Wandering through the streets of Lisbon today you might notice that the city is even more awash with colour than usual as local flower merchants pop up all around the capital, selling unusual and beautiful little bouquets, of wheat, herbs and spring flowers, known as ‘Espiga’. That’s because today the Portuguese celebrate “Dia da Espiga”, which roughly translates to the Day of the Spike. It’s celebrated annually on Ascension Thursday, the day when according to Catholic tradition, Christ bodily ascended to heaven.  Whilst the festival is linked to the Catholic Church today, its origins likely go back much further – this is a deeply rooted ancient tradition, steeped in history and folk memory.

It’s not a holiday or tradition that I had ever heard of before, but it was in fact a national holiday in Portugal up until 1952 and is still celebrated as municipal holiday in various towns and villages around the country. Even the big cities of Lisbon and Porto still mark the day and many locals will pick up an ‘espiga’ whilst hurrying home from work. 

This day was traditionally considered to be one of the holiest days of the year, and people were urged by the Church not to work, particularly for one hour, at noon, to honour its significance. And so, at midday people would down tools, shutter their shops and head to countryside to collect the herbs and plants they needed to make their ‘spike’. This hour became so important that the day also became known as ‘The Day of the Hour’. 

The branch of the spike is usually made up of the same elements all of which are deeply symbolic: ears of wheat (in odd numbers) to represent an abundance of bread for the family; marigolds or daisies symbolise silver and gold or wealth; poppies bring love; an olive branch brings peace; a sprig of rosemary brings good health; and finally vine leaves represent wine and therefore joy. Once you’ve collected all the elements you need for your spike it is all tied together in a branch and hung up in the family home on the back of the front door and there it stays for the entire year, bringing prosperity and good luck, until it is replaced the following year with a new spike. It seems there are a few other old traditions associated with the spike – for example during a thunderstorm it used to be common to throw an ear of the wheat into the fire to protect the home from lightning.

The exact origins of this festival are obscure, but unsurprisingly it seems to have have its roots in the more rural central and southern regions of the country, and certainly predates the Christian era. It’s likely that the festival can be traced to the Roman and even Celtic periods, and was a celebration in gratitude to the goddesses Flora and Ceres that marked the coming of Spring.  Over the centuries the Christian feast day supplanted this pagan celebration, but elements of the original agricultural rituals remained alive.

Today, it may longer be a national holiday, and the ‘sacred hour’ between noon and 1pm is no longer observed, but this ancient tradition remains alive and vibrant in the form of the ‘espiga’ – a little flush of countryside colour to bring joy to your day. So if you see them being sold on the streets of Lisbon today, pick one up and help this unique Portuguese tradition to endure and thrive. 

You can learn more about Lisbon by subscribing to our blog or even better by signing up for one of our walking tours at www.theroguehistorians.com .

THE DARK HEART OF LISBON – EVENING HISTORY TOUR

Discover the darker side of Lisbon’s history with The Rogue Historians’ evening tour in Lisbon and Alfama! Learn about the Inquisition, the dictator Salazar, Portugal’s most prolific serial killers & more!

Schedule: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm

Cost: €25 per person

Max group size: 10

Duration: 2 to 2.5 hours

EXPLORE LISBON’S HISTORY ON THIS UNFORGETTABLE EVENING TOUR

Join us after the sun sets for an evening walking tour in Lisbon as we explore the darker side of the city’s history through the winding streets of Alfama and downtown Lisbon.
The history of Lisbon is a tale of glory and success. As one of the wealthiest and most important capital cities of the 16th Century, the memories of its achievements are well known to many. However, behind all the triumphs, lie the darker details of this beautiful corner of Europe – for wherever there is light there is shadow. We take you on a journey through Lisbon’s darker lesser-known past, from Portugal’s slave-trading past and the dark days of the Inquisition, right up to the 20th Century and the dictator Salazar and his feared secret police. 
This tour is ideal when put alongside a a day tour; take a look at our range of Lisbon walking tours to find one that interests you.
 

Facade of the famous Lisbon Cathedral (Sé) illuminated at night.

A TOUR OF THE DARKER SIDE OF LISBON’S HISTORY

Among the many horrors you will hear on this evening tour, you will learn about the following key aspects of Lisbon’s history:


The Inquisition: 
The Portuguese inquisition began in 1536 and ended in 1821.  We will touch on the Jewish massacre of 1506 and the square where the autos de fé were displayed. For 285 years, people were persecuted, tortured and killed because of their religion or race and it is during those years that Lisbon has had some of the most horrific stories in Portugal’s past.

Fire was one of the Inquisitions favourite tools!


The Great Earthquake: 1st of November of 1755: All Saints day and one of the deadliest days in Lisbon’s history. A magnitude 8-9 earthquake struck the city, leading to candles and oil lamps falling which started fires that consumed nearly half of the city. As people ran to the shore for protection from the collapsing buildings, three tidal waves from 5 to 10 meters tall swept them from the shores. Join us as we relive one of the darkest days in Lisbon’s history and the repercussions felt around the world.


