Traditional businesses have been struggling to survive the advent of online shopping since the noughties. And bookshops in Lisbon are no exception. Many readers, however, still thankfully find it delightful to browse shelves and tables full of old and brand-new releases. There’s something special about the possibility of holding books, admiring their covers and take some of them home with us if the blurbs are captivating.
The Lisbon city council has set up the project “Lojas com História” (“Historic Shops”), in February 2015, in order to protect the traditional businesses that are significant for the identity of the Portuguese capital. Some economic activities are, after all, part of the cultural heritage of various cities worldwide. Not only does this programme provide marketing support to shopkeepers, but it also offers financial aid as, for example, rents soar. Two bookshops in the Chiado neighbourhood are part of this project – Bertrand and Ferin.
Located at Rua Garrett in a beautiful building adorned with blue tiles, the Bertrand Bookshop holds the title for the oldest bookshop in the world still in operation. Open since 1732, it was founded by Pedro Faure, a French bookseller who moved to Lisbon. Later, he chose as an associate Pierre Bertrand, who also married his daughter. It has a diverse selection of books from a variety of genres, displayed in multiple rooms with archway ceilings. The majority of the books are Portuguese editions, but you can also find many books in French, Spanish and English, including new releases.
The Ferin Bookshop, founded in 1840, is the second oldest bookshop in Lisbon. On the façade of the building at Rua Nova do Almada, there are some writings in French, maybe because it was open by a Belgian family, who had moved to Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars. Although it doesn’t have many new releases, it has a great variety of books on History, other non-fiction themes and poetry. It also has books in languages other than Portuguese, such as French and English. In the basement there is a space to host events. As there were no other customers there when I visited, the silence was overwhelming, creating a sombre atmosphere.
Bookshops are spaces of discovery. Let’s keep them open!