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Europe Food for Thought

Visual Intoxication in Lisbon – the city of many cities

November 27, 2018

Landing in Lisbon, I was immediately reminded of Lagos. The lush greenery, the colorful buildings at varying levels of upkeep.

As I navigated to my Airbnb in Alfama District, Lisbon’s Old Town, I struck by not only the diversity of architectural styles that littered the city, but also the way old met new in a myriad of ways throughout my ride.

A giant hotel(perhaps?), entirely covered with pristine glass, dazzled next to the ghost of an even larger building, decorated with crumbling paint. I was too busy being mesmerized by their juxtaposition to take a photo.

Throughout my stay in Lisbon, I was continually reminded of all the other cities Lisbon reminded me off. As I waited for my brother to arrive, I overheard a walking tour proclaim that Lisbon was once the capital of Europe. When one considers that, along with Lisbon’s history on conquest, colonization and their own rise and fall, it makes sense why the city is visually a hodge-podge of other cities you might be used to.

Here are just a few of the cities that Lisbon reminded me of:


Addis Ababa

Like Lisbon, Addis has had influences from around the world, as well as Muslim, Christian and other imaginations. There was a variety of architecture present in both cities: some looking like the belonged along the Seine in Paris, and others looked like they were lifted and carried over from the center of Istanbul.


When I visited Naples, our guide told us that Naples was large village, and I got that vibe in Lisbon as well. In particular, the area where I was staying with the narrow cobble stone streets and neighbors who all seemed to know each other (although there seemed to be a few other airbnbs in the area), took me right back to our winding walking tour in Naples as our guide greeted almost everyone we passed. The winding hills and balconies of both locations also reminding me of my old stomping grounds in Montmartre in Paris.


Saint Louis


Once a bastion of the colonial French Empire, Saint Louis, Senegal is now in varying levels of upkeep. Many of the crumbling buildings with peeled paint in Lisbon, took me right back to that short weekend in Saint Louis in 2013. Like Saint Louis, pink and red buildings, decorated with balconies seemed to affect the most. I even saw two buildings next to each other, exact same style, but one grey and a dusty rose, worn and peeling from the elements, and the other had a fresh pink paint!


Budapest & other European Cities

With it’s large plazas and giant statues, Lisbon of course reminded me of many other European cities trying to commemorate someone or an event that was important to them. I chose Budapest specifically because the cobblestone plaza surrounded by colorful buildings of Praca Comercio, reminded me of the plaza and statues of Castle Hill. And I’m sure if I had headed to Belem, I would have likely been reminded of the grand memorial architecture of Berlin and Paris.





Like Istanbul, Lisbon is known for its tiled walls, known as azulejo. They were introduced when the Moors invaded Portugal, but really flourished when their King Manuel I came back from a trip to Seville, also invaded by the Moors, and introduced them again. In addition to the tiles buildings, there was also architecture, similar to Addis, that clearly had influences of the Arab World.



I’ve already mentioned the ways Montmartre reminded me of Alfama with the narrow, hilly, cobble stone streets, and of course the statues and grand plazas. But Lisbon had its very own version of the Champs Eylsees. The avenue was not quite as wide, and they had lush green trees, parks and fountains down the middle. But, like the Champs Eylsees, either side was lined with all the high end stores and brands known around the world. From Gucci, to Prada to Michael Kors and more, every brand seemed to have their own store front here.



Juxtapose the image of Libson’s own Champs Elysees, with the many areas of town that still seemed under construction. I chose Dakar, to highlight here, but there are many cities around the world, and particularly in West Africa, where there are varying levels of construction, right next to shiny new high rises or buildings from the colonial era. As I rode through Lisbon, checking out the new and old buildings, some left to decay, some building projects abandoned entirely; it called me back to my time in Dakar where every few meters was a half-finished building that might not be finished soon.

There’s so much more I could say about all the different things that came to mind in Lisbon as I wandered the winding city streets, all unfolding to tell a different part of the city’s rich history and Portugal’s connections with the rest of the world.

I thought often of a paper I recently wrote for my development class, on Andre Gunder Frank’s theory (1966) of core and periphery nations and systems (also called metropole and satellites) – the idea that certain countries are the core that under develop the periphery in order to develop themselves (See also: Rodney Walter’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”(1972), or Samir Amin’s “Underdevelopment and Dependence in Black Africa –Origins and Contemporary Forms” (1972)). In my time in Lisbon, one phrase came to mind from my reading: “…including now-underdeveloped Spain and Portugal…” That history, of the rise and fall from metropole to satellite of Portugal, played out in the winding streets of Lisbon and throughout the city’s varied architecture.

Hope you didn’t mind my nerd division too much! It’s just fascinating when you see the way theories from class play out while you’re trying to enjoy your vacation.

Have you been to a city that just evoked lots of other memories for you (it doesn’t have to be architectural like mine). But I’m just super curious about the experience of “rediscovering” a new place! Where you’ve never been there, but every step could be déjà vu!

As I travel more, I continue to notice and appreciate all the little things that bring these various cities together, so I would love to know what your experience has been with this sort of thing.

Thanks so much for reading and I hope you continue seeing all the beautiful (but sometimes ugly) ways that our world is interconnected.


Omolayo Nkem

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1 Comment

  • Reply Laura Facchin February 16, 2019 at 17:17

    Wow I so loved reading your story on contrives u visited .I also visited maples and Paris. Beautiful interesting towns .

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