Dictatorship and the Secret Police: Between 1926 and 1974, Portugal lived under a dictatorship led, mostly, by António de Oliveira Salazar. As a way of controlling the Portuguese population, the secret police was created in 1945 with the help of a former SS agent: the PIDE. The tales of interrogation and torture are well known, the locals would regularly complain of the screams coming from PIDE headquarters. In a period referred to by locals as ‘The Long Night’, the darkness would engulf the city and Portugal for nearly 50 years. Even during the relatively bloodless revolution of 25th April 1974, the PIDE was still responsible for the loss of at least four lives.

Praça do Comercio at night

Making a Murder: Listen the stories of Lisbon’s most famous serial killers, far more shocking than any Netflix documentary or real crime podcast.


Much more: As for the rest… well, you will just have to join us and on this comprehensive Lisbon evening tour. Come learn about the darker side to Lisbon’s history. 

Please get in touch if you have any questions about this walking tour. If you’re looking for a more traditional tour of Alfama, then why not join our Alfama Walking Tour. Start planning your ideal trip to Lisbon and allow The Rogue Historians to welcome you to the city!

Join you private Rogue Historian guide for an in depth look at the history of the Colosseum and Roman forum.

The temple of Saturn, with the Palatine visible in the back left

Duration: 3 hours
Cost: From €300 (price is for 2 people and includes all tickets)


VISITING THE COLOSSEUM

The arena of death! The Colosseum, a monument so vast and imposing, so awe-inspiring and iconic that it many ways it has come encapsulate the Roman Empire. A building which would take a mere 8 years to construct and with a capacity of over 50,000  would remain the biggest sporting arena in the world until the 20th Century.

Interior of the Colosseum

The Colosseum may not be as crowded today, but the ticket and security lines can stretch for hours. With our special dedicated guides entrance that takes us straight onto the arena floor, they won’t be an issue for us.

VISITING THE ROMAN FORUM

It may be over 1500 years since the last gladiator fights but this isn’t a problem for The Rogue Historians. We will take you back in time for a day at the games – blood, guts, gore and more.

After the Colosseum, we head to the Roman Forum. A site evoking the names of great leaders and tyrannical despots, the Roman Forum is the backdrop to some of the most illustrious and murderous events in world history.

It was here that Tiberius Gracchus was clubbed to death by the chairs of furious senators. Here that Cicero exposed the Catiline conspiracy with a series of speeches that have been admired and deplored ever since. Here that the great Gaius Julius Caesar was cremated after his pivotal assassination, and here that so many other fateful moments which would go onto shape western history would take place. Most importantly it is here that the Rogue historians will cement your love for Roman history.

TOUR INCLUSIONS

  • Private Rogue Historian guide for you and your group.
  • Skip the line access to the Colosseum
  • Access to the Arena Floor
  • Skip the line access to the Roman Forum

TOUR EXCLUSIONS

  • Hotel pick up (available for additional cost)
  • Guide gratuity (optional)
Rose petals shower down on the congregation be neath the ancient oculus

If you’re in Rome this Sunday (June 9th) and looking for a truly unique and special experience then we suggest that you head down to the Pantheon. 

Of course the Pantheon hardly needs a special reason to be visited – it’s undoubtedly the Rogues’ favourite monument in Rome. After all, who wouldn’t want to visit an ancient Roman temple that still boasts the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome? That’s 43.3 metres in case you’re wondering.

This is the best preserved building that we have surviving from Roman antiquity – originally constructed as an ancient Roman temple by Hadrian between AD 118 -125, it was then handed over to the pope, Boniface IV, by the emperor Phocas in AD 609. The pope then consecrated the Pantheon as a church, and re-christened it ‘Sancta Maria ad Martyres’ (Mary and the Martyrs). It was this ‘Christianising’ of a pagan place of worship that ensured the Pantheon survived relatively unscathed through the centuries and wasn’t completely pillaged for building materials, like many of pagan Rome’s other buildings. 

The Pantheon is still a church today where, to celebrate Pentecost, every year a very special and ancient ceremony takes place: the rain of the rose petals.  

The Pantheon

Pentecost is celebrated annually in the Catholic Church fifty days (or the seventh Sunday) after Easter and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Mass is held at the Pantheon at 10:30 am to celebrate this feast. Towards the end of the mass at twelve noon, the congregation looks up to the 9 metre wide ‘oculus’ in the dome to see thousands of red rose petals being rained down upon them. 

The red petals represent the Holy Spirit, and the ‘tongues of fire’ that came to settle on the Apostles, a story that is recounted in Acts of the Apostles. It is a very ancient ceremony, that may in fact date back to AD 609, when the Pantheon was first consecrated as a church. The tradition was gradually abandoned over the years, but was resurrected in 1995 and is now a staple in the Roman calendar. 

Members of the local fire brigade carry the hundreds and thousands of rose petals in canvas bags through a series of narrow corridors and staircases concealed in the walls of the ancient building, and then scale the monstrous dome to the oculus to shower the petals onto the congregation below. 

The raining of the petals lasts about five minutes and by the end of the ceremony the floor is thickly carpeted in red roses. It truly is spectacular. 

