Originally, these were rituals to celebrate the summer solstice. Popular marches began to appear in 1932. Since then, they have become a real tradition in Lisbon. The festivities culminate on the night of 12 June, the feast of Saint Anthony. The city's patron saint was born in Lisbon at the end of the twelfth century. He is worshipped by the people of Lisbon, who continue to devote great attention to him despite the passing of time.
Every year, as summer approaches, Lisbon's festivities are in full swing throughout the month of June. The whole city is decked out in its finest colours to celebrate the popular saints. The streets come alive with the smell of local specialities. The highlight is the night of Saint Anthony of Padua around 12 June. People flock to the streets to eat, drink and have fun! It's a festival rooted in today's culture, but one that has retained its traditional customs. The first concerns local gastronomy. Sardines are celebrated in all their forms, and are best enjoyed grilled in one of the many street restaurants. If you're not keen on fish, you can always opt for the tradition of an all-expenses-paid wedding. The city selects a few lucky couples who can get married without spending a single euro. Some districts, such as Bairro Alto and Alfama, organise parades and are particularly popular. Lisbon's festivities also include other events that are more religious and less festive, but just as important, such as the procession of Saint Anthony of Padua, next to Sé cathedral.
Where does tradition come from?
It was in the 15th century, at the time of the Great Discoveries, that the Portuguese people recognised Saint Anthony's Portuguese nationality and made him the city's Patron Saint. For the record, the title of Patron Saint is still under debate. The two candidates are Saint Vincent and Saint Anthony. But the controversy has not prevented the people of Lisbon from venerating the two saints and celebrating in their honour throughout the city.
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Music, garlands, parades... Lisbon celebrates!
The whole city gets into the spirit of the event, with neighbourhoods decorating their streets with colourful garlands. Alfama and Bairro Alto are two of the most popular areas, and they don't skimp on the entertainment. The festival is in full swing between 12 and 13 June. All the districts take part in an artistic competition to create the best parade. The programme for the event is meticulously organised. Choreography, music, costumes- everything is scrutinised to try and win a prize. At present, it's the historic Alfama that holds the prize, having won the award for best fashion show more than ten times.
The popular marches take place on the night of 12 June on the Avenida da Liberdade. Each district organises its own procession around a pre-selected theme and performs a song to a choreography that has been rehearsed over several months. It's a colourful parade in which the districts compete against each other in front of the selection panel.
It's fair to say that the Portuguese have no shortage of inspiration for the show. If you're in the area, it's a real musical and visual extravaganza. You'll love it!
Other events are organised in the neighbourhoods. The Arraiais, these popular street balls, take up residence in their boroughs throughout the month. All you need is a few tables, some traditional dance music and the smell of grilled sardines to get you in the mood. Concerts, shows, exhibitions and other events are organised outside, so it's free and open to all.
Sardines in the spotlight
The sardine is the symbol of the Lisbon festivities. This small silvery fish is delicious grilled on the barbecue! All the city's restaurants, from the smallest to the most elaborate, offer this typical delicacy on the menu during the month of June.
We recommend that you choose a restaurant that grills them in front of you. To recognise a fresh sardine, you need to look at the fish before it is grilled. If you see round, black eyes, it's perfect. As for its silvery colour, it should shine well. On the other hand, if you see a brown colour around the neck, run away!
A competition is organised prior to the event, with entrants asked to produce an original drawing of a sardine and send it to EGEAC, the organisation in charge of cultural events in the city, which will choose the 5 best creations. The lucky winners win a prize and have their sardines exhibited for the duration of the festivities. The event is expanding, with traditional Portuguese brands such as La Gondola preserves now including some of the winning sardines on their packaging.
Where to eat during the festival?
This small tapas bar in the famous Alfama district, one of the main venues for popular fiestas, offers a simple menu but quality food, with many Portuguese specialities.
Traditional rituals perpetuated
Marjoram or the traditional manjerico is a plant from the basil family, more commonly known as the "lovers' herb". During popular celebrations, it is customary for boys to give a small pot of marjoram adorned with a carnation made of coloured paper, to which a flag has been affixed with a verse on the theme of love.
Another tradition that is still very much alive today is Saint Anthony's Day weddings. Since 1958, a few lucky couples who don't have the financial means have been able to get married on 12 June. The town draws lots for around fifteen couples and offers them the chance to marry for free. The city's partners will cover all the costs associated with the ceremony, from the wedding dress to the stag party. Many Lisboners and even tourists attend the event, which takes place in Sé cathedral.
13 June is dedicated to the religious procession in honour of Saint Anthony. This time, a more solemn procession takes place in the area around Sé cathedral. This is a great opportunity to see the faithful residents waiting at their windows for the statue to pass in front of them so that they can say their prayers.
Where to stay in Lisbon during your stay?
Retrato de LisboaLocated just a few steps from Place du Commerce, this flat has a balcony with a lovely view.
For those who want to get away from the crowds, which can sometimes be stifling, there are places to party in peace and quiet, with a little more space. These include the Praça da Alegria, which is more intimate and has trees and a children's play area, and the Largo do Intendente, both of which are quieter but right in the centre of the city. The perfect opportunity to enjoy the festivities in the open air.