Friday, August 19, 2011


Google Earth view of the "Pombal Axis"
On a recent trip to Lisbon I had the opportunity to stroll along the Avenida de Liberdad, from the Praça dos Restauradores at its Southeast extremity to the Parque Eduardo VII at the Northwest.  This creates a monumental axis which made me think of the East-West "axe historique" of Paris.  As you may recall, in a recent post LoS touched briefly on this "historical axis" between the Arche de la Défense and the Louvre.

It's not surprising that I was primed to think of this axis while strolling the Avenida:  "After much discussion and polemics, the avenue was built between 1879 and 1886, modeled after the boulevards of Paris."

As with the Paris axis, it is lined with monuments, including an obelisk at the Southeast end.  The Luxor Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde sits directly in the line of the axe historique.  So too the National Mall in Washington DC (also oriented East-West).  Pierre l'Enfant's original plan called for a tree-lined "grand avenue" which would have been anchored at one end by the US Capitol Building and of course, the Washington Monument--an enormous obelisk--at the other.

So, Googling about I came across some good articles.  In "The Axis in Urban Design" Gary Gaston writes (emphasis added): 

As a tool of city building, the axis is a primary element in the European Baroque tradition, a tradition which urban historian Spiro Kostof describes in The City Shaped as the “Grand Manner.”  The most enduring themes of this tradition were first articulated in the master plan of Pope Sixtus V for 16th century Rome: the notion of the vista, the use of the obelisk as a striking spatial marker, and the overarching principle of geometric order for its own sake. France appropriated the Baroque aesthetic, most notably in the replanning of Paris by Baron Eugene Georges Haussmann between 1853 and 1868.

The axe historique, National Mall and Avenida de Liberdad fit this tradition to a "T".  They are furthermore, quite clearly what Kostof calls "constellations of monumentality": 

The street is no longer thought of merely as “the space left over between buildings, but as a spatial element with its own integrity.” The buildings defining the street channel are viewed as continuous planes rather than independent entities. And straight streets are used to connect churches and other public buildings--creating “constellations of monumentality.”

He continues:

“The European Baroque,” Kostof says, “is a phenomenon of capital cities.”  As such the city not only houses the mechanisms of government but itself became a kind of living monument and includes "The siting of monuments on major axes to memorialize leaders and events that helped to form the nation."  In City of Light I referred to Washington as a hieratic city.   I owe a debt here to Camille Paglia, who I'd already quoted as saying: 

"Our cold white Federal architecture is Roman. Banks and government buildings are vast temples of state, tombs and fortresses....Rome rediscovered the hieratic Egyptian funeralism latent in Greek Apollonian style...."

In Washington, the entire city serves only one purpose, to house and glorify the state and its organisms.  Gaston goes as far to say that the "The evolution of [the L'Enfant] plan, extending its strongly formalistic nature, reaffirms the capital as the physical manifestation of the nation."

In Building a Sense of a Nation, Tomaz Pipan writes: 

We can not say that architecture and urbanism on themselves contribute to the constitution of national identity but rather that they can be utilized by ruling regime to graft the notions of nation. They became symbolic carriers of national ideas. Through constant upholding and renewal, these symbols get written into collective sub-consciousness, becoming collective memory thus enabling cultural and historical continuity of a nation.

I've said as much in at least two posts (1, 2) quite explicitly; where not explicit in others, it is certainly implied.

But for all the ceremonial or monumental functions of a capital city axis, there are certainly practical concerns; take the Haussmann plan: 

The project encompassed all aspects of urban planning, both in the centre of Paris and in the surrounding districts: streets and boulevards, regulations imposed on facades of buildings, public parks, sewers and water works, city facilities, and public monuments. Beyond aesthetic and sanitary considerations, the wide thoroughfares were constructed to facilitate troop movement and prevent easy blocking of streets with barricades, and their straightness allowed artillery to fire on rioting crowds and their barricades.

Clever, innit?  If yer gonna design a city, why not make it easy to lob bombs on its residents?

