• Ongoing coronavirus / COVID-19 discussion: how is the pandemic affecting your community, workplace, and wellness? 🦠

    Working from home? So are we. Come join us! Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, planning adjacent topics, and whatever else comes to mind. No ads, no spam, no social distancing.

A Nice Looking Country - BEWARE HUGE POST!


As inspired by Ablarc's "A Nice Looking City" Posts, and as promised
in a post to the daily 12:00 question from Michaelskis, here are a few
photos from recent travels to Portugal that show good exapmles of the
country's urbanity, and its lack thereof.

Hope you enjoy!

PS- not all of these pictures are mine, some were culled from
the web. It should be pretty obvious which are which.

We'll start off with Lisbon - The capital, center of culture,
and Portugal's major port. "Lisboa esta muito bonita!"

Here is a view over the Rio Tejo and the Baixa district, which
was built on a grid after most of Lisbon was destoryed by an
earthquake in 1755.


A couple pictures of the Baixa and the Caixa. Notice the
streetcars and the buildings covered with Azuelos (blue painted tile).
Azuelos, and really any color glossy tile is very common for building
covering in Portugal, where clay is a widespread and abundant resource.
Beats the hell out of vinyl siding!



The Alfama, the old fisherman's quarter, is most of what is left
of the pre-1755 town. Here the streets are hilly, winding, and are
likely to turn into a (public) stairway or become too narrow for a
car at any moment. Fruit stands, fish markets, bakeries and cafes
line the streets, with people living above and in between. It seems
that everyone washes their clothes in basins on the street and hang
their clothes from the balcony to dry.

Also notice that all the streets are cobbled and everything else is
either plaster or stone. You're hard-pressed to find cement or asphalt
until you're out on the expressway.


But they still manage to squeeze in a car or two wherever possible.
Mostly for deliveries and such - most people here would have no use
for a car.


A Couple More:



Porto, the country's second-largest city, and the home of Port (wine)
is also quite urban. Its a workaday town in the north and is
surrounded by some very mountainous and beautiful wine country.

Here's the city center:


How would these 12' wide 50' tall buildings be built in America?
Would each need an elevator?



The Dom Luis I Bridge, designed by Eiffel, carries two levels of
traffic, one at riverfront level, and one at the level of the city center.
It functions very well and means less disruption to the river.


And more azuleos...


The Portuguese countryside is VERY rural, by and large, except
the areas immediately surrounding Porto and Lisbon. This is
particularly true in the far north - much of this region has been dedicated
to a natural and cultural park, and development is controlled very strictly.

Some pictures of this area:


This town is literally at the end of the road, and has no streets. It is
unlikely that anoyone owns a car for miles around.


The portuguese are a resourceful people. Here we have terraced
fields for grazing and granaries made from corn stalks and husks.


Notice the thatched roof on this house! And also the "barn door" at
the base of the house. That's where the animals sleep. The family
lives in the upper level, kept warm by the heat of the animals below.
This is a common sight in many rural villages. Also notice the public
fountain at the intersection of the streets, with a lower basin for animals.


And how about this place, 14-A Rua do Megalco? Would this meet
minimum floor area requirements? What about the fire code??


The other rural areas of the country aren't quite so stoic, but still have
a quaintness and a connection to history that is impossible to miss.
Most of these pictures are from the Alentejo region, which is the dry
inland area along the spanish border. This is a land of olive groves and
cork oaks. Notice that nearly every one of these vilalges has a castle -
this was part of a system of casltes to defend Portugal's wide-open
border from the spanish invaders.




What's the width of the ROW here? What about the shoulder? And
the bike lane?Do you think there are proper sight clearances and turning
radii here?



No urban sprawl in this part of the world.


And here are just a couple of photos of other nicities:

A typical streetsign:


Hard to read when zipping by at 25! but easy if your on foot, and
one less pole sticking out of the sidewalk.

Again, no cement, almost every open 'hardspace' over 50sf has some
sort of pattern in the cobbles. And these spaces all over the place:


Instead of tearing down the bridge built by the Romans and replacing
it with a 4-lane standard highway bridge, they left it, and it functions
just fine. And its much more picturesque to boot.


And some more non-planning related that you might enjoy:





Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Very nice pictures!

One question:
Is the whole country like what you show in the pictures? They've got to have some sort of auto-dominated sprawl-crap development somewhere.

or is the country in a time-wrp keeping their built environment in the mid-nineteenth century.
Last edited:


I guess I would echo Mendelmann's point. Is part of the reason for the beauty the relative poverty/isolation until recently of Portugal? I've read/heard that the area around Porto and Lisbon is rampant with shantytowns and uncontrolled development??? Was this your experience, or am I being a jealous American? :)

Not to take anything away from the beauty of the older city neighborhoods and villages. Portugal is definitely on my "A-List" of places to visit. I love the blue tilework esepcially!

I guess my only concern is wondering what "the average Jose" wants. Would he, like the average Chinese, prefer his ancestral village or instead (as seems to be the case in most countries) his suburban pavillion with a new car and a quick drive down the freeway to the hypermarkt?

