“The Arrival”, azulejos at Restauradores metro station in Lisbon

Lisbon’s metro stations are an underground art gallery

If you’re wondering what to do in Lisbon when the weather’s not so great, get yourself a metro ticket and check out the city’s extensive network of subterranean art.

Artist Maria Keil began decorating the city’s underground train stations in 1957 and over the following 25 years, she had completed 19 stations. Her work revived enthusiasm for azulejos and sparked a new wave of creativity with painted tiles.

With each extension of the network, other artists have contributed their style and imagination to Lisbon’s metro stations, creating an impressive underground art gallery.

Dragonfly azulejo at Alvalade metro station in Lisbon

Dragonfly azulejo at Alvalade metro station in Lisbon

Like many visitors, I had noticed the art at various stations but never paid much attention to it. When I spotted the Underground Art Route among my trusty pack of Lisbon Walks Cards, it seemed the perfect way of brightening up a dreary day, especially as I’d forgotten to bring my umbrella. I did a little research and added a few extra stations to the suggested route but decided to save Oriente and the red line for another day.

I remembered seeing some knights with shields and horses at Martim Moniz station so I started with the green line. I was expecting to find artwork at all of the stations but I had to wait another 7 stops for the next one that looked interesting. The red tiles, manic monkeys and lovely ladies decorating the walls at Alvalade were worth the wait though.

Modern azulejos at Alvalade metro station, Lisbon

Metro art, Alvalade station in Lisbon

Next stop was Campo Grande, where I swapped to the yellow line. I loved Eduardo Nery’s jumbled compositions of traditional 18th century azulejo figures.

Jumbled azulejos by Eduardo Nery

Azulejos by Eduardo Nery at Campo Grande metro station, Lisbon

Cidade Universitária station was predictably influenced by books and learning and whilst it was interesting, it wasn’t one of my favourites. I much preferred Entre Campos which has a line of women on each platform with baskets on their heads.

Entrecampos metro station, Lisbon, Portugal

Entrecampos metro station, Lisbon, Portugal

I really liked Campo Pequeno because of the clever use of inlaid coloured marble to create images of bulls, bullfighters, horses and naked ladies.

Inlaid marble artwork featuring a bullfighter and Lady Godiva

Inlaid marble artwork at Campo Pequeno metro station, Lisbon

Saldanha was the first stop I made from the Lisbon Walks card. Each bench along the platforms is decorated with painted tiles and touches of gold that depict the five senses, natural elements, seasons and emotions.

I didn’t like the look of Picoas station and was running short of time so I stayed on the train until I got to Marquês de Pombal. It’s named after the man responsible for rebuilding Lisbon after the massive earthquake that destroyed the city in 1755. On same floor as the ticket gates, the walls are painted with scenes from 18th century life before, during and after the disaster.

I changed to the blue line and stopped at Parque, which is devoted to the Portuguese discoveries and has some pictures of terrifying creatures as well as maps and the names of famous explorers. There’s so much to see here that I missed a couple of trains while I was examining the walls and getting a weird and wonderful history lesson.

woman waits at Jardim Zoológico metro station with painted tiles by Júlio Resende

Jardim Zoológico metro station with painted tiles by Júlio Resende

I’ve been to the Jardim Zoológico station several times but again, hadn’t stopped to appreciate the animals and plants that roam its walls. It took the artist, Júlio Resende, two years to complete the paint job but the results are lovely.

My absolute favourite (so far) is a panel called “The Arrival” at Restauradores. It was commissioned to honour the Brazilian president’s visit for the 500th anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of Brazil in 2000. I love the bright colours and the cheeky devil.

“The Arrival”, azulejos at Restauradores metro station in Lisbon

“The Arrival”, azulejos at Restauradores metro station in Lisbon

That was all I had time for during this visit but I know what I’ll be doing next time I’m in Lisbon on a rainy day as I still want to go to Laranjeiras and several stations on the red line.

Where’s the best metro art you’ve seen? Please leave a comment to let me know.

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