EWTN Vaticano’s short video on the tradition

If you want to witness this ancient tradition for yourself then we suggest that you arrive early: mass starts at 10:30 am, but once the 800 person capacity is reached the custodians won’t allow anyone else inside. We would suggest arriving no later than 9:30 am if you want to be sure of getting inside. There is very limited seating for the mass so be aware you’re going to be on feet for a few hours, but it is worth it. 

You can see the Pantheon on both our ‘Best of Rome by Twilight tour’ and our ‘Best of Rome’ private tour.

Sardines grilling over red coals.

Making the most of sardine season in Lisbon.

It’s sardine season and if these little delicacies intimidate you we have a comprehensive guide to enjoying them this year.

This fish evokes some pretty strong reactions in people. There are those who are positively evangelical in their love of this superfood little fishy and there are those who cannot even have the word uttered in their presence, such is their disdain for it.

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, sardines are a national obsession in Portugal, especially in Lisbon during the month of June, which sees the celebration of the feast of St. Anthony, the city’s most popular saint. The humble sardine is as much (if not more) a star of the month-long festival than the saint himself. Walk down any cobbled alley in Lisbon in June, and you’ll be greeted with the distinct sweet and smokey aroma of fresh sardines grilling on the charcoal on makeshift outdoor grills. Tascas all around the city proudly display ‘Ha Sardinhas’ scrawled onto paper tablecloths and pinned up in their windows. There’s even an annual competition to design your own colourful sardine mini mascot! Fisheries estimate that during the month of June alone, the Portuguese consume 13 sardines a second – or about 34 million fish. So if you’re visiting Lisbon this June, or indeed anytime this summer, here’s the lowdown on Portugal’s favourite summer staple.

Har Sardinha Assada. Sign advertising grilled sardines in Alfama
HA SARDINHA!

The Saint and the Sardine: Why in Lisbon are sardines associated with Saint Anthony?

The link between Saint Anthony and the sardine is tenuous at best, but as the biggest consumers of fish and seafood in Europe (a whopping 57kg per person in 2018!), the Portuguese could easily find a reason to make the sardine the star of the festival.

According to tradition, Saint Anthony travelled to the city of Rimini, which was renowned as a hotbed of heresy. Upon his arrival, however, he found his homilies falling on deaf ears amongst the locals. In frustration, he headed down to the mouth of the Marecchia river where it flows into the Adriatic. Walking along the water’s edge, he began to preach, not to people but to the fish. He called out: “You, fish of the river and sea, listen to the Word of God because the heretics do not wish to hear it” (The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi ch.40). All of a sudden the fish began to gather in their thousands, lined up neatly in rows and listening attentively to the friar’s sermon. Some local onlookers witnessed this miraculous event and dashed back to the city to recount the tale. The people of Rimini were so convinced by this miracle that they gathered to listen to Anthony, repented and returned to the Church.

The evidence for sardines in this story is slim at best, especially since the miracle happens in a river, but the month of June is when sardines are in season and so it seemed natural to pair up the saint and the sardine!

When to eat fresh sardines and how to spot the good from the bad

The Portuguese are seafood aficionados and with such a dazzling bounty of fish and seafood available in local waters, they are very strict about the quality and seasonality of what they consume. For sardines that means that the summer is really the only time to eat them freshly grilled off the charcoals. The rule of thumb is that you should only eat sardines in the months with no “r”. Thankfully this little tip works in both the Portuguese and English languages – Junho, Julho, Agosto, or June, July and August are prime sardine season when they are at the fattest and juiciest. You can get some sardines in May, although honestly, they are still few and far between on menus at this time and a bit on the scrawny side. In fact, in some years Portuguese fishing quota laws don’t allow the sardine fishing season to start until June 1st, so any caught before then are not local. I’ve eaten perfectly good sardines into September too, but I’m usually pretty sardined-out by that stage!

sardines cooking over charcoal
Grilled Sardines, sprinkled with sea-salt and grilled over charcoal

If you’re travelling in Portugal out of season and you see sardines on a menu you can be guaranteed that they are frozen from the previous year. A local non-touristy establishment would never ever dare put them on their menu for fear of reprisals! The Portuguese are a passionate bunch where food is concerned. If you do see them on a menu and you just can’t resist, go ahead, but beware, you’ve likely walked into a bit of a tourist trap. The experience probably won’t be terrible, but it won’t be authentic and the taste not a patch on the real thing eaten during the summer eaten hot off the grill.

Where and how to eat sardines in Lisbon

If though you’re lucky enough to visit Lisbon during the summer and you want to have that authentic fresh sardine experience there are a few tips to bear in mind.

The best way to find good sardines in Lisbon is to just follow your nose!

The Lisbon Sardine Festival

Come the month of June, Lisbon is awash with colour, music and the scent of freshly grilled sardines wafting through the streets as the city goes into party mode – for an entire month! Most neighbourhoods host a month-long party known as an ‘Arraial’ and everyone’s invited. Some Arraiais are more elaborate and famous than others. Alfama’s is legendary, but Madragoa and Mouraria are equally fun and often less crowded. But even small non-touristy neighbourhoods will have a modest Arraial. Think of it a bit like a block party: essentially the streets and are decked out with colourful bunting and garlands, with tables and chairs jostling for position in the narrow alleys among the crowds of chattering families and friends with cheesy Pimba music blaring through speakers.

