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Route I: From weapons production to art
Nothing stays the same, everything changes. And for the better. As we can see from Marvila to Seixal, and in everything we come across on our meandering course along this route.
It is nothing new to say that, with industrial development in the 19th century, the entire eastern river bank of Lisbon gained in importance. The Poço do Bispo area became one of the most crowded parts of the city with countless teeming workers’ villages. As history moved on, this area lost importance and was left to decay. However, as an area with good sun exposure and an unhindered view, it was bound to undergo a renaissance. And thus what was once a heavy industrial zone, including weapons manufacture, was replaced by art.
New life began to flood into
Xabregas, Beato, Marvila, Braço de Prata and Cabo Ruivo, a change that started organically in Rua do Açúcar (Sugar Street). Named “the sweetest street in Lisbon”, and inherited from a sugar refinery that stood there until 1782, it started to attract young people who opened modern cafés, restaurants, barber shops, craft beer bars, art galleries, etc.
In this traditionally working class neighbourhood, art galleries were the pioneers. Galeria Baginski was among the first to move to the area in 2009. Vhils followed in 2013 and Underdogs’ monthly exhibitions helped to draw people in. Then came Francisco Fino, who opened his contemporary art gallery in 2017, and the artist Tomaz Hipólito, who shared a renovated warehouse with the architect Helena Botelho and created an artist residency project for international artists.
Braço de Prata is also located in the area. This cultural centre, which has been housed in the former Fábrica de Material de Guerra (War Materials Factory) since 2007, swapped weapons for art, filling its rooms with culture. In this half-abandoned building, more than ten multi-purpose rooms are used as concert venues, art galleries, curiosity cabinets, cinemas, visual arts studios, dining rooms, etc.
Continuing on our way, with the Tagus in the background, we reach Terreiro do Paço, but not before coming to the Fábrica de Gás da Matinha (Matinha Gas Plant), a perfect example of industrial architecture. In Terreiro do Paço, it is hard not to notice the ferry crossing to Barreiro, a fishing town turned into an industrial hub. Today, a well-spent day in Barreiro is quite different from what it was in the past. It can and must start with a walk in the Mata Nacional da Machada (Machada National Woods), and it would not be the same if you miss the emblematic waterside windmills spread throughout this municipality rich in traditions and famous for its old quarter. Beach lovers will enjoy visiting an “old riverside bathing spot”, Alburrica. And because art is also present on this southern side of the river, take a walk to see the famous mural by the street artist Vhils.
On the same side of the river is Cacilhas. You can reach this nice little fishing village by boat from Cais do Sodré if coming from Lisbon. One thing is for sure: this is where you will find the most beautiful view of the capital. And if this is one of the high points of Cacilhas, Ginjal, consisting of a diverse set of mostly industrial and commercial buildings abandoned many years ago, is the cherry on the top of this tour. Although most of the businesses which existed there have gone bankrupt, Ginjal has never been abandoned, attracting many people, either to fish, walk or on the way to the many restaurants and eateries.
Returning to the north bank of the river, you can see the massive Lisbon shipyards – known as Lisnave – located in Cacilhas. Despite being closed since the company moved to Setúbal, it is still possible to see the old yard’s gantry crane, the purest example of industrial architecture.
Still looking at the south bank of the river, and right beside Cacilhas, is the old Mundet factory in Seixal. Founded in 1905, it soon became one of the largest cork factories in Portugal. In December 2016, it reopened as a food, culture and leisure venue, paying tribute to the historical past and the memory of the building. What was once one of the largest factories in the country has reinvented itself, respecting the past and creating the future. And there you have it: nothing stays the same, everything changes.