Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Just before the transit service began, locals saw this short film on television and movie screens across the city.
Welcome to the latest installation of “Public Access,” where CityLab shares its favorite videos—old and new, serious and nutty—that tell a story about place.
In the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, plans for an underground metro system were first hatched in the 1880s. But Lisboetas would have to wait until 1959 before they could ride in style beneath the streets: Construction only became feasible after World War II, when Portugal’s economy stabilized under the regime of dictator Antonio Salazar and Marshall Plan money started flowing in.
Just before it opened, a short film starring a nationally beloved voice explained the residents how the new transit system would work. O Metropolitano—made by the prestigious Tobis Portuguesa film production company and directed by Arthur Duarte—was released in 1959, appearing on televisions and movie screens across Lisbon. In it, radio and TV journalist Artur Agostinho gives a young local couple a thorough tour of the system down to every last detail a rider could possibly need in time for its December 29 opening that year.
The system didn’t fully blossom until well after the Carnation Revolution in 1974 in which the country’s authoritarian regime was overthrown. By the time the city hosted Expo ‘98, Metro had expanded to 36 stations and four lines and has since expanded to 56 stations.