There is a bookshop in Lisbon that since its foundation in 1957 has been collecting stories of contemporary experience closely linked to the history and evolution of the city.
The founder, Mr. António Barata was born in Lisbon, on October 13, 1925, and fourteen years later, he started selling books door to door encouraged by his older brother.
In 1946 he joined his brother and they settled in a small bookstore, where they used to sell used books and some new books, coming from surplus stocks from small publishers.
Eleven years later he ends the partnership with his brother and decides to open a new establishment in Av. De Roma, under his name, Barata – tobaccos, stationery, and bookstore.
In 1957 Portugal was living in a dictatorial regime, known as the Estado Novo.
After the coup d’état of 28 May 1926 against the democratic and unstable First Republic, a dictatorial regime known as the National Dictatorship began and a few years later, in 1928, António Salazar, a university professor at the University of Coimbra, was appointed to head the Ministry of Finances.
Later in 1933, Salazar was appointed to lead the Council of Ministers, but this function corresponded, in fact, to the position of head of state, and with that, the long Salazar dictatorship began which became known as the Estado Novo period.
This dictatorial period lasted until 1974 when the Revolução dos Cravos (Carnation Revolution) on the 25th of April, overthrew the dictatorship and started the reconstruction of Portuguese democracy.
Salazar implemented a new Constitution in Portugal and the Estado Novo regime was undemocratic, antiliberal, corporatist, colonialist, and conservative.
The political power in Portugal was concentrated in the hands of this one leader, Salazar, and the censorship was a reality that only allowed the transmission of information with the official ideology of the government.
It was therefore in this political-social context that Mr. António Barata opened his store. Books selling was the main interest of this Barata bookstore, but the use of this establishment as a tobacco and stationery store, served as an excuse to extend its opening hours, seven days a week, from 9 am to 11 pm.
In 1960, he also became a founding partner and manager of Editorial Presença, a national publisher that used to publish many political and foreign books that for the most part were banned and censored by the political power in Portugal.
During the 17 years that the store existed under the Salazar dictatorship, this bookstore and Mr.Barata‘s residence have repeatedly been targeted by PIDE, the political police, for search and seizure.
Barata bookstore was the place to get the banned books, which already arrived at the counter properly wrapped – “embrulhados” – an expression that became common to designate them.
That boldness earned him some warnings and fines and in 1964 he was even arrested for a month and many of the books, worth 200 thousand escudos at the time (around 1000€) were seized.
But Mr.Barata believed in the importance of reading, in the value of having access to all books and information, and in free-thinking, and that made this Lisbon bookshop known for many years, as a symbol of resistance.
With all his life dedicated to culture, in 1986, important works were carried out to expand the space, which until then had been small, no more than a stairwell.
The entrance gains a greater visual presence, with its logo engraved on the traditional Portuguese stone pavement advancing this kind of pavement through the interior floors, in a polished version.
Customers would often say: “I feel like I’m at Gulbenkian” – the ultimate symbol of modernity in Lisbon at the time.
An art gallery was added to the bookstore and on the lower floor a big space for readings, lectures, book launches, and other events began to dominate the routes and cultural agenda of the city.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Barata suffered a painful blow with the death of his son and ended up committing suicide three years later.
Despite everything, his widow and his remaining children continued to undertake in the evolution of this cultural mission and the brand.
Barata at some point had twelve establishments working in Lisbon, the most important of which were at Av. De Roma, Campo de Ourique, and at the Instituto Superior Técnico University.
But with the rising of the new technologies and the appearance of franchised stores such as FNAC, bookstores began to feel the effects of the crisis, and this brand ended closing all stores in 2007 except for the main and original at Av.de Roma.
In 2009 it entered into a partnership with LEYA, an important Portuguese multinational publishing group and until today, their offer is composed of all the best national and international editions and top sellers on Art, History, Politics, Religion, all the academic areas, Literature and Poetry as well as a vast counter dedicated to the most iconic and sought after national and international magazines of all specialties.
The lower floor nowadays is also a reference to children’s, school and stationery books.
Barata remains one of the most emblematic Lisbon bookstores but the pandemic and confinement threaten the continuity of this store.
Barata reopened to the public at the beginning of May, under the rules of safety and health defined by the government, and Lisboners as well as many authors, having been aware of the financial difficulties of the space has joined several initiatives and campaigns to keep this bookstore active and functioning.
The legacy of this space is very important for the cultural and literary scene of the city and the biggest help comes from our interest in buying again at Barata bookstore.