An ART LOVERS' GUIDE
In series two of An Art Lovers' Guide, art historians Dr Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke take us on three entertaining and revealing cultural city breaks.
With sumptuous palaces, exquisite artworks and stunning architecture, every great city offers a dizzying multitude of artistic highlights. In this series, art historians Dr Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke take us on cultural city breaks, hunting for off-the-beaten-track artistic treats - and finding new ways of enjoying some very famous sights.
In the first of a new series of their city adventures, Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke head to Lisbon, rapidly becoming one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations. Winding through the city's cobbled streets, from its steep hills to the picturesque shore line, the cultural riches they encounter reveal the city's fascinating history.
From a spectacular monument to the maritime globetrotting of Portugal's 'golden age' to the work of a photographer documenting the city's large African population, they discover a complex history of past glories and a darker, slave-trading past.
Their journey also uncovers the impact of twentieth-century dictatorship on the city's artistic and cultural life, through the work of contemporary artists Paula Rego and Joana Vasconcelos.
In episode two, Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke explore Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. This fascinating crossroads between east and west has a rich history, and a troubled recent past. It's the most diverse city in the Arab world, with 18 recognised religious sects. Its French influence gave it the reputation as the Paris of the east during the mid 20th century. But this diversity turned to division in 1975 when the city became embroiled in a 15-year civil war.
In a place of so many identities and memories, art plays a unique role - as Janina and Alastair discover at the start of their journey, taking a cable car to the mountains that ring the city. Here, a stunning brutalist Christian cathedral of the Maronite Church overlooks the city's suburbs. It's an impressive expression of both the city's unique demographic mix, and of the identity of the Maronite community - one of Beirut's biggest minorities.
On their travels around the city they discover how art - and architecture - is confronting the past but also embracing the future. While Nina discovers how a bullet-ridden house has been transformed into an emotionally powerful war memorial, Alastair meets Bernard Khoury, the Middle East's most controversial architect, whose visionary buildings are designed to improve the social fabric of Beirut.
In the final episode of the series, Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke set off on their most adventurous trip yet - to Baku, capital of Azerbaijan.
A former Soviet state, bordering the Caspian Sea, Baku offers atantalising mix of the ancient and modern - at the crossroads of east meets west, on the ancient silk trading route. It is also an authoritarian state, where cultural life is tightly controlled. So, not their regular city break...
But it is a city looking westwards, eager to turn itself into a tourist destination. They discover a city for which oil has been both a blessing and a curse. The profits from oil transformed its architecture twice - first in the late nineteenth century, and again in the twentieth.
As a result, Baku is full of buildings that feel like 19th-century Paris, but also gleaming new structures by architectural stars like Zaha Hadid. And all around, the traces of Soviet rule offer other surprising clashes of art and architecture.