I recently published the photo-series “Lisbon”. In the reportage it shows a lot of photographs with flights of steps. And believe me if I tell you I have quite a few more.
In most parts of the old center of Lisbon, these steps are the only way of getting around. No cars, no bicycles, no trams, but a very few public lifts to be seen in these streets. Well you can’t call them streets, they are predominantly called “beco”, translated as alley, or “escada”, meaning stairs. But these names don’t do its locations justice. These flights of steps are sometimes the only available public space adjacent to buildings, they are an intricate part of the urban fabric.
Along these stairs are entrances of apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, playgrounds, offices. They sometimes span a height difference of over 50 meters between streets or alleys, Imagine the practical problems this causes for the elderly and the disabled, for having small children, for deliveries, for getting the luggage to and from your house. But it doesn’t deter the inhabitants to live there, on the contrary!
At the same time it also offers great opportunities for making the public space attractive, they are a playground in itself, a terrace with free seats outside your doorstep, they make shadowed area’s, they provide light in narrow parts of the neighborhood, they form a vista to the lower city-center for orientation, etc etc. In short, they make the public space interesting and captivating and in the summer months, public life outside is a given. It is something city planners in flat Holland would give an arm and a leg for.
It also partly explains why it is such a joy to walk around old Lisbon and take photographs. The viewfinder is full of geometry, triangles and diagonals. The perspectives are interesting and full of surprises.
And it keeps you healthy too!