frequented by the writer during his lifetime: the Bertrand bookstore, and the A Brasileira café. The bookstore, beautiful and with a large fund, is the oldest in the world, as evidenced by the stamps stamped on each of its thousands of volumes for sale. In the heart of the Chiado neighborhood, Bertrand opened its doors in 1755, after the earthquake that devastated the city, and has been operating continuously since then, something that is proudly reflected with a stamp stamped on each copy that is purchased.
And very close to it is the famous café A Brasileira, the most literary of all the cafés in Lisbon, and which José Saramago frequently visited, perhaps seeking inspiration from the same muses who whispered in the ear of the other great Portuguese writer, a Fernando Pessoa who used to write and meet with his friends in the café and who, today, in the form of a statue, sits with the tourists at the door of the premises.
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Literary tourism: The most personal Lisbon of José Saramago