Gaston cites Pope Sixtus V as the inspiration behind the tradition which led to such monumental axis-oriented urban design, but I would suggest the seeds of this were planted by the ancient Romans during their period of expansion and city-founding....which gave them plenty of opportunity to create planned cities which anticipate Haussmann's practical concerns: 

The ancient Romans used a consolidated scheme for city planning, developed for military defense and civil convenience. The basic plan consisted of a central forum with city services, surrounded by a compact, rectilinear grid of streets, and wrapped in a wall for defense. To reduce travel times, two diagonal streets crossed the square grid, passing through the central square. A river usually flowed through the city, providing water, transport, and sewage disposal....They would lay out the streets at right angles, in the form of a square grid. All roads were equal in width and length, except for two, which were slightly wider than the others. One of these ran east–west, the other, north–south, and intersected in the middle to form the center of the grid. All roads were made of carefully fitted flag stones and filled in with smaller, hard-packed rocks and pebbles. Bridges were constructed where needed. Each square marked by four roads was called an insula, the Roman equivalent of a modern city block.

Rome is famously said to have been built on (a symbol-heavy) seven hills.  Wikipedia lists 51 other cities which also make this claim.  Lisbon is one of these.  Skipping centuries of history, let's cut to 1755 when Lisbon was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami.  As much as 25% of the population may have been killed and 85% percent of its buildings destroyed.  But the people reacted admirably and were fortunate to have the good leadership of  Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Count of Oeiras, 1st Marquess of Pomba.  There were no epidemics and within a year the city was being rebuilt.  New buildings were designed and tested to withstand earthquakes and the Marquess had the wits to send out a survey to the affected areas with intelligent questions which contributed to the science of seismology.

The Marquess has been described as Portugal's quintessential Enlightenment figure.  Part of his rebuilding plan included the hard hit Baixa Pombalina: "The Marquis of Pombal imposed strict conditions on rebuilding the city, and the current grid pattern strongly differs from the organic streetplan that characterised the district before the Earthquake."  The Pombalina district encompasses, incidentally, the axis formed by the Avenida Libertad.

Let me again quote Pipan: 

We can not say that architecture and urbanism on themselves contribute to the constitution of national identity but rather that they can be utilized by ruling regime to graft the notions of nation. They became symbolic carriers of national ideas.

What ideas, then, does the "Pombaline Axis" represent?

The beginning of the axis is the Parque Eduardo VII, 26 hectares honoring Edwards VII's state visit to Portugal in 1902.  The park framed with two pairs of columns surmounted by circular forms:

Bacon and Joaz
These circular forms, upon closer inspection, are like victory wreaths, reposing on three isosceles triangles:

Tri Delta
Now, these triangles and pairs of pillars geek me out on Freemasonic imagery, but it's still a bit of a stretch to claim that they represent Jachin and Boaz in a stylized form; there are after all, four pillars all told.  That said, there's nothing to prevent us from hypothesizing that the architect, aware of the use of monumental columns in Mediterranean (Egyptian and Phoenician, specifically) architecture to emphasize the entrance to a sacred space, was referencing this tradition.  That the Temple of Solomon and Masonic Lodges also used/use this design element is probably a coincidence.

The motif of two pillars is reinforced by a curious sculpture fountain which (in yet another example) brings together stones and water.   The two pillars appear broken, and the rocks in the pool at the base of the fountain suggest rubble, perhaps evoking the same theme we shall see again in relation to the Pombal monument.

Got milk?
The central column is clearly a phallus, ejaculating.  The shaft is slightly curved and clearly has a glans.  It has been suggested that the obelisk is a stylized holdover from phallus worship; here the connection is made explicit as the fountain has the somewhat naturalistic form of a penis and at the same time evokes an obelisk.  Thus, with the obelisk at the opposite end of the axis, we find symmetry.  I would also suggest that in addition to an obelisk and free-standing pillars, a pyramid is suggested by the buttress-like support structure  In some ways I'm reminded of an infamous masonic monument erected by Solomon's Pillars Lodge No. 59 in Izmargard, Israel (photos here), placed in a roundabout, incidentally, on the road to Egypt.  A gateway, wot?

(BTW, this guy reports that one Jerry Golden claims that the monument "makes a clear statement to anyone crossing the border into Israel that the Illuminati (or Freemasons) are in control here."  (The Illuminati (Freemasons) are in control of Israel)  This is the kind of shit that makes my job difficult!  Izmargad is a suburb of Eilat, itself with a rough population of 47,000.  Israel has a population of nearly 8 million.  Hard to see how a small monument in a traffic circle in an obscure suburb indicates that the Freemasons or Illuminati control the country!.  But there you have it.  No wonder people roll their eyes when I wonder aloud if other public architecture bears a Masonic stamp.)