Check out some Pimba Portugues on Spotify

Meanwhile, the air is thick with smoke from rickety makeshift barbecues fashioned out of old tin boxes and even oil drums. This without a doubt is the best way to experience fresh sardines and understand the Portuguese love affair with them.

Lisbon Sardine Festival, Alfama
A traditional Arraial in Lisbon

Traditionally fresh sardines are eaten simply, grilled whole with a liberal dousing of natural sea salt, added a few hours beforehand, in order to crisp up the skin on the coals. Oh and by whole, I mean whole – head, tail, skin, bones and … ungutted. To the uninitiated keeping the guts in may seem like a step too far in the adventurous foodie stakes – I was even a bit taken aback when presented with my first grilled sardine. However the Portuguese maintain that keeping the guts in during cooking improves the flavour and rest assured, you’re not meant to eat the innards, that’s for the neighbourhood cats, for whom June is their favourite time of the year.

Needless to say, sardines aren’t exactly great first date food eaten in the traditional Portuguese way. They’re a small fish, and served whole they can be a bit fiddly for the novice. Don’t worry though, there’s no wrong way to do it and even the locals vary in their approach. You can eat the crispy salty skin or peel it off to get to the juicy flesh underneath. Once you’ve devoured that, simply flip it over and repeat! This is the basic way of tackling sardines with a knife and fork, but if you’re at an Arraial, you may notice the sardine pros eating their sardines on a piece of rustic bread, without a plate or cutlery. I have yet to master this technique without getting a mouthful of bones and guts, but the method shouldn’t be ruled out: once your sardine is gone, you’re left with this piece of bread soaked in all those delicious oils and juices. This matches perfectly with the traditional sardine side dish of a roasted green pepper salad, dressed with olive oil and a dash of sharp vinegar.

For those of you here after the festival in June, sardines are still plentiful: just look for those handwritten paper signs declaring ‘Ha Sardinhas’. Grab your sardine lunch or dinner early though, because in most tascas or restaurants once the daily supply has run out you’ll have to wait till tomorrow!

You can experience the Arraials and grilled sardines of Lisbon by joining our ‘Dark Heart of Lisbon‘ tour, a great way to see Alfama by night and learn the darker parts of Portugal’s history

Our favourite spots to grab a plate of sardines in Lisbon?

Ponto Final is worth a visit for the views alone, located on the other side of the Tagus river in the area of Almada. From the centre of Lisbon it’s very easy to get to: simply hop a ferry from Cais do Sodre across the water followed by a short walk along the riverfront and you’ll arrive at the prettiest little pier decked out with yellow tables and chairs and an amazing view of the entire of Lisbon. It’s worth calling in advance to secure one of the coveted tables along the water.

A hidden gem of a place that tourists don’t know and would never accidentally find is Ultimo Porto. Hidden among shipping containers in the port of Lisbon this place is always packed with locals and is known as one of the best places in the whole city to eat grilled fish. Everything is cooked to order on an outside grill just steps from your table. Open for lunch only, it’s worth getting there early to grab a seat and booking ahead is strongly recommended.

Ultimo Porto restaurant, best sardines in Lisbon!
Lunch among the shipping containers at Ultimo Porto

If you are here during the month of June then the choices are abundant and on almost every street corner.

How to choose and cook your own

If you’re feeling brave enough to wander down to the local market and grill up your own batch of sardines then make sure to get the freshest ones you can. A good fresh sardine will be shiny and shimmering. The gills are clean and fresh and its eyes are bright. Make sure they’re firm and not flabby or limp and you’ve got yourself a good fresh sardine.

fresh sardines Lisnbon
Fresh sardines, shiny, shimmering and bright eyed

When you get them home you only need two other things: plentiful sea salt and a searing hot grill. The Portuguese use a very liberal amount of sea salt when grilling their sardines and they add it about an hour or so before they want to cook. The reason for adding so much salt is that helps to draw some of the moisture out of the fish as hits the grill and helps to form a barrier to stop the little critters sticking to the bars. The health-conscious may want to remove the skin before eating! The best way to cook them is as simple as possible on a very hot grill. Please do not try grilling indoors as you’ll be smelling sardines for weeks to come. The Portuguese will barbecue on a postage stamp and you’ll regularly see people grilling on small balconies or even on the streets outside their apartment!

What if you’re in Portugal out of sardine season?

If you’re here in Lisbon out of sardine season but still want to try some then your best bet is to do as locals do and buy yourself some tinned sardines. The Portuguese are almost as fanatical about their canned fish as the fresh variety, and tinned sardines are both delicious and a great souvenir to bring home. Tinned fish has a long culinary history in Portugal, ever since 1853, when the national canning industry was born. This was cheap nutritious and portable fast food that kept the Portuguese going during tough times. It fell out of favour somewhat after the revolution in ’74, with many of the canning factories closing down, but recent years has seen a Portuguese culinary renaissance and there has been a renewed interest in this iconic Portuguese staple, many of which are packaged attractively in gorgeous vintage tins and wrapping. A much better gift to bring home than a postcard!

