Project: Lisbon`s Terreiro do Paço in Numbakulla Island

Introduction to Cultural Theming

Being still mostly US-centred (two thirds of the Second Life® live in the US), it is not surprising that almost all “thematic builds” in SL are vaguely inspired in American culture – even the ones built by non-US residents. After all, American culture is available world-wide – through movies, books and TV shows, the whole world gets an image (even if an “idealized” one) of the “American look”, and SL is not different. Even non-Americans tend to emulate American styles and themes on their own builds, since they also know that their audience will expect them.

Thus, it’s not unsurprising that clubs, casinos and malls have a very similar aesthetic and functional look. While certain exceptions do exist (ex. Japanese-style areas, Neualtenburg with a realistic medieval German look), there are not many. Perhaps the largest exception so far is the Neverland project, appealing to a “British look” (despite the Peter Pan story and settings having been re-interpreted by both Disney and the later Hollywood production), at least on the Olde London sim.

The current proposal will try to bring the Mediterranean/Atlantic appeal of the Portuguese aesthetical look of the 18th century, incorporating modern-day elements in terms of “entertainment” concepts. The city of Lisbon has been influenced by its particular geography and location, as well as its importance as the cultural capital of Portugal for several centuries.

The choice of recreating Terreiro do Paço (“Royal Palace Square”) is based mainly because of its historical significance – most “major crisis” in Portugal were associated, in one form or another, with this immense plaza (20,000 sq. m) opening on the river Tagus (the largest fluvial plaza in the world) – commerce, earthquakes, and revolutions played their acts here – as well as a cultural tradition in the past 20 years, which have brought rock festivals and other types of artistic expression to the Terreiro do Paço.

Besides the building itself, the proposal envisions the animation of Terreiro do Paço, in the form of events and a “living museum”, depicting several facets of Portuguese culture and history. Some of them will be clichéd, some will be more “realistic”, all of them will be great fun!

The buildings

Most European capitals and major cities are strongly influenced by late 19th-century “boulevard” urbanistic planning – starting with Paris, but later present in almost every city. This was perhaps the last stage of European city redesign (except perhaps for the 1950’s reconstruction of zones destroyed by WWII bombing), where almost all antique structures have been razed down, and new streets (“avenues” or “boulevards”) created from scratch to adapt cities to the much larger traffic, and also bring elements of greenery to the streets (beyond the parks). This was also a phase where the old city grids established in the Middle Ages – small streets that crossed each other without order – almost disappeared, and Renaissance or Baroque elements (large plazas with fountains and statues) where integrated into the new avenues.

Lisbon had a different story to tell. While there certainly are a few late 19th-century “boulevards” (Avenida da Liberdade, Avenida da República), and lots of new quarters started around 1911 (after Portugal became a republic), urbanism in Lisbon is decidely 18th-century (although a complete 17th-century quarter still exists, the “Bairro Alto”, literally the “High Quarter”). There is a strong reason for this – in 1755, a tremendous earthquake, the largest in recorded history happening in Europe, followed by a tsunami and a fire, completely devastated the capital (except for a few isolated spots). The Marquis of Pombal, at the time Prime Minister, ordered the rebuilding of the city with a very “modern” approach – and did it in an amazingly short time. The city was the capital of an Empire and could not stop.

While several details pf the rebuilt are fascinating historically – like the notion of valuating property by the square meter – the most notable aspect of the Marquis’ plans was the groundwork for a new way to design cities. Thus, instead of small alleys, criss-crossing the landscape to the whim and desire of the land owners, the new Lisbon (nowadays the “Baixa” or “Downtown) was a city not unlike Manhattan in planning: wide streets crossing at right angles, and city blocks becoming administrative units. The citizens of Lisbon at the time despaired with the width of the streets – and the truth is, they are wide enough even for modern traffic – and felt that much “building space” was wasted that way. Nevertheless, the Marquis’ will prevailed.

There is also a very uniform building theme, which we associate nowadays with the “Pombalin style”, and which contrasts fully with the Baroque (highly decorative) style at the epoch. All buildings in downtown Lisbon are 3 stories high, have the same proportions on the façade of each floor, and have similar plans, excepting for a few details. New plazas (like “Rossio”, literally the “Horse Square”; or the “Cais do Sodré”) have additional exterior decorations, but keep the overall design. Thus, the Marquis could be thought of a SL builder who created three or four types of buildings and set up a script to replicate them along the streets 🙂 Differentiation was typically achieved by applying one of only four “typical” colours (pastel green, pink, ochre and cyan) – since so much paint was needed, these were the only ones available – or hand-painted tiles. Even today, most buildings and homes in Portugal use variants of this colouring scheme, and tiles are still used as wall covering and decorative purposes.

[For curiousity’s sake, we should mention that all Downtown Lisbon (including the two plazas, Terreiro do Paço and Rossio) has been built on top of a river flowing into the Tagus. Most of the buildings are on top of thousands and thousands of tree logs who did fossilize quickly while remaining flexible – an expert solution to deal with earthquakes and flooding. The parts not covered with that “fossilized forest” are incredibly old, and part of the old Roman city of Olissipo has been discovered in the last years. Apparently, one of the major streets in Downtown Lisbon uses the old Roman sewage system, and a Roman horse racing field (“hippodromus”) is under Rossio.]