More interesting is the possibility that this phallic fountain is a sly nod to the obelisk at the opposite end of the axis and an intimation of the theme of regeneration.  This other obelisk sits in the Praça dos Restauradores, and is dedicated to the restoration of the Portuguese monarchy, a new beginning.  Likewise the monument to Pombal, which honors the man behind Lisbon's renewal after the 1755 earthquake.

In I ♥ Phoenicia I wrote about the Pillars of Hercules, two pillars symbolizing the rocky outcrops on the Straits of Gibraltar.  These pillars figure on the Spanish flag and in a sense (explained in the Phoenicia post) represent Spanish naval power.  In the post I also mention that a representation of the Pillars of Hercules appears on the title page of Sir Francis Bacon's Instauratio Magna or "Great Renewal", framing a ship sailing on a vast sea.  Bacon's works demonstrate his belief that the New World would regenerate the old; remember then, that Portugal was once a mighty naval power itself and its language, flung around the globe, is the last remnant of its vast colonial holdings:  Macau, Goa, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, Brazil....

That the pillars represent the Pillars of Hercules is supported by the fact that when viewed from the Northwest, the pillars frame the Atlantic Ocean, exactly like the cover engraving of Bacon's Great Renewal.  It may be worth mentioning that in front of Lisbon's City Hall there is a pillar with an astrolabe, the essential tool for maritime navigation and a device which figures on Portugal's national flag.

Tessellation of the plane
These hedges in the Parque Eduardo VII represent the basic principle of order underlying the Marquess' reconstruction plan.  Three layers of symmetry bringing to mind a Greek frieze.  As we've seen, the park honors the visit of England's Kind Edward VII (7 again, hrmph), thus honoring the historical links between England and Portugal.

Incidentally, Edward was: 

An active Freemason throughout his life when Edward VII was installed as Grand Master in 1874 he gave great impetus to the fraternity. The Prince was a great supporter of and publicist for Freemasonry. He regularly appeared in public, both at home and on his tours abroad, as Grand Master laying the foundation stones of public buildings, bridges, dockyards and churches with Masonic ceremonial....From 637 in 1814 the Grand Lodge had grown to 2,850 lodges when the Prince resigned the Grand Mastership on becoming King in 1901. Edward VII was one of the biggest contributors to the world's largest fraternity.

I encourage you to take a look at this page, detailing Pombal's extensive involvement in and protection of Freemasonry at a time when the Inquisition and the Jesuits had long harassed the Fraternity. 

Athena on the Pombal Monument
At the end of this geometrical vista one finds the Praça do Marquês de Pombal, usually translated as the Marquess of Pombal Square, which is odd, given that it's a traffic circle.  But no matter, squaring the circle is an old game, no?  The Marquess de Pombal is honored here, with a monumental column (1917-1934), upon which a bronze version of the man gazes towards his orderly neighborhood....and the sea.

At his feet are several allegorical figures and broken stones representing the ruins of Lisbon, like so many rough ashlars inviting improvement.  Facing in the opposite direction is a bronze sculpture of Athena, symbol of wisdom, which bears a passing resemblance to Bourdelle's La France, discussed here.  Like La France, Athena/Minerva holds her spear in her right hand.  The snake Erichthonius is wrapped around it's shaft and her owl sits at its base.

Athena/Minverva's owl, incidentally, also figures on the medallion of Portugal's Ordem dos Advogados and its website features another representation of the goddess which presumably, graces their HQ somewhere:

Athena and owl
From the Praça do Marquês de Pombal one proceeds down the tree-lined Avenida de Liberdad, a tony boulevard housing many of Portugal's high-end shops and which will eventually become famous for the time I ran from my comrade's car spewing vomit into the bushes as a police cruiser rolled by, after a night of too much too many as it were.  Other monuments, including a memorial to Portugal's WWI dead, are sheltered under the trees.

The axis terminates in the Praça dos Restauradores, an oval-shaped plaza "dedicated to the restoration of the independence of Portugal in 1640, after 60 years of Spanish domination. The obelisk in the middle of the square, inaugurated in 1886, carries the names and dates of the battles fought during the Portuguese Restoration War, in 1640."

So, I think a lot more well-informed and cleverer things than I'm capable of could be said to wrap all this up with something resembling a point, but it ain't me babe.  No answers here, just associations....

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Need to add an image? Use this code: [ximg]IMAGE-URL-HERE[x/img]. You will need to remove the the boldface x's from the code to make it work.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.