One of the worst things that can befall a dear old municipal park and garden is for “preservationists” to ride to its rescue. First, it may not be in need of rescue. Second, the preservationists are likely to want to “update” it in ways completely averse to the park’s native personality. That is, if preservationists in Lisbon are anything like preservationists in Providence. (Though that regret is belied by recent, excellent work to renovate Prospect Terrace here.)
Things look bad for Lisbon’s Tapada das Necessidades, which originated in 1742 as a hunting preserve for royalty, and is now the grounds of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, housed in the Palacio das Necessidades. The Baroque palace was built after the 1755 earthquake and tsunami that wrecked a lot of the old city, including the original palace. In its heyday, the royal garden is said to have inspired Manet’s “Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” (1863), “Luncheon on the Grass,” which is considered by many the first descent of the Expressionists into modernist painting. Or at least that’s what some experts say, though I can scarcely see how by looking at it.
Today, the park is considered a hidden paradise unknown even to Lisbonites (Lisboetas). Here’s a passage from a brief article on a droll website called “Where tto go to,” with the two t’s in the second word rendered as stick people:
As soon as you step inside, you will be greeted by ducks, gooses, abandoned beautiful buildings, exotic plants and trees, and a large playground, picnic area where everyone is at ease.
Anyway, it does not seem that the Portuguese have done all that much to keep up the park (which may be for the best) and it has fallen into disrepair. But that is no excuse to wreck the place. My correspondent in Lisbon has now furnished me with details of the proposed renovations on its 24 acres, and since part of the plan consists of a tedious modernist building (designed by the regrettable Pedro Reis), a big tot lot to distract children from the park’s natural wonders, and the demolition of the old zoo, it is easy to imagine a host of smaller unnecessary upgrades. For example, renovation of gorgeously articulate park benches bearing such flaws as delicate moss that would need to be expunged, or perhaps replacing the benches altogether with the typical graceless, sterile items, and don’t forget to add arms to prevent people from lying down on them. I am reminded of the Art Nouveau bus kiosks of downtown Providence, now long gone. There are dilapidated little buildings of no discernable use throughout the grounds of this Lisbon park that beg to be left alone. Only the graffiti should be gently extirpated.
Maria Isabel Rocha sums it up beautifully:
As we have seen in other cases, after a time of prolonged neglect, there is an unbridled fury of redoing, instead of recovering and requalifying, for fear of appearing old-fashioned, in the impulse to make modern. The desire to erase the wrinkles of the past, this sterile pretentiousness of change for change’s sake, undoes the sense of belonging and identity. All that remains is the fatuous shine of a few vanities and the nastiness of greed, while nostalgia advances like a shadow over the city, which is increasingly cosmopolitan, increasingly artificial..
The Lisbon city council has received and approved the plan but it is possible that popular dissatisfaction could thwart bringing this misadventure to fruition. Portugal is no longer a monarchy, or so I gather. There is a petition that has gathered some 6,200 signatures in just two weeks. As with many cities in the United States (including Providence), Lisbon seems to be unaware that citizens begging for relief from covid do not need their governments to spend extravagant amounts on unneeded projects of use mainly to architects wanting to burnish their portfolios with work that only their mothers could love.
Let Tapada das Necessidades be Tapada das Necessidades!