Torre de Belém

Portugal: Lisbon

Lisbon is the capital and the largest city in Portugal. It is the westernmost large city in continental Europe and one of the oldest cities in the world, predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by centuries. This global metropolis has so much to offer in the way of finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, international trade, education and tourism that it is impossible to cover everything in just one blog post. However, I hope to be able to provide you with just enough of an introduction to whet your appetite so that you will one day tour this beautiful city on your own.

The city is ranked as the seventh-most-visited city in Southern Europe after Istanbul, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Athens and Milan, drawing just under 2 million tourists annually. Lisbon enjoys a Mediterranean climate and consequently has the warmest winters among other European cities with average temperatures hovering at 15 °C (59 °F) during the day and 8 °C (46 °F) at night. The typical summer season lasts about six months, from May to October.

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Constructed on seven hills, it is one of Europe’s most striking cities with castles, gothic cathedrals, monasteries, quaint museums, restaurants, and shops all contributing to the city’s colorful landscape. A great way to explore the city is by hoping on one of its bright yellow trams which wind their way through hilly tree-lined streets. In the hilltop district of Bairro Alto, you will find dozens of restaurants and bars with jazz, reggae, and electronica sounds filling the air until dawn. There are nightclubs scattered all over town which make use of old spaces tucked away on riverside docks and 18th-century mansions.

Barrio Alto

Barrio Alto

Lisbon Cathedral

Lisbon Cathedral

One of the biggest tourist draws is Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle), situated up the hill it offers great views of the city and the Tagus River. If you can, take a walk from downtown to the castle passing through the fantastic old neighborhood of Alfama.

Castelo São Jorge

View from Castelo São Jorge

View from Castelo São Jorge

Alfama

Alfama

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You will also want to visit the Commerce Square also known as Palace Square. This majestic square once served as the main maritime entrance to Lisbon. You can still see the old marble steps leading up to the square from the river. The name Palace Square is a reference to the palace that once stood here for 400 years. It was almost completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake.

Praça do Comerçio

Praça do Comerçio

On the north side of the square stands a 19th-century triumphal arch that leads to Rua Augusta, one of the main pedestrian shopping areas in downtown Lisbon. The arch is decorated with statues of historical personalities, like Vasco da Gama (a Portuguese sailor) and Marquês do Pombal , who was responsible for the reconstruction of Lisbon following the earthquake. The spacious arcade buildings which extend around three sides of the square are occupied by government administrative offices and some restaurants.

Rua Augusta

Rua Augusta

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, also known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake took place on Saturday, November 1, 1755, the holiday of All Saints’ Day. The ensuing tsunami and subsequent fires almost totally destroyed Lisbon and adjoining areas. Seismologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake had a magnitude in the range 8.5–9.0. Estimates place the death toll in Lisbon alone between 10,000 and 100,000 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

One of the buildings that stands today following the devastation is Carmo Convent. The convent is located in the Chiado neighborhood, on a hill overlooking the Rossio Square.

Carmo Convent

Carmo Convent

Another place you cannot ignore is Jerónimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery, dating back to 1495. Located near the Tower of Belém, it is one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture. The Monastery was classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Tower of Belém, in 1983.

Torre de Belém

Torre de Belém

Jeronimos Monastery

Jeronimos Monastery

Jeronimos Monastery

Located across from Jerónimos Monastery, accessible via an underpass, is the Discoveries Monument, built on the north bank of the Tagus River in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator.

It represents a three-sailed ship ready to depart, with sculptures of important historical figures such as King Manuel I, Camões, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Cabral, and several other notable Portuguese explorers, crusaders, monks, cartographers, and cosmographers, following Prince Henry the Navigator. Inside the monument is an exhibition space with temporary exhibits. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the monument for a bird’s eye views of Belem and its monuments.

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Finally, there is the delicious Portuguese cuisine to sample. Most restaurants are very small, family run and generally cheap. Some of them have a sheet posted on the door with the “pratos do dia” (dishes of the day) featured on it. These dishes are usually cheaper and fresher than the rest of menu. Beware that during dinner, the waiter will more than likely bring you some unrequested starter dishes, called couvert. These items are not free so feel free not to touch them and they will not be charged on your bill.

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Portugal specialty, egg tarts

Portugal specialty, egg tarts

There is so much to see and do in Lisbon that this article is merely the tip of the iceberg. I hope you will have a chance to visit this magnificent city one day, explore some of the places I have talked about and venture out on your own to discover the many places I have not even touched upon. So, “boa sorte e viagens seguras!”

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