Using Lisbon’s metro network (Metropolitano de Lisboa) is the quickest and most efficient way of travelling around the Portuguese capital. The city’s subway system numbers four lines – Linha Azul (Blue Line), Linha Amarela (Yellow Line), Linha Verde (Green Line), Linha Vermelha (Red Line) – and comprises 52 stations.
But riding the subway is more than just hopping on a train to get from A to B. Going underground is also means a ticket for a contemporary art exhibition that has drawn commuters ever since the network was inaugurated in 1959.
Lisbon’s metro stations are subterranean galleries of creativity. Portuguese artist Maria Keil started it all. Between 1957 and 1982 she illustrated no less than 19 stations with striking abstract panels of glazed tiles (azulejos).
As the network expanded and new stations built, more artists were commissioned to leave their own unique signature on walls, ceilings, stairwells and platforms. Today, Lisbon’s subway showcases a remarkable collection of colourful and intricate tilework, engraving and sculpture.
At Saldanha, a busy interchange that straddles the Red and Yellow Lines, look out for Luís Filipe de Abreu’s beautiful Primavera, one of a series of panels themed around “The Universal Characteristics of Man”.
• Alight at Saldanha for Café Versailles
Images of tropical flora and fauna in soft pastel hues decorate the interior of Jardim Zoológico, a station midway along the Blue Line. Artist Julio Resende’s work is magical and lifelike.
• Alight at Jardim Zoológico for Lisbon Zoo
José João Brito, who used the Christian reconquest of Lisbon as his theme, sculptured the quirky characters set in marble at Martin Moniz station, on the Green Line.
• Alight at Martin Moniz for Tram 28
Back on the Blue Line, Parque station is simply stunning. The entire platform is embellished with azulejos in various shades of blue that illustrate the “Portuguese Discoveries” and “The Rights of Man”. The work is by Françoise Schein and Federica Matta.
• Alight at Parque for Parque Eduardo VII
The detour to Alto dos Moinhos further north along the Blue Line is worth it for Júlio Pomar’s freehand studies of four great Portuguese literary figures. The poet Fernando Pessoa can be seen on the stairs!
Another destination somewhat off the beaten track is Quinta das Conches, on the Yellow Line. The artwork here is some of the most original found on the network – doodles, sketches, musings and more by Joana Rosa.
At the end of the Red Line is Oriente Station. The panels decorating the platforms were created around the theme “The Oceans” to celebrate Expo ’98. International artists from five continents have left their wild and whacky interpretations for posterity, including Austria’s Hundertwasser and António Ségul from Argentina.
All images © www.paulbernhardtphoto.com