If you want to try out some tinned sardines before committing to stuffing your suitcase with them, then I suggest you head down Sol e Pesca in the Cais do Sodre district. Formerly a fishing tackle shop, this quirky little bar serves up tinned sardines and other canned delicacies such as smoked eel, mackerel and octopus. It definitely makes a good place to get acquainted with all things ‘tinned’.

If you’ve enjoyed that and want to bring home a fishy souvenir, then I head down to Conservaria de Lisboa. Operating since 1930, this third generation family-run grocery store knows everything there is to know about tinned fish. In fact, that’s all they sell. Shopping here is like being transported back in time, as the shop assistants carefully help you choose your tin and then thoughtfully wrap it up in brown paper and string. An experience not to be missed.

Whilst it doesn’t quite have the history associated with it another good place to get your tinned sardine fix is at Loja das Conservas. They have a wider range of tinned brands than Conservaria de Lisboa, including Minerva, Santa Caterina and Ramirez and they have recently opened a small restaurant around the corner where you can sample some of the tinned offerings that you can buy in the shop.

We visit all of these stores on our ‘Historic Shops‘ tour, which is a great way to get a deeper understanding of this Portuguese staple.

Minerva tinned fish
Minerva tinned fish at A Vida Portuguesa

A Vida Portuguesa, a shop specialising in all things vintage and gourmet is another good stop for your tinned needs.

There are many other stores that have popped up in recent years (especially around Baixa and Rossio) specialising exclusively in all thing canned, but in many cases it’s a case of style and packaging over quality. Go with the more traditional Portuguese brands and you can’t go wrong.

inside A Vida Portuguesa
A vida Portuguesa at Intendente

Sardines and sustainability: Alternative options

Increasingly, some Portuguese are actually starting to shy away from sardines in favour of more sustainable alternatives. Sardines are a cool water loving fish. Climate change and the warming of the oceans have started to send local Portuguese sardines further north towards France and coming in from the south we are starting to see more horse mackerel (carapau) and chub mackerel (cavala); species that up until a decade ago were only really found off the coast of Algarve in the south of the country.

Horse Mackerel in a bucket of Ice
Horse Mackerel at the market

Warming waters, other invading species coupled with the huge Portuguese appetite for the sardine has caused stocks to plummet in recent decades and the government has had impose severe quotas on how much sardines can be fished and when. In the 1980’s fishermen landed more than 110,000 tonnes a year, but this this year the quota allowed for both Portugal and Spain is a mere 10,799 tonnes. It could take as much as fifteen years for the sardine population to recover (if at all given the changes in the earth’s oceans) and so the Portuguese government are now starting to investigate the idea of establishing a sardine aquaculture sector to sate the people’s appetite for this most iconic of Portuguese foods.

“Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster.”

Ferran Adria

If you’re looking for a sustainable and responsible alternative to sardines then I suggest you try ‘carapau’ (horse mackerel) and ‘cavala’ (chub mackerel). They’re both oily fish and rich in omega-3, just like sardines. They’re typically slightly larger than a sardine, so can be easier to tackle with a knife and fork and can be had freshly grilled or tinned, just like sardines. Again you’ll see them on menus all around Lisbon and a local specialty worth trying is carapauzinhos fritos, small fried mackerel that you eat whole (head and all) with a great big bowl of tomato rice, another Portuguese specialty. Ponto Final does a particularly good version of this with a plate of mini fried mackerels piled high on the plate with a bubbling terracotta cauldron of tomato rice.

Sardine grilled over open fire
Sardines grilling on open fires on the beaches around the Algarve

(UPDATE: On May 14th, the ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, announced an increase in the allowed fishing quota – up from 10,799 tonnes to 16,450 tonnes, as the fish stocks have increased more than they expected. This means that if you do decide to indulge in some sardines you can do so with a bit of a clearer conscience!)

There is a dirty secret within tourism and it’s a secret shared by most tour guides and locals. We don’t like tourists! 

Sounds strange, our economies depend on tourism and our jobs definitely depend on tourists, but let me explain. Think of your home city wherever it is, New York, California, London, Sydney and think of all the places you avoid just because of the tourists. Done it? Well, we feel exactly the same. Let’s get one thing straight; it’s not all tourists it’s just ones that do incredible stupid or obnoxious things without even thinking about their surroundings. 

Anti-Tourism Graffiti in Lisbon: Tourists Are Terrorists
Photo Courtesy: Adam Lederer @ Flickr

The Problem with the Tram 28, Lisbon

‘On the 1st of September (1901) the electric traction from Cais do Sodré to Algés will start functioning (…) It means: on  the 1st of September the Hospitals will have no beds available and the cemeteries will need to expand.’

O Imparcial, 25th August 1901.

It is fair to say that the opening of the first tram in Lisbon was not (at least at first) a popular move. Fear of the new technology and the risk to life it could cause meant that few people could be found who were not fearful that a thunderstorm could end up sending lightning bolts through every window in the city.

