The Search for an Iconic Capital City. Three Moments of Radical Transformation of Lisbon’s Waterfront”

Maria Joao Matos


From very early on, the identity of Lisbon was shaped by a symbiosis with the River Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean. Until the 19th century, the city grew essentially along the estuary and then went through the classical evolution of a western harbor city. However, three moments of radical and exceptional transformation can be identified on Lisbon’s waterfront: the earthquake of 1755 and subsequent rebuilding under the supervision of the Marquess of Pombal, the Exhibition of the Portuguese World of 1940 with its generation of an impressive monumental public space as the culmination of a period of glory for the dictatorship of Salazar, and finally the Expo’98 reviving an obsolete and peripheral harbor area at the turn of the millennium. All three are characterized by their singularity and visibility, made possible by particular political and economic contexts, which promoted the conception of symbolic landscapes, adopting new aesthetics in urban design, architecture and public art as vehicles of propaganda. This presentation will focus on those three distinct and monumental interventions and consider how they have proved to be decisive for a more or less balanced growth of Lisbon, generating three new functional and symbolic centers within the city. Furthermore, in 2013, in a context of social and economic crisis, a change of paradigm is under way and a new approach to Lisbon’s waterfront is taking shape. Our study will look at recent emerging trends that favor the creation of leisure areas for smaller and central sites, focusing on green spaces and sustainability.