Rua do Arsenal, home of the cod shops, witness to history
The trade of Lisbon's favourite fish for Christmas dinner has been more intense in the past, but it still survives in the street that witnessed the most important events in Lisbon's recent history, from the earthquake to 25th April.
There was a time when Rua do Arsenal was the home of many of the cod shops in Lisbon. Eleven of them displayed the delicatessen in their windows and nine of them exclusively sold this type of fish caught in the cold waters of Scandinavia and brought by tradition to the portuguese tables.
The slow transformation of Baixa from a commercial to a tourist area changed the scenario.
Now only two shops are in operation: Mercearia Pérola do Arsenal and Rei do Bacalhau. They both resist and keep on selling the symbol of the Lisbon Christmas suppers.
The codfish trade resists in Rua do Arsenal, but not the Arsenal that christened it. What was it?
It was a military barracks, destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1755, rebuilt and remained in place until 1939, when operations were transferred to the Alfeite Base on the South Bank of the Tejo river. While it was in this location in Baixa, Arsenal da Marinha witnessed explosive events in Portugal's history, including the death of a king, D. Carlos I, in 1908, where the body of the monarch and his heir, Luís Filipe, were taken.
Rua do Arsenal also saw the direct consequence of the regicide: the Republic being established from the counters of Lisbon City Hall.
It was also in Rua do Arsenal that Captain Salgueiro Maia, on the morning of the revolution of the 25th April 1974, refused to surrender and advanced with the revolutionary troops towards Largo do Carmo, re-establishing democracy in Portugal.
Rua do Arsenal nowadays lives calmer days, although the proximity of the festive season is synonymous with the frantic coming and going of customers from establishments that keep the tradition of selling Lisbon's favourite fish for Christmas dinner.
By Álvaro Filho