„Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet.“ (Paul Klee)

There is something special about the light of Lisbon, something magical and inexplicable that has always enchanted artists, writers, poets and ordinary Lisboetas. A city’s attractions are usually tangible things. Buildings. Monuments. Shops and art galleries and restaurants and gardens. Not light. The same sun shines down upon every city, and yet it belongs to no one. So how can Lisbon’s light be different? Because it truly is. I grab the elbow of my friend suddenly and point up to where a geometry of golden light cuts between the narrow street and across the tops of the buildings. Literally it happens to me that I stop to inhale a moment of special light every other minute. When I talk about Lisbon and Portugal in general, half of my stories deal with it’s light and the unique
atmosphere it creates. Sensual, tender and subtle are attributes that might be best to use.

But there is also scientific proof of this special touch that support my constant goosebump reaction I have when turning around another corner which reveals a new breathtaking colour and light play.

In 2015 Lisbon hosted an exhibition about its light. „A Luz de Lisboa - The Light of Lisbon“ presented insights and aspects about light and atmosphere. An inscription over the entrance to the first room quotes Fernando Assis Pacheco: “If I were God, I would stop the sun over Lisbon.” Well said, Mr. Pacheco.

According to „A Luz de Lisboa“, there’s science behind Lisbon’s claim of being basked in a unique and enchanting light. It doesn’t stem from just one factor but an alignment of many. There’s the topography. The city can be imagined as a kind of bowl shape that collects the light reflected by the river and surrounding hills and concentrates it in the city’s centre. The hills also offer a natural kind of amphitheater, which offers great perspective from different levels. You always have a tremendous view over the city and the river, no matter which steps you walk up, which elevator you take or which hill you climb.

But there’s also interesting facts about the colours of the buildings. Lisbon favours shades that attract and reflect the light. Buildings are painted with the warmth of sandy yellow, rich ochre and blushing pink. Materials like white limestone and Portuguese lioz limestone are effective in reflecting and scattering the light, intensifying its glow. Yes, even the architecture and tile facades of Lisbon support its special light show. Particularly at the beginning and the end of the day, when the sun is low on the horizon, the light picks out all details of the houses and saturates them with warm pastel colour.

Then there’s the city’s quantity of sunshine hours. A plaque at the exhibition lists annual averages for five European cities: Lisbon crowns the top of the list with 2,800 hours of sun.

If you happen to watch the layers of ruby and citrus-coloured sky at sunset you know where the term pastel shades comes from. Instead of overstraining you with intense, vigorous colours, Lisbon flatters you with all sorts of soft and mellow tints. In fact, this is true not only for Lisbon, but for all of Portugal. Sintra and its lush and romantic gardens have been designed by the course of the sun. The magical and mysterious feel of this place has a lot to do with the play of light and dark. Also, if you happen to enjoy a sunset at the beach on a misty day, which happens regularly along the endless coast, you will remember of my words.

Painters and poets, photographers and filmmakers have long been inspired by the light of Portugal. We all have one thing in common; we try to grab something that cannot be touched, something that maintains its distance slightly above the rooftops and climbs, just beyond reach, over the horizon. But that’s what makes the sunlight such an immaterial icon of the city: it cannot be caught. You can only chase it until it’s swallowed by the darkness, and know that it will return again tomorrow.

Yes, I acknowledge this being a real manifestation of love :)

Written by: Sandra Lux

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