Today though they are a much-loved icon. Providing small electrical trams that can twist and turn up the steepest and sharpest of hills. They go where the metro and modern articulated trams dare not tread.

Tram 28 in Alfama

The problem is for many residents of Alfama, Graça and so on they are the only form of public transport accessible to them. The number 28 is one such tram, and its popularity amongst tourists is a real headache for the locals. The trams have a seating capacity of 20 and a standing capacity of around another 30, they arrive every ten minutes and in the summer the square of Martim Moniz will have lines of up to 2 hours long with tourists waiting to take the 28’s iconic winding route.

How to ride the Tram 28

1: Buy your tickets in advance

You can buy tickets directly on the tram, but this costs you more and holds up the line. Instead, buy a daily travel pass for €6.90 when you arrive in Lisbon. These can be purchased at any Metro station in the city and are valid on all Metro, buses, trams, and ferries (find out more here). Alternatively, there is the Zapping option,  the Zapping cards can be bought at all metro stops and a few other places around the city for just 50 cents and can then be topped up with anything from €3 to €40 depending on the length of your stay. Each time you get on a tram or a bus simply look for the yellow box and tap your card against it, your balance will come up at this point, so if it is running low you can easily top it up again at any metro before getting caught short.

summer lines for the Tram 28

2: Don’t use the trams at rush hour

We get it your on holiday and you want to see as much as possible, but people need to get to work, so let them. Lisbon’s a slow city, take an extra coffee and pastel de nata and relax. Try not to use the trams between the hours of 8 am and 10 am and then from 5 pm till 7 pm. This way you will help ease congestion on a very old transport system. The 28 is standing room only from 8 am till 7 pm, so if you really must ride the 28 then take it in the late evening, it will be cooler and less crowded.

Tram 28 in Baixa

3. Don’t ride the tram 28

We know that Rick Steeves says it’s a must do and so Fodors, TimeOut and every other guide book under the sun, but there are currently 5 tram routes that use the beautiful old yellow trolley and some of their routes lead to beautiful neighborhoods often ignored by the hordes heading to Alfama and Castelo. Also, the 28 is a pickpockets dream so do be careful of your belongings.

We particularly like the tram 25 and 18 which travel through fascinating areas like Estrela and Ajuda where you can visit the criminally under-visited royal palaces. 

If your budget isn’t too tight you can splash out and pay €18 for a 24-hour hop on hop off historic tram pass. These are exactly the same as the public transport except they are painted red on the outside, but as you can’t see the outside when your inside, who cares? You will be guaranteed a seat, you won’t have your pocket picked like on the infamous 28 and you can jump on and off for 24 hours from validation of your ticket in all the historic quarters (Alfama, Comercio, Baixia, etc). You can buy tickets directly here  https://www.yellowbustours.com/en-GB/Lisbon/Circuits.aspx

Yellow tram 28 on streets of Estrela

4. Don’t ride the tram!

Do you really want to spend 3 hours of your holiday in the baking sun, followed by an hour crammed like sardines into an un-airconditioned sweatbox? There’s a much better option. Take a walking tour!! Our Alfama tour covers a huge section of the Tram 28’s route, you’ll learn more and you’ll burn off some calories leaving more space for Ginjinha and a pastel de nata, and the one thing you will notice about our photos of the trams is we are never on them, Simple!

A Private tour of Lisbon is a great way to see Lisbon

Conclusion:

All in all the trams of Lisbon are a must see, but be sensitive of the locals and use them at sensible times of day and take the stress off the 28.

If you want to learn more about the historic trams of Lisbon we strongly suggest a visit to the Carris museum. Here you have all the different trams from the last century that you can climb on and explore, and your €4 entry also covers a quick spin around the still in use work yards in one of the historic trams. More information can be found at  http://museu.carris.pt/en/

 DONNA OLIMPIA MAIDALCHINI

Anyone who has ever read some of the more scandalous stories of the papacy has surely come across the name of Pope Joan, the likely legendary female figure, who, in the Middle Ages briefly occupied the throne of St. Peter. What fewer people are aware of is the extraordinary life of Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, the real and historical woman, who, in the early 17th century, became the closest advisor of Pope Innocent X, known as “La Papessa”, the female pope, or, more derogatorily, “La Pimpaccia”, woman of sin.    

The Women of Rome.

Olimpia’s life began ordinarily enough in 1591, in the town of Viterbo, just outside of Rome. She was one of three daughters and a son, born to a relatively modest family. Her father was a “condottieri” – essentially a mercenary military captain, and her mother was from a modest but respectable local family. 

Olimpia’s father decided that she and her sisters would be destined for a life in the local convent, as it would save him from having to pay an enormous dowry for the girls, which would be better spent on the inheritance of the only son of the family. Olimpia though was rebellious and independent-minded from an early age: whilst undergoing instruction for taking holy orders, she accused the local priest of sexually harassing her. The incident led to such shame for the local prelate, that he had to resign, although, in reality, it was probably a story fabricated by the young Olimpia. At the time, women had few options to ensure their own emancipation and so, in this sense, Olimpia was simply taking control of her own destiny (and to be fair, the priest was later reinstated). 