Alex Marshall did an interesting little article about Lyon, France, that discusses this very issue. Of course, France is a much wealthier country than Portugal, but the basic point is still there: sprawl is coming to Europe rapidly (often designed by horrible government bureaucracies. As Planners, we have to be aware of hubris-in France, our brethren have/had the power-and it ain't pretty): http://www.alexmarshall.org/index.htm?articleId=40

Just one quote I love from his Article:

The supermarket anchors the Auchan mall, a low-slung rectangular concrete box that sits off the A43 freeway heading into Lyon. It's a typical mall in most respects, surrounded by parking lots and various European mega-stores like Toys R Us and Ikea.

Nicole Depardon, Veronique Tassa and her mother Michelle, ages 35, 33, and 56, come to Auchan about twice a month. On this sunny weekday, the three women sit on a backless bench in the mall's low-ceilinged central hallway. While the three women chat, the three toddlers with them each sit in the top drawer of a shopping cart, legs dangling, munching French fries.

"We love it here," says Depardon. "It has everything we need under one roof. The prices are low."

"And you've got free parking," Veronique Tassa says.


mendelman said:
Very nice! Is the whole country like what you show in the pictures? They've got to have some sort of auto-dominated sprawl-crap development somewhere.

or is the country in a time-wrp keeing their built environment in the mid-nineteenth century.

Yes, there is some auto-dominated sprawl crap, but mostly around Lisbon and Porto, and its not widespread. What is there is more akin to the railroad / streetcar suburbs of america - more like pockets of development here and there (but pretty close together), almost all of which have a logical, pedestrian friendly center (bakery, market, cafe, post office, etc.) and more of a vilalge feel than our auto-doninated suburbia. The homes are generally smaller and on very small lots compared to their american counterparts, contributing to a real village feel.

And there is also what I refer to as "Rural Route Sprawl" on the major roads between cities - low-density, somewhat auto-oriented businesses, often times trucking companies, auto shops, warehouses, contractors, etc. Not everywhere, but definitely present.

Car ownership is not high in Portugal, and diminishes as you get into more rural areas. Overall it is a very rural country, with the rural areas aging tremendously (as in all the young folks flock to Lisbon). The remaining older residents cling to older, pre-auto ways, and live in communities that are largely self-sufficient and pedestrian-friendly. Many have never learned to drive. This is probably the biggest factor limiting the development of auto-oriented stuff.

The younger generations are certainly more in love with their cars, but in large cities like Lisbon and Porto a car is such an inconvenience that many go without - much like Manhattan here in the US. People can walk or ride the trolley to everything they need, so why bother with the expense and worry of a car?? And in terms of getting around, Portugal has a very good rail system that gets people around the country. If you want to go farther afield, you can rent a car. $200 for a week of car use on vacation is much less than the $20,000 to buy and hundreds a year to maintain and insure a car.

I would say that much of Portugal is in a time warp - in some places hardly a thing has changed in 700 years, in others it seems more like the 1920s or so. At any rate, I think it is poverty and isolation that keep these areas (and the country as a whole) this way. Portugal was the last western eurpoean country in the EU (behind places like the Czech Republic, I believe) and has only recently emerged from widespread poverty - we're not talking on the order of sub-saharran africa - people weren't starving in the streets, but still a far cry from the US and most of western Europe.


BKM said:
I've read/heard that the area around Porto and Lisbon is rampant with shantytowns and uncontrolled development??? Was this your experience, or am I being a jealous American? :)

I guess my only concern is wondering what "the average Jose" wants. Would he, like the average Chinese, prefer his ancestral village or instead (as seems to be the case in most countries) his suburban pavillion with a new car and a quick drive down the freeway to the hypermarkt?

Well, I did not come across any shantytowns or what looked to be "uncontrolled" while there, but I would say that it is possible, particularly in the less accessible poskets.

All of our travel in/around both Lisbon and Porto were either on foot or via train. Many of the residentail "train suburbs" as I will call them, were not particularly nice. Actually many of them looked quite a bit like Caprini Green. I wouldn't liken it to american sprawl, though, just more like a rundown railroad suburb with derelict highrises.

Once we were out of the major cities and off the major rail lines, we rented a car, and saw a lot more of the country.

I think most modern portuguese either want the bright lights and big city or somethnig akin to suburbia. The isolated rural villages are quickly losing population and I remember reading that in places the median age approaches 70! Fortunately I never noticed anything like a big box or a mall or really even a large strip plaza. Tehre was the occaisional strip mall, but they were few and far between. I think the out-of-town growth is there, but I think it is taking a more responsible form, still focussed on the village model and community form that peopl grew up with. We didn't notice any "levittowns" or similar-type development. It may be an affordability thing too. In two or three generations, though, who knows. It apparently doesn't take long for a people to forget their roots and traditions...


Staff member
Outstanding tour photos MaineMan I almost feel like I got a visit "on the cheap".

There is an interesting similarity in many European countries that you do not see in the US and that is that there is a very definite line demarcating where the urban edge stops and the rural country starts. I saw it very distinctly in Denmark, Germany and Belgium.

[OT] I've got broadband now! No interminable waiting for huge downloads! I love it![/OT]


DecaturHawk said:
GREAT shots. Did you get up near the part of Portugal I have always dreamed of visiting, Fatima?

Didn't stop in Fatima, but were nearby. If you should ever go, don't miss Tomar, Bucaco, Obidos or Nazarre/Peniche, all very nearby.

What draws you to Fatima? Are you catholic? (its a major world pilgrimage site) o:)