Once a place for gypsies to sell their stolen wares (thus the name) some things never change at the thieves market. They just get more trendy and organised. There’s honestly not much you won’t find at the thieves market, which is truly a Lisbon institution. You can catch the tram there on a Tuesday or a Saturday (an experience in itself) and truly lose yourself for a few hours.
Depending on which end of the market you go to is a measure of how ‘real’ it gets. Up one end there’s trendy clothes stores, designers, middle class types with weekend flea stalls and antiques. Up the other a lot of down trodden immigrant Portuguese selling mobile phones off a sheet on the ground that look like they were stolen yesterday. Honestly though, at no point did it feel unsafe (you have to watch out for pick pockets in Lisbon anyway). Europe being Europe, one bloke was selling hardcore porn and two dozen (unused) condoms and thought nothing of it. You have to be pretty hard on your luck when you’re selling off your last two dozen condoms. Hey it is a global financial crisis. EU leaders, time to act!
To balance it out there’s the trendy designers. My wife found a ring that was like a goat in an old fashioned kitchen jar. ‘In English a dog is a bitch’ said its designer. ‘But in Portuguese, a goat is a bitch. So this is my bitch ring’ she proudly proclaimed. If that isn’t originality I don’t know what is. Other weird and interesting stuff like a Sagres (Portuguese beer from the south coast) bottle from the 30s and some original 1955 Michelin road maps. These were like the Lonely Planet of their time, detailing Bed and Breakfasts and taverns on the journey between European cities. Not bad for 50 cents.
You will honestly find pretty much anything here. Not that I saw it, but I was told by some local Portuguese guys that there’s one or two stalls selling vintage World War II Nazi memorabilia. ‘I don’t like that kind of shit, but it was pretty impressive’ he said between sips of his pint in a local bar. This guy being a tour guide that takes foreigners there weekly. The odd piece of Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) propaganda also makes an appearance. These guys liberated Portugal the first time from its dictators. In these hard economic times the party is making a come back on the streets of Lisbon and Porto.
Amongst the bourgeois bric-a-brac I found a vintage 45 vinyl Kiss single and some killer punk vinyl. Even a bizarrely rare Portuguese vinyl pressing of a Rose Tattoo record, the seminal Aussie hard rock band. Times being tough, heaps of reluctant DJs are selling their vinyl. Luis, a one vendor looked a little pissed when I started to haggle over a Ramones record. He looked at me and then gave in ‘OK, because it’s going to a good home’ he said. Never relenting in his eye contact. He then spent the next 10 minutes taking me through his collection of rock and old Portuguese post punk. Luis reckoned there was only one club in Lisbon for punk and rock in the 1980s. It’s amazing how far this city has come. A story that the people here can tell you.
If there was one thing that the market lacked it was probably good food. Venture back into Rossio square for that. But a day at the thieves market is well spent. It’s definitely a Portuguese experience and nothing fake about it.