The life of Fernando Pessoa is imprinted in the city of Lisbon. While strolling around the Chiado and downtown neighbourhoods, we can find many traces of the poet’s usual daily life activities as well as some of the houses where he lived in. But the best place to start discovering more about Pessoa in Portugal’s capital is in the Campo de Ourique neighbourhood, where it’s located an institution whose main purpose is to disseminate the author’s work and biography.
‘Casa Fernando Pessoa’ opened, in 1993, in the building where the poet lived during the fifteen years preceding his death. He moved with his family to the number 16 at Rua Coelho da Rocha in 1920. Although he only lived in the apartment on the first floor right, the public institution occupies the entirety of the building. The main attractions of the house are a reconstruction of his bedroom, the multimedia room and the library specialising in world poetry.
On arrival at ‘Casa Fernando Pessoa’, whose white front is festooned with famous quotes by the poet, I was advised by one of the members of the friendly staff to start the visit on the top floor and walk my way down. There, it is set up a multimedia room where visitors can learn more about the life and work of Pessoa. Have you never heard of his heteronyms? There you can find plenty of information about them. The various images of Pessoa on the walls convey that idea of an author who wrote under different personalities.
Not only can we learn more about his work in this area, but we can also listen to it. At the centre of the room, there is a space surrounded by dividers where visitors can listen to his poems, both in Portuguese and in English, almost in the dark. It was really soothing to be sat on a pouf while myriads of words were being projected on the opposite wall.
In the same room, you can also find some of the items which belonged to Fernando Pessoa. Safe inside a showcase, his iconic glasses, identity card, match box, cigarette-holder, notebooks and a copy of The Tempest by Shakespeare are on display. His personal objects are the main theme of one of the games that visitors can play in this space as well.
On the first floor, the bedroom of the poet is the only area that remains more or less the same as it once was. Some of the furniture genuinely belonged to Pessoa, while other items are recreations. One of the original pieces is the chest of drawers, which was particularly relevant for the creation of the heteronyms. In a letter to Adolfo Casais Monteiro, Fernando Pessoa wrote that he had given a voice to many of them while writing on it. Both the bookcase (now empty) and the typewriter also originally belonged to him.
The books that used to fill Pessoa’s shelves are now gathered in a private library, which can be visited online but that is no longer on display. Nevertheless, there are no lack of books at ‘Casa Fernando Pessoa’. A great part of the building is occupied by a public library focusing on Pessoa and world poetry. I’m sure this is quite a useful place for anyone studying and undertaking research on his work.
Fernando Pessoa served as inspiration for many artists throughout the years. The paintings and other pieces of art in exhibition at the house are proof of that. The most iconic one is probably the portrait “Fernando Pessoa reading Orpheu”, a tribute by Almada Negreiros. But I also fell in love with a decorative tapestry from Portalegre by António Costa Pinheiro.
A visible presence in Lisbon
After visiting Pessoa’s last address, it was time to go look for more places connected with his life. A statue of Fernando Pessoa awaits us in Chiado, more precisely on the terrace of the ‘Café A Brasileira’, where he used to write and have debates with his friends. This may well be one of the most photographed spots in Lisbon, since the bronze statue, created in the 1980s by the sculptor Lagoa Henriques, consists of Fernando Pessoa sat near a table where a seat was purposefully left unoccupied.
Not far away, at the São Carlos Square, it can be found the building where he was born in 1888 and where he lived until the age of five. In front of the house, there is a bronze sculpture, about 4 metres high, created by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon. It was inaugurated in 2008 to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Fernando Pessoa’s birth.
The author had many residences throughout his life. Another one of them was at the Carmo Square. The light pink house on the corner was where he lived after returning from South Africa. There is a drawing of him on one of the windows of the first floor. This square is also historically significant for Portugal. It was one of the places where it took place, in 1974, the revolution that led to the fall of the dictatorial regime. Obviously, Fernando Pessoa didn’t live to see those events unfold, but he witnessed the inception of the dictatorship. After being complacent about the regime, he started expressing his misgivings about authoritarian leaders in some of his poems.
The café and restaurant ‘Martinho da Arcada’ at the Comércio Square, also known as Terreiro do Paço, is another place where Fernando Pessoa used to spend much time in. He wrote many of his poems there late in the afternoon. For that reason, inside, there are many pictures of him on the walls as well as a table with his name. He drank his last coffee there with Almada Negreiros three days before his death.
My discovery of Fernando Pessoa around Lisbon ended in ‘Martinho da Arcada’. However, there is another place I recommend visiting: the Jerónimos Monastery. There you can find Pessoa’s tomb in the north wing of the lower cloister. As it is in a completely different area of Lisbon, I didn’t have the time to visit it in this instance. But I’ve been there before and it is an impressive monument.