The empty plaza

Pra柠do Comercio

Here’s something you don’t often see in Lisboa: the Praça do Comércio with an empty street in front of it. This is normally a booming avenue and a crowded plaza. We went for a walk along the Rio Tejo on Christmas Eve, and the city felt nearly deserted in terms of traffic. There was a merry Brazilian band playing on the riverbank, however, and at least one reveler dancing in proper Brazilian fashion — which, as my brother-in-law put it, means “leading with your bum.”

I was mightily confused when my wife referred to this plaza as Terreiro do Paço. Since this is the biggest plaza in the city, well marked on all the maps, I was pretty sure I had the name right. But she was equally sure, and she’s the native. She said the “official” name is Praça do Comércio, but Lisboetas call it Terreiro do Paço.

And just to drive the point home, in the Metro station across the avenue I found one sign pointing to the Praça do Comércio exit — and 50 meters away another sign pointing to the Terreiro do Paço exit!

Really, Lisboa — are you trying to confuse the foreigners?

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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9 Responses to The empty plaza

  1. syrin says:

    >>Really, Lisboa — are you trying to confuse the foreigners?

    Yep! 😀

  2. Ines says:

    I think portuguese enjoy those little guilty pleasures. You should also go to Porto and ask where the “Palácio de Cristal” is and then mention the “Pavilhão Rosa Mota”! hehe

  3. Filipa says:

    I was always told it was called Terreiro do Paço before the republic (paço being another name for palace). Then the name was changed to Praça do Comércio. I’m not sure about these facts, though…

  4. oregon expat says:

    Syrin and Ines: I knew it!

    • syrin says:

      Here’s another one for you: “Sete Rios”. Sete Rios is one of the most important stations of the Lisbon subway, because it connects to the main intercity bus terminal. But, when you look at the subway map, you don’t see any station under that name: http://www.metrolisboa.pt/Default.aspx?tabid=79
      Nope, you have to know beforehand that Sete Rios = Jardim Zoológico.

      Oh, and don’t worry: I moved here 5 years ago (wow, 5 years already) and I still don’t know most of the places people talk about. 😀

  5. Inge says:

    Well i think it grew out of history. When i look around in Belgium, i find many cities/communities which have the official names for streets, squares,.. but also have different names, local names if you will. Many of them have adjusted to this and added the two on the nameplates (an example of a rather small community: http://www.haacht.be/images/uploaded/633203829811276351.JPG).

    Now why is this? Because when people communicated in old times, it was sufficient to have an unique name per community/city. And you knew where to find it. Typically you’ll find the same names returning throughout the country: grand market, fishmarket, brewersstreet,… When a ‘modern’ country was established, the politics decided that the names should be standardized (hence not in a local dialect). These streetnames more or less still resembled the old ones.
    But then the postal service came along and they divided the country into postal codes.. and of course you can only have one street with a particular name in one postal zone. Many had to be changed. In Belgium (not sure about other countries) this was later followed by a reduction in number of communities by taking several of them together. And again this meant one particular streetname in the whole of the enlarged community.

    In the meantime, most locals kept on using the ancient names which by now has resulted in a total mismatch between ancient and official name. Don’t you just love that? 🙂

  6. Luba Sadin says:

    I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post…

  7. IsabelPS says:

    Virtually all the important places in Lisbon have two names, the official one and the REAL one (just like cats, you know…). What is confusing is that buses, maps, etc, sometimes use one and sometimes the other. Once I had to help a poor tourist, standing in Rossio with his map open (a map where he could clearly see marked “Rossio” in the place where he was standing) and pointing at a street sign that said “Praça D. Pedro IV”. I think that, to put him in a Lisbon mood, I pointed at the statue and told him the very “lisbonese” urban myth that the man on top of the column was not that Portuguese king but instead Maxilimilian of Mexico. His statue is supposed to have passed by Lisbon harbour on its way to Mexico just after his demise, so they got rid of it at a very interesting price…

    It’s not just Lisbon, either. I have recently moved to Tomar and had to learn all the REAL names of streets and make the connection with what the maps say 😉

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