Finally, the new Terreiro do Paço became a landmark in itself. Originally, this large square had the Royal Palace and the Customs House, as well as several buildings for merchants and storehouses for the docks. The Marquis proposed to build a new Royal Palace and a Customs House, but keep the Terreiro do Paço for all ministerial buildings – i.e., creating the “administrative city” inside Lisbon. Except for the Royal Palace – the King was shocked with the cold, efficient forms of the new city, and built himself a Baroque palace inspired on Versailles – the ministry buildings actually still serve the same purpose nowadays. Merchants occupied the Downtown buildings instead of the Terreiro do Paço (also known as “Praça do Comércio”, that is, the Merchant’s Square), leaving the imponent ministries to welcome visitors and merchants from other countries to what was still the capital of a world-wide empire at that time.

The culture

Over 200 years later, the Terreiro do Paço still fulfills its planned role – it’s one of the centers for the Government. However, the growth of the ministries has forced the State to get new buildings elsewhere, while still keeping the buldings surrounding the plaza. Downtown Lisbon, however, is one of the major commerce zone (outside the malls). This means that both are viewed as the “heart” of the city.

In the past 20 years, the function of the Terreiro do Paço has been enhanced with cultural and artistic events. As mentioned before, there have been rock concerts, New Year animations (music, fireworks), and several artistic shows held on the Terreiro do Paço. However, since those types of events can be held in so many different places in Lisbon, the city council hasn’t decided what to do about the Terreiro do Paço – one reason being the difficulty of diverting car traffic from it. Also, since Rossio is filled with shops and esplanade cafés, it probably meant that there was no interest in doing the same in Terreiro do Paço (it still features Lisbon’s oldest restaurant, the “Martinho da Arcada”).

SL being the place to apply our creativity, our project will try to focus on a “what-if” scenario, exploring the usage of Terreiro do Paço for street animation on a constant basis.

Thus, we propose to reconvert the ministery buildings into cafés, with esplanade tables flooding into the Terreiro do Paço, as well as having the “official” Numbakulla shop here (part of the Baixa will be created as well, and these will be probably rented for resident homes). One section will be used as a “virtual museum”, where “automated vendors” will give out information (notecards, textures) about how the RW Terreiro do Paço was built and how strangely similar the approach was to SL building. The “Martinho da Arcada” restaurant will become a clichéd Portuguese pub/restaurant (currently under construction by the project proposers elsewhere). Since the River Tagus will have to occupy part of the sim (2.5 miles wide, in front of the Terreiro do Paço, but we will not build it to scale…), we will recreate one of the typical ferry boats, the “Cacilheiro”, and use it to host parties.

The main space of the plaza will be used to mount semi-permanent structures and do “live rock events” – as in the RW. Unlike clubs with DJ streaming, we will feature a platform with a group playing instruments, which will recreate the “feeling” of open door festivals in an 18th-century plaza. Music will vary from contemporary rock bands, songs of the Portuguese “fado” (world music), to traditional University singing groups (“tunas”, a group of perhaps 20-30 male students in 19th century clothing, singing rowdy versions of “fado”).

We will also feature contests for unique objects/art forms in SL, to be exhibited under a clear sky. Recently, the art of sculpture has been wide-spreading in SL and we would like to welcome it to the Terreiro do Paço (for some obscure reason, Portuguese artists are quite fond of sculptures…).

Other events will be held on special occasions. Thus, in June, Lisbon features the so-called “Festas dos Santos Populares” (the Popular Saints Celebrations). Stalls selling grilled sardines and “sangria” (a popular drink made of wine, orange juice and soda, drunk almost in all the Mediterranean countries) are opened spontaneously all over the old neighbourhoods, and we will have them in our SL Terreiro do Paço as well. Street animation is traditionally the “Marchas de Lisboa” (Lisbon Marches) – a contest, started around 1940, where each quarter in Lisbon presents an original music (of a special type) and allegoric cars parading in Avenida da Liberdade. Unfortunately, a 1:1 recreation of Avenida da Liberdade, Rossio, Downtown Lisbon and Terreiro do Paço would require 6 or 7 sims 🙂 so, for the sake of convenience, we will hold this festival only at Terreiro do Paço.

It’s also usual to have sport events at Terreiro do Paço, something hard to recreate in SL, but we will try to do a vehicle competition instead – bring your own vehicle and run it for 10 or 20 rounds across the Terreiro do Paço. This is an event which may become a championship, done on several occasions, and with its own site showing the current classification of the several teams.

Another event will be a reconstitution of a large 18th century popular celebration, appealing to the clothes designers in SL. They have faced the challenge of doing 19th century clothing for Olde London – now it’s the time to do 18th century clothing! This will be completed with dance animations for Minuets and Gavottes (with syncronized dancing), streaming of Baroque music, and a spectacular fireworks display over the Tagus.

After the initial building to create a remarkable place in SL, the secret for the project’ longevity will be the events hosted there. Unlike “automated scenarios” like Spitoonie, Neverland, SimHorror, SimCast or Dark Life – which rely essentially on clever scripting – the Terreiro do Paço will be an “event zone”. We feel that the “human touch” in SL is much neglected and only used by the clubs – thus their success! Here we will have completely different types of events (while certainly including “life” rock music shows as well…) to appeal to a larger part of SL’s population who is tired of having only clubs, contests and trivia for their “socializing” – redefining its appeal.

CC BY 4.0 Project: Lisbon`s Terreiro do Paço in Numbakulla Island by Gwyneth Llewelyn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

  • Helena Murteira

    As a Portuguese art historian, I’ve been studying 17th and 18th century Lisbon for the past 20 years and more recently the ciyt’s “place” in early-modern Europe. I’ve came across this text by accident and I’m appalled by its historical, geographical and topographical errors. Clearly who wrote the text does not know Lisbon at all and even less its amazing history.