Legend has it that a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela stopped in Barcelos centuries ago. He had the misfortune of being accused of theft. In court, he declared that if the cooked rooster the judge was about to eat stood up and crowed this would prove his innocence. It did, and he was set free.
Thus, such colorful ceramic symbols of good luck are to be found in many places in Portugal. But, it is only one of the many interesting items to be found at Fiera da Ladra (Thieves’ Market) in Lisbon. Perhaps not all will have such interesting backgrounds, but there will be hundreds of bargains that will prompt a tale back home.
Every Tuesday and Saturday morning tourists and locals alike flock to the Campo de Santa Clara where they find dozens of stalls lined up along this hilly avenue. The booths offer much more than brightly painted birds, to be sure. Clothing, jewelry, antiques and many other items are for sale in this open-air market.
Located not far from the Alfama district, one of Lisbon’s neighborhoods with a strong Moorish cast, people gather here to buy and sell items in the shade of centuries-old buildings. Photographs from the end of the 19th century reveal a market that looks much like it does today. Items sold then would be considered antiques today, but the air of lively trade is just what is was then.
Beautiful silver or brass candlesticks are proudly displayed on one table. Fascinating glassware sit on another nearby. Tiles, ceramic works of art so beloved in Lisbon there’s even an entire museum dedicated to them, can be found on yet a third table.
There are clothes galore. Shoes of a sort that would be found in an upscale store. Belts handcrafted by the masters of Portugal. Dresses both relaxed and colorful as well as classic and refined. In short, anything and everything for both the bargain hunter and the seeker of the divine in couture is offered at a Thieves Market stall.
Not surprisingly, many of the items reflect Portugal’s past as a great seafaring and trading nation. Carvings from former Portuguese colonies in Africa are just one sample. White lace from Tunisia is another. African masks, small statuary and more grace the area for those who seek the exotic at a bargain price.
But there are also a wide variety of items from within the country itself that are no less interesting and collectible. Pottery from Redondo are offered by those who treasure the local art as much as the distant. Handmade toys from faraway Porto and items from a castle in nearby Sintra are just as likely to await the treasure hunter at Fiera da Ladra.
The vendors are friendly and willing to bargain with anyone who returns that goodwill. Be prepared to see the mundane and the unusual side by side. Be ready to spend. For, at the Thieves Market, those who steal are not welcome.