Maritime Museum, Lisbon 21.10.10
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 22, 2010
Ok, I’m back from dinner, and if my spelling is wonky now you can blame the excellent Portuguese grappa which tastes like a very good brandy!
From the Jeronimo monastery we then went to the maritime museum, called Museu de Marinhu. It’s fabulous.
First of all, there is a huge map in the entrance lobby showing the routes discovered by Portuguese mariners in the 16th and 17th centuries. People of my generation remember laboriously tracing world maps and plotting these voyages of discovery when we were in primary school, perhaps too young to really appreciate the courage, tenacity and imagination of these explorers, but certainly more likely to remember them than today’s children who merely photocopy a map, if they study them at all. Does it matter? I think it does. I think it’s important to acknowledge human endeavour in any form, and I think that these men who set off into the unknown without proper maps, navigation aids or even knowledge of how to keep sane and healthy on a long voyage are real heroes.
If you google Portuguese explorers there are 121 pages to choose from, and that’s just the ones whose names have made it onto Wikipedia. At school we learned about Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Bartholomew Dias, and it’s quite possible that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to sight the western coast of Australia. Henry the Navigator was among the most famous, and it’s not so long ago that Lisbon erected a monument called The Discoveries to commemorate his achievements. There is an impressive portrait of him in the museum too, and this is an indication that contemporary Portuguese take an intense pride in their maritime history and the role it played in opening up the new world to Europe.
The museum has lots of terrific scale models of Portuguese ships of battle and discovery, a great collection of naval uniforms from times past to the present day, some magnificent royal barges – and also some flying boats from the 20th century. The Portuguese ditched their monarchy back in 1910, but the museum hosts an intriguing display from the royal yacht Amelia, complete with his and hers bedrooms (each with own piano), a roulette table and some very swanky crockery. Not all that different to the Liz and Phil’s yacht that’s on display in Edinburgh, perhaps a bit classier.
We had lunch in the Belem Cultural Centre overlooking the River Tagus but declined to inspect their modern artworks. They might be great, but our feet were sore and we still had the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga to do. We got back on the red tourist bus to get most of the way there but then there was a trek across roadworks, more of those perilous paving stones, a very high footbridge across a railway and then a LOT of stairs – not just to reach the entrance but also inside it – no lifts anywhere!
It was just a tad disappointing. We saw The Temptation of St Anthony by Hieronymous Bosch (so now we’ve seen the trilogy – the other two are in the Prado) , a Bruegel and a Durer, but most of the other artworks were by artists we’ve never seen or heard of . The porcelain was lovely and there were some stunning gold figurines which must be worth a mint, but we weren’t able to take full advantage of the collection without an audio guide or a guidebook to explain the significance of what was there.
Indefatigable tourists we try to be, but we took a taxi back to the hotel which turned out to be the most expensive of the trip (not counting Melbourne to Tullamarine) because it was peak hour and the traffic was chaotic. I used to be scared of plane flights, but now I know that Lisbon taxi drivers are scarier still. They drive fast and furious, but without the dashing flair of the Spanish who for some odd reason inspire one with confidence.
I was almost too tired to go out to dinner but we’d made a booking and I was glad we went after all. Alma is a superb fusion restaurant which serves both a classic Portuguese degustation and an innovative one. Tim had the classic and I had the new and they were both brilliant. The ambience was elegant and the waiting staff were friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable about all aspects of the cuisine and the wines. We met the chef, who turned out to have worked in Sydney for two years, and he was a lovely person too. If you go to Lisbon, this is a must-do experience.