As you read this, visitors to Lisbon are snapping photos with three of the top landmarks in the city, completely unaware of a darker truth that is hidden in plain sight about these ionic places. Three major monuments are not what they seem…
From 1926 to 1974 Portugal was authoritarian state called the Estado Novo – or New State. It began with a military coup in 1926, ending the First Republic. The ruler of the Estado Novo, from 1932 to his death in 1969, was a finance professor named António de Oliveira Salazar. Under Salazar, architecture was used to foster a sense of nationalism and the past was often aggrandized and used to justify Portugal’s far-flung colonial empire. Salazar regime told Portuguese to honor "Deus, Pátria e Familia” or "God, Fatherland, and Family."
Lisbon was transformed in this period – with new avenues, neighborhoods, roadways and public works. Many used the same streamlined and neo-historic style seen in Germany and Italy. Three of the symbolic monuments of the Estado Novo are today in every major guidebook, but their dark past is often obscured.
This must see riverside statue with the luminaries of the 15th and 16th centuries is always full of people snapping selfies. Most guidebooks incorrectly say it dates to 1960. The original “Monument to the Navigators” was a temporary statue built for the infamous The Portuguese World Exhibition (Exposição do Mundo Português) of 1940. This exhibition was the commemoration of the nation’s founding 1140, but the theme was of colonialism and the justification of Portugal holding territories in India, the Far East and Africa. The propaganda spoke of the Portuguese Empire as a unified state that spanned multiple continents.
The original monument was designed in 1939 by Portuguese architect José Ângelo Cottinelli Telmo, and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, for the Portuguese World Exhibition. As propaganda, it represented a romanticized concept of 15th and 16th century Portuguese exploration. A stone version was built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry.
São Jorge’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) sits high above Lisbon overlooking the Rossio and the Tejo River. The fortified hilltop has Roman and Moorish sections, and most date to the post-1147 medieval period of Portuguese history. Everyday thousands of visitors climb its walls and enjoy the view. Very few know that the castle dates to… 1940, opening for the Portuguese World Exhibition. In the 1930, 40s and 50s, the Estado Novo regime launched a nationwide campaign to restore national monuments, from churches, cathedrals, castles and palaces – the idea was to inspire the population with proud structures from the past. Photos of Lisbon from the early 20th century show that little of the walls had survived. Castles were outdated by 1460 – as cannons came on the scene. São Jorge’s Castle was in ruin by 1755 when a massive earthquake shook the city, toppling the remaining walls. While many sections of defensive walls can be spotted around the Alfama, the castle itself was completely rebuilt between 1939-40, creating a new structure that is one of Lisbon’s key monuments today – built to inspire by an authoritarian state.
Cais das Colunas
Visitors throng to the River Tejo in front of Praça de Comericio – the heart of Lisbon. The grand dock called Cais das Colunas is a central point for sunbathing and dipping ones feet in the Tejo. Two white columns rising from the tidal waters of the Tejo River mark it.
Online sites attribute them to the post 1755 rebuilding of the city, and say they evoke the Temple of Solomon – but that is not the truth. The dock was resorted in 1939 to welcome President Óscar Carmona home from a trip around the Portuguese empire. Salazar met him in massive photo opp – and the pillars were inscribed with their names. Look beyond the tourists, and see the all caps letter on the famous columns’ base – they read SALAZAR and CARMONA. It is a fascist monument.