The first days of intense heat with cold wind or showers in between, as well as the streets replete with the lilac jacaranda, remind us that the Lisbon Book Fair is just around the corner.
This is an event that is always on the locals’ agenda and that precedes the Lisbon Festivities that take place in June. Soon the city will be smelling like grilled sardines, febras (pork steaks) and manjericos (ocimum minimum, a plant traditionally used during the festivities) and the snail season will officially have started. Snails along with a beer are the perfect combination for many people’s evenings.
Since 1930 that every year without fail the grand Lisbon Book Fair takes place in May.
For many years that the event has been held in the wide and usually tranquil Eduardo VII Park, which is filled with colour, life and action during this time.
Every year the Lisbon Book Fair surprises us with the gradual and evident increase in the number of participating stalls and visitors. The number of publishers and booksellers have long been over 200 and the public, although not being particularly known for being avid readers, crowd the area for the entire three weeks that the event lasts.
But there’s more to know about this event whose history marks generations of the people of Lisbon.
The History of the Lisbon Book Fair
The beginnings of the Lisbon Book Fair go back to the early 20th century, when a fair where books were already sold was held in the current location of Marquês de Pombal Square.
But the actual event has in fact origin in the Semana do Livro (Book Week), an event that took place in May 1930 in Rossio in the heart of downtown Lisbon.
The small pavilions, which were less than 20 and were situated around the fountain next to Queen Maria II National Theatre, attracted countless specialists and curious people.
The event became quite popular and in the following year the Associação de Classe de Livreiros de Portugal, the current APEL – Associação Portuguesa de Editores e Livreiros (Portuguese association of publishers and booksellers) was responsible for its organisation. This entity guarantees since then the realisation of the Lisbon Book Fair annually and without fail, which is an extraordinary fact.
The event successfully remained in Rossio until 1939, having then moved firstly to the quarter between Calçada da Glória and Travessa da Glória and then later to Avenida da Liberdade, where it stayed until 1945 before moving back to Rossio.
It stayed there until the late 1950s, but in the following years and until 1980 the fair occupied several spots of Avenida de Liberdade, since it had many advantages, such as being central, wide, wooded and only mildly steep. However, the heavy car traffic didn’t provide with the best air quality and so the City Council of Lisbon decided that the Lisbon Book Fair would move to Eduardo VII Park.
Exceptionally, in 1996 due to construction work in the park, the fair was held in the centre of the Pombaline Downtown, in Praça do Comércio and Rua Augusta.
Exploring the Lisbon Book Fair
But what can we find in this old and important event dedicated to books after all?
New and used books, from the bestsellers to those who few people want, from the newly-released to the unsold copies from the warehouse; classics, novels, technical books, from the great editions to the rarest books… a bit of everything for an attractive price.
Also, that book you’ve been wanting for so long and that the bookshops insist on not having, the Lisbon Book Fair is the best place to find it. You should try your luck at the publisher’s or one of the bookshops’ stalls and if they still don’t have it don’t hesitate in asking, they might have it the following day.
The aficionados take advantage of the evenings to roam around the fair in search of some other book they might like, or to simply enjoy this up-close magical contact with books or to buy one of the different Books of the Day we can find in all stalls at a great price.
At weekends, families with children invade the fair and it becomes a party of farturas (deep-fried sweet rolls sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon), popcorn and cotton candy mixed with comics and extraordinary journeys through magical illustrations that dazzle the younger ones.
But there’s more to see and experience in the Lisbon Book Fair. It features a parallel programme with shows, concerts, book releases and autograph sessions that give the opportunity of direct contact with the authors that the readers love.
Finally, the area dedicated to both children’s and juvenile books, activities for kids, as well as the food area complete the visitor’s pleasant experience.
Book, the Friend that Marks Generations
As much as technology evolves and presents alternatives to the book in its traditional format, nothing can replace the touch of paper, the smell and the proximity of an object that has been with us for generations and is undoubtedly one of the most magical productions of the human being.
The book allows us, in addition to retaining information and learning, to travel to near or faraway, real or imaginary places. It transports us beyond what the author created, for words are a world in itself that each one of us interprets beyond its meaning.
Reading improves not only our knowledge, but also our capacity of abstraction and of dreaming. Therefore, you mustn’t miss it nor fail to bring this experience to the younger ones, helping build a more informed and freer society.
You’ll see you won’t regret it 😉