Chapter 12 Intellectuals and the City. Private Matters in the Public Space

In: Science, Technology and Medicine in the Making of Lisbon (1840–1940)
Daniel Gamito-Marques
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From the late 1860s to the early 1870s, a time of political instability in Portugal, a new generation of young intellectuals coalesced in an informal group that argued for the opening of Portuguese society to the radical political, social and artistic ideas of their century. This group, later known as “the Cenacle”, developed a peculiar relationship with Lisbon, frequenting public spaces in the city with few urban dwellers, or its scarcely inhabited periphery, in order to safely dissect any idea or theoretical system away from the public bourgeois gaze. This utilization of secluded public spaces for private discussions was essential for the maturation of the Cenacle’s socialist views. In 1871, inspired by revolutionary winds blowing from the Paris Commune, they finally decided to give Lisbon’s urban space a public use by directly confronting their contemporaries with an ensemble of controversial ideas. Armed with a clear set of arguments tested in countless discussions, these young intellectuals attracted the attention of the educated public and had a sharp impact in Lisbon’s society. News of their meetings reached the Portuguese government, which ultimately prohibited them, thus blocking their appropriation of Lisbon’s urban space, a ban that was met with a vociferous opposition. After this failed attempt to publicize what had remained up until then private, the Cenacle returned to seclusion and some of its members even embarked in clandestine activities. Lisbon ultimately proved too small for the high ambitions of Cenacle, whose founding figures followed different paths in 1872.

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