Once she had freedom from the convent, Olimpia had the freedom to pursue marriage and secured one with one of the wealthiest, elderly, landowners of the area in 1608. She was 16 years old. 

Lalupa [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Portrait of Donna Olimpia Maidalchini
Lalupa (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Her first marriage lasted just three years, before her husband died, leaving her a free and wealthy widow.

Find out about more of Rome’s powerful women here


HER RISE IN ROME

Olimpia undoubtedly had ambition and political savvy, so it was no surprise when she cropped up again 1612 by marrying Pamphilio Pamphilj, a man from one of Rome’s most prominent and prestigious families. As was typical at the time, Olimpia’s youth, fertility and wealth, with Pamphilio’s aristocratic breeding, made for the perfect match.  She wanted prestige and standing in society and, whilst his family was well respected, they desperately needed funds to line the family coffers. By 17th century standards, it was a match made in heaven. 

This marriage lasted until 1639 when Olimpia was widowed again. Her connections to the Pamphilj family were not severed at this point though: by this time Olimpia was already 48 years old and beyond the point of remarriage by the norms of the day. But more importantly, her brother-in-law, Giambattista Pamphilj, was already a powerful cardinal, and on-track to even more. 

By 1644, her brother-in-law was elected to the papacy and became Pope Innocent X. The pair already had a long and close family relationship and it seemed that Innocent X had already come to rely on her for advice by the time that he became pope. So, shortly after he was elected to the papacy Olimpia was bestowed with certain honors: including be being designated as his heir in his will in 1644, and being named the “Princess of San Martino”. These were certainly roles of prestige and she was definitely in a privileged position as a confidant to the pope, which she profited from. 

Bernini’s founatian of the four rivers

Contemporary writers complained that all decisions, business, legal and political, were decided in her living room. According to one account, she convinced the pope that it was immoral for the Vatican to collect taxes from brothels, and instead, he sold her the right to collect the taxes. She even hung the Pamphilj family crest above the doors of her brothels so that local law enforcement would leave her establishments alone.
Another piece of Roman gossip suggested that Bernini won the commission for the “Fountain of the Four Rivers” by appealing not to the pope, but to Olimpia, by presenting her with a silver model of the fountain. She then left the elaborate model in a place where she was sure that the pope would see it. Of course, once Innocent saw Bernini’s design he had no choice but choose him for the commission over his rival Borromini. Olimpia was also known to accompany the pope during official ceremonies and was even present when he opened the Jubilee year of 1650. 

For more info on Bernini check out our Best of Rome Tour


HER FALL FROM GRACE

Needless to say such a brazen display of power from a woman at this time was branded as scandalous, and earned her the title of “la Papaessa”, or, more unflatteringly, “la Pimpaccia”. She was seen as the reigns behind the papacy, and some even suggested that in having such influence that she was, in fact, the pope’s mistress.

When Innocent X died on January 7th, in 1655, Olimpia’s power and position in Rome immediately soured. She was already an unpopular figure in Rome for the power that she wielded, and without the protection of her brother-in-law, her time in Rome had come to end. It is said that before she made her escape, she took two great chests full of silver and gold from under the pope’s bed and loaded them into her carriage. She then bid the city of Rome farewell. Olimpia returned to her estate at San Martino al Cimino, never to return to Rome again. She died two years later from the plague. 

The supposed gates of hell, Rome
Lalupa (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Olimpia was certainly fierce, and at times an unlikable woman, but her legacy was to be enduring. One of Rome’s most famous ghost stories even today tells the story of “la Pimpaccia”, the mistress of the Vatican. They say on the night of the death of the pope, on the 7th of January each year, Olimpia can be seen loading the crates of gold into her black carriage at the palace on Piazza Navona. She climbs aboard and the chariot tears away, pulled by four black steeds. The carriage races through the streets of Rome, leaving a trail of fire in its wake, Olimpia’s shrill laugh, ringing through the air. She makes her way towards Ponte Sisto and over the bridge towards the Gianicolo Hill, where the carriage is said to disappear through the gates of Hell. There are few men who have stories like that told about them more than 350 years after their death.    

You can find out more about Olimpia and the other women of Rome by taking our ‘Women’s History of Rome’ tour

ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI

Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the great artists of the Baroque Age, an artist more than capable of holding her own next to some of the more famous giants of this period, like Caravaggio. Her canvases were bold and dynamic, portraying dramatic religious and historical scenes with realism and energy.  In her art, she revealed the lives of her female protagonists as so much more than passive objects of the male gaze. Artemisa’s heroines took centre stage, both literally and figuratively, and her art was in high demand during her own lifetime, even if she did fall into relative obscurity until recently. 

‘Self portrait as the allegory of painting’ c. 1639

Artemisia’s art is captivating in its own right, but for that art to be produced by a woman in the seventeenth century (a rare thing at the time) and by a woman whose own personal life story was marked by tragedy and violence, makes her an even more intriguing character.

