The capital and largest city of Portugal, Lisbon is the westernmost capital city of Europe holding a population of 2.7 million people. Furthermore it also is one of the oldest cities of the world tumbling down the hills above the banks of the River Tagus. Lisbon is a picturesque, cosmopolitan city that blends modern with tradition, holding two UNESCOS World Heritage sites in its portfolio: the Jeronimos Monastery and the Belém Tower.
With its central location and strategic position facing the ocean, Lisbon became the capital city of the new portuguese territory in 1255, and the first portuguese university was founded there in 1290. Also, most of the portuguese expeditions from the Descobrimentos age left from Belém, in Lisbon, during the XV and XVII centuries. It was during this era that the city experienced its golden age working as an european hub of international commerce.
After so many twists and turns along history, including a devastating earthquake and tsunami in the XVIII century which almost entirely destroyed the metropolis, actually Lisbon offers its visitors a good combination of museums, historic buildings, nightlife variety, squares and cafés. In the hilltop Bairro Alto, lots of restaurants and bars line the tiny streets with jazz, fado, reggae and electronica parties. Set up and down its seven hills, this dainty sun-kissed city lives in a Latin fairytale of old traditions and modern development with half the fuss you’d expect from an european capital.
SÃO JORGE CASTLE
Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon, spreading from the Castle to the River/Baixa neighbourhood. The name derives from Ah-hamma in arabic meaning fountains or baths. Curiously while most the city was destroyed by the earthquake, Alfama survived with little damage probably thanks to its compact labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares. It’s one of the must-sees of the city, and you will have no doubt about it when you visit its mixed-used buildings occupied by Fado bars — very common in the district —, restaurants and homes with small shops.
If you get to visit Alfama in the early morning you might be lucky and find women selling fresh fish from their doorways.
Between Bairro Alto and Baixa, you’ll find the elegant district of Chiado. The Chiado (portuguese for ‘squeak’) has been inhabited at least since Roman Times occupied by several villa, during the middle ages it served mostly agricultural purposes. Afterwards, with the construction of a new city wall by king Fernando I favoring its fast urbanization and settlement. Today it is mostly a shopping area ranging from almost century old shops to trendy cafés.
TERREIRO DO PAÇO/PRAÇA DO COMÉRCIO
Praça do Comércio (portuguese for Commerce Square), also known by its former name Terreiro do Paço prior to the 1755 earthquake, is the main and most iconic square in the city. It used to be the spot where the royal palace (Paço Real) stood, before the earthquake. After the city’s reconstruction as part of the rebuilding of the Pombaline Downtown, the square rose to be one of the biggest in Europe, now home to ministries and various governmental headquarters.
For centuries it has been the noble entrance to the city. On the north side you will find the Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta which is the downtown gateway.
The name comes from Marquis de Pombal, a minister responsible for the reconstruction of the city after the great earthquake in 1755 which left the city in total ruin. Pombal decide to rebuild the city in a grid pattern. The uniform streets were broadened and filled with Neo-Classical architecture with specific streets dedicated to specific trades like Rua do Ouro (Gold Street), Rua da Prata (Silver Street), etc. Augusta Street serves as central axis to an area of around 23,5ha.
All the buildings in Baixa Pombalina were constructed according to an innovative anti-earthquake structure, a system called gaiola pombalina (Pombaline Cage) which would distribute the energy release and prevent the houses from collapsing.
ELEVADOR DE SANTA JUSTA
Located at the end of Santa Justa street you will find Santa Justa lift, a device inaugurated in 1902 to serve the city in connecting the lower streets with the Carmo Square. From its time, Santa Justa lift is the last remaining vertical lift.
With a height of 45m, crossing seven stories, the tower includes two cabins and an initial capacity for 24 people (which was later updated to 29). The tower is decorated in a Neo-Gothic iron style and cabin interiors are decorated in wood, mirrors and windows.
CONVENTO DO CARMO
In the Chiado neighborhood, this beautiful Gothic convent was ruined in the great lisbon earthquake of 1755. Dating back to 1389 as a convent for the Carmelite Order, it is today an archaeological museum holding pieces from all periods of Portuguese history — tombs, fountains, statues, tile work, etc.
One of the main symbols of the portuguese capital and UNESCO World Heritage Monument, this complex is a reflex of the wealth and power Portugal held during the Age of Discovery. The monastery dates back to 1502 by King Manuel I.
Constructed on the site of a hermitage where Vasco da Gama and crew spent their last night in prayer before leaving for discoveries and finally arriving to India, the king ordered the monastery as a way of celebrating the triumphs. It has since been populated by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome and their spiritual job to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king’s soul.
It is a marvelous example of Gothic style, although particularly characterized by elaborate sculptural details and maritime motifs (coils of rope, sea monsters, corals) which would earn the name of Manueline style (referring to the King Manuel I). A portuguese must-see.
DESIGN AND FASHION MUSEUM
In Rua Augusta, you will find an exception museum several critics claim to have one of the best collections in Europe.
First in the Belem Cultural Center, MuDe (as it is usually called) later reopened in downtown Lisbon in 2009 showcasing work by some 230 designers representing trends in design from around the world spanning from the XX century to recent times. (Phillipe Starck, George Nelson, Paul Henningsen, Masanori Umeda, Henning Koppel, Tom Dixon, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Jean Desses, Ettore Sottsass, etc). You will lose yourself in this marvelous collection! Close on mondays as most museum and cultural institutions, the museum has a free of charge admission policy.