18 Dec Statement by the Project Leader – Route of Historic Cafés of Portugal , Vítor de Sá Marques – 11.12.2017
I remember the cafés I used to visit with my father.
On family trips, when we arrived in a city, my father (who always worked in the restaurant sector) would take us out to stroll through the historic centre and visit the tourist sights, where we would do some shopping and normally visit the best-known café in the place. If it was Lisbon or Porto, there was always a Brasileira or a Majestic in which to take a rest, after a walk through Chiado or Santa Catarina. And the same happened whether we were in Fundão, in Estremoz or in Évora.
Nowadays, I not only try to visit the historic centres of the places I pass through, but I also try to find out in advance whether there are any notable cafés I can visit in each place I go.
These historic old cafés do not just have rich material heritage, visible in the internal architecture, more or less adapted to consumer demands, but they also possess magnificent intangible heritage. This sum of existences over many decades, thousands of clients, can be absorbed by frequenting these places and sitting there awhile, drinking coffee, reading a newspaper or book or catching up with a good friend.
Some of these cafés mark the history of their country, their city and their region. Many continue to be points of reference, a focal point of public life where you can drink a coffee or join in a social gathering and enjoy discussing any subject, from football to politics.
In the days when ideas were not shared on the internet, they used to be thought, debated and often even put down on paper at the tables of these cafés. Many men and women sat and still sit in these places, discussing the problems of their time. But also as lovers, for business, to celebrate friendship, to write a song or a poem.
Many of these moments have marked our history and I believe they will continue to do so…
These “Historic Cafés”, over several generations, have managed to keep alive their tradition, their monumentality and their identity, never ceasing to embrace new concepts that appear.
They are cafés we can visit any day of the week in order to understand a bit more of their history, their evolution and their present-day activities.
The importance of “Historic Cafés” in our society is mentioned by George Steiner in The Idea of Europe:
“The Café is a place for assignation and conspiracy, for intellectual debate and gossip, for the flaneur and the poet or metaphysician and his notebook (..). A cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a tea with rum secures a locate in which to work, to dream, to play chess or simply keep warm the whole day.”
and by Stefan Zweig in The World of Yesterday- Memories of a European:
“It is a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, where every guest can site for hours after making this little offering, in order to talk, write, play cards, receive mail and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers ang journals.”
Vítor de Sá Marques
Co-owner of Café de Santa Cruz (Coimbra – Portugal)
Project Leader – Route of Historic Cafés of Portugal