Lisbon has changed a lot, very much in the last decade. It was always a cosmopolitan city, in its own way, but last year it seemed to me to be much more frequented by students and visitors from all over the world. Coincidentally, I was lucky that my stay coincided with the feast of Saint Anthony.
The celebration of San Antonio in Lisbon is much more than a festival; it is the most significant expression of Lisbon’s character, apart from fados, cod and saudades. For this reason, and taking advantage of the good weather of the Portuguese capital in June, it is the perfect moment to take a stroll around the city and get to know the most festive side of its inhabitants.
Be careful, don’t expect one of those modern celebrations… We’re talking about a fully-fledged patron saint’s day! Here we tell you what you will find: What does the festivity consist of, its most important moments and the key places in order not to miss anything and to enjoy it to the maximum. Will you join us?
Knowing San Antonio.
Let’s start from scratch. St. Anthony of Padua… Well, it should really be called “Lisbon”, because the very popular Franciscan saint was born in the city of Tagus back in the last years of the 12th century. Fernando de Bulhões (that was his real name) soon found a niche in the hearts of his compatriots and became one of the patron saints of the city.
But don’t go too crazy looking for the church of San Antonio in Lisbon. It is very close to the cathedral and is situated on the site where the saint’s house was. The famous earthquake of 1755 destroyed the original hermitage. The present-day baroque church is not bad, but it is just another church.
In fact, the feast is much more interesting…
The commemoration of the saint’s death (which is what is remembered on the 12th and 13th of June) says much about the character of the Lisbonites and of the Portuguese in general. In this moment, a calm and modest way of life is manifested, as well as the enormous weight of the district in the daily life of the inhabitants of Lisbon.
So, although the whole month of June is filled with an air of celebration, the culminating moments of the feast take place around those days: the 12th and 13th of June. You already know when you have to book a flight and accommodation (a great opportunity to take advantage of a direct flight from the Canary Islands, by the way) if you don’t want to miss the highlights.
A festive Lisbon
What can you expect to find in Lisbon during these days? Well, it’s still a little early to confirm all the events and activities, but later on don’t forget to check out Follow Me Lisbon, the magazine published by the biggest local tourist authority. In any case, get ready to see the streets adorned with flowers, lanterns, garlands, small altars and two very distinctive aromas: sardines and basil.
The sardine is an element that cannot be missing in Lisbon in the feast of Saint Anthony. In fact, it is practically the protagonist: there is nothing more typical than savouring roasted sardines in any street stall (you’ll see dozens of them) with a pepper salad and a beer.
You’ll also see this humble fish in hundreds of paintings, figures and representations in every corner… It’s the true symbol of the festival since 2003, when a local artist was commissioned to design the poster for the festival; today it dominates the city and everyone endeavours to make the symbol their own.
What about basil? Well, it has to do with the fact that one of the “specialties” of the saint is to look for a husband or wife for singles who request it. And with that is the season of basil, of course (the small leaf, which the Portuguese call manjericão).
Thus, the basil pot stalls are reduced to a paper carnation and some verses addressed to the patron, sometimes very comical. You will find the same plant adorning the altars of San Antonio. If you see the figure of the saint hanging upside down under a balcony… Don’t be surprised and take advantage, it’s your chance, someone is looking for a partner!
Joy is in the neighbourhoods.
If you don’t want to miss the main events associated with Lisbon’s June festivities, take note:
- The Parade of Liberdade (night of the 12th) is one of them. The great avenue of the city is a testament since 1932 to the contest of parades that each neighborhood displays. It’s not exactly a carnival, but they take it seriously…
- The collective weddings (day 13), which was launched in 1958, are another highlight of Saint Anthony of Lisbon. Several dozen couples with few resources get married that day on behalf of the municipality, both in the Town Hall and in the Cathedral. Maybe you’ll hear the tune…
Se o bendito Santo António
este ano me casar
cá voltarei para o ano
pôr flores no seu altar
- Procession of San Antonio. This colourful and deep-rooted procession on the 13th day which begins at the church of the same name and passes through the Alfama district; amidst displays of piety, neighbours and saints from other churches join it.
But if you like to be immersed in the local way of experiencing the festival, get ready;
The basic idea is verbena, verbena and verbena. The beloved Portuguese orchestras, dance, food stalls, carousels, lotteries, some bonfire… In short, what has become a town party, but in the middle of the capital.
But you’ll have to move all over the city. Because these days Lisbon is regaining its never-lost neighbourhood lifestyle and each one organizes its own party, with its own character.
- Alfama it is the real seat for the celebration, where it is more traditional and familiar.
- Mouraria; in the “multiculti” neighbourhood par excellence you will find other interpretations and other music.
- Bica is the perfect district to visit as small chapels (although if you go in the middle of the party you will not be able to move around…).
- Graça brings together the most international, young and dedicated party-goers.
- Carnide is a calmer area, proud of the quality of its sardines.
Like we always tell you, do not hesitate to contact us to help you with your next holiday, in Lisbon (or wherever you choose). Call us on 922 15 12 51 or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.We will offer you the best discounts for your flights, hotels, transportation and excursions.
Oh, and if you are one of those who, like me, travel while eating and eat while travelling, take a look at What to Eat in Lisbon to feel like an authentic Portuguese.
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