EARLY LIFE

Artemisia was born in Rome in 1593, the eldest of five children, and the only daughter of Prudentia Montori and the painter, Orazio Gentileschi. Her father was a talented artist in his own right and was a contemporary and friend of Michelangelo da Merisi, better known as Caravaggio. Indeed, the two were so well acquainted that they ended up in court together in 1603, after they scrawled libels about a rival artist around the streets of the city. During his testimony, Orazio mentions Caravaggio visiting his studio in order to borrow some props for a painting project. Artemisia was about ten years old at the time of this trail, so we can only suppose that she met the great artist herself during her childhood. It was in this circle of artists that Artemisia was raised, and despite the handicap of her gender, she was the only one of her siblings to show any true aptitude for art – and so her father began to train her in the craft.

‘Susanna and the Elders’ c.1610

Artemisia showed true talent from an early age, and despite her father’s initial reluctance to train his daughter (this was a male dominated profession after all), he eventually realised her potential and fostered her fast-developing skills. When Artemisia was still a teenager, her father wrote that she “become so skilled that I can venture to say that today she has no peer.” It’s from around this time that we have her earliest known signed work “Susanna and the Elders”, and it’s impossible not to see how accomplished she was even at an early age.
It is also around this time that Orazio decided to introduce Artemisia to one of his colleagues, Agostino Tassi, for further tuition in the art of perspective (professional art academies were a male-only arena at the time). The decision to have Tassi tutor Artemisia was to prove to be a tragic one: Tassi, who it seems was a volatile individual with a dark past, brutally raped Artemisia. She was just seventeen years old and a virgin at the time. 

RAPE AND TRIAL

For women in the seventeenth-century rape was not just a violent physical assault, but it was something that brought great shame on the family and particularly the woman, whose prospects of marriage could be destroyed as she was seen as tarnished, damaged goods. As a result, women were often forced to marry their rapists to conceal the shame. And so, when Orazio discovered what had happened to his daughter, instead of going to the authorities, it was agreed that Tassi would marry the young Artemisia. He agreed, and continued his sexual activity with the teenager, only to later to go back on his promise. It is only at this point, about nine months after the initial attack that her father decided to have Tassi arrested. 

‘Judith and her maidservent’ c.1620’s

Orazio was already a well-known artist at the time, and due probably to his connection with Caravaggio, (who only a few years before had gone on the run as a fugitive for murder), there was huge public interest in the trial. What followed was a very public, sordid and humiliating seven-month trial, during which, the young Artemisia was forced to give evidence to restore her dignity. 

Transcripts of the trial still exist, and they make for some seriously disturbing reading. Firstly, because the family allowed Tassi to continue sexual relations with Artemisia, he could not be tried for rape, only for taking her virginity. The onus was very much on Artemisia to prove what Tassi had done; she was questioned in excruciating detail about the event, her reputation was brought into question, with some witnesses claiming she was a whore who had slept with many men and that the home operated as a brothel. She was poked and prodded and even tortured during questioning to prove whether or not she was telling the truth. The judge in an of apparentnt “compassion” suggested that the “sibille” (the ropes tied around her fingers and progressively tightened as a form of torture), should be only loosely tied as Artemisia was only eighteen years old. 
It also emerged during the trial that Tassi was an individual with a dark past: he could never have married Artemisia, as he was already married, although his wife had gone missing and was presumed dead at the hands of bandits hired by Tassi. It seems he forced himself on his sister-in-law and had also planned to steal several of Orazio’s paintings. In the end, the court found in favour of Artemisia, and they handed down a mild sentence to Tassi which some scholars believe was never enforced.

Florence

The most important thing for Artemisia was that her reputation had been restored. However, the public attention that she had received during the trial, made staying in Rome impossible for her, so her family had her hastily married to a Florentine painter and the young Artemisia went to Florence start a new life. 

‘Judith beheading Holofernes’ c. 1620

It is when she left Rome that Artemisia truly began to develop her own voice as an artist and fostered friendships with some the most influential people of the time; she was known to correspond with Galileo and the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Artemisia’s brilliance was finally officially recognised when she became the first woman to be accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence. Her works of art became incredibly sought-after, and dukes, princes and even kings requested commissions from her. This allowed Artemisia tremendous freedom, allowing her to travel around Europe, from Florence to Venice, Naples and even London. She did return to Rome for a period, but eventually travelled further south, to Naples, which is where she lived the rest of days, dying sometime around 1656.

Her art fell out of favour in the 18th and 19th centuries but was rediscovered during the 20th century and recent exhibitions in Rome and London have thrust Artemisia into the spotlight again. Like Caravaggio, the dramatic events of Artemisia’s early life sometimes overshadow her artistic achievements and undoubtedly her experience of rape influenced and informed her work to some degree – but it would be a mistake to see all of her art through the lens of a victim. Artemisia was a talented artist before the rape and trial and she continued to be after. Away from the place that held such painful memories, she blossomed, creating striking and original compositions that placed women firmly in the foreground – of the roughly sixty paintings that we have attributed to Artemisia, about 40 feature women prominently. Artemisia overcame personal tragedy and excelled in a field that was traditionally a man’s world, and she did it on her own terms. 

You find out more about Artemisia, and the women who have shaped Rome’s history on our Womens History of Rome Tour’.