Lisbon – A Modern Metropolis with Deep Roots in History
Where the Tagus River flows into the vast Atlantic, a beautiful estuary has formed, creating a natural harbor: a perfect ingredient for a large and flourishing city. According to the earliest archeological finds, the first settlers who were attracted by this haven were several pre-Celtic tribes that left behind impressive megaliths, menhirs and dolmens. Some of them can still be admired towards the periphery of Portugal’s capital city.
In about 1200 BC, the Phoenicians landed here and established a trading settlement which they called AlisRubbo (Safe Harbor). The following peoples to come to this place were the Romans, the Visigoths and the Moors, before the Christian crusaders finally conquered the city in 1147 led by Alfonso I of Portugal, aptly named The Conqueror or The Founder. The following centuries were marked by growth, and by the end of the 15th century Vasco da Gama discovered the route to India. Shortly afterwards Pedro Álvarez Cabral discovered Brazil and started a new colony. Following such significant discoveries, it was only natural for Portugal to become a significant global power.
Mind boggling riches were brought to the country by sea and unloaded by Belém Tower (or the Tower of St. Vincent), which is now a UNESCO World Heritage. Traders would bring gold, silver, spices, silk, exotic plants and never before seen animals. King Manuel I even had his own tamed panther and six elephants that would accompany him on his royal processions. This very lucky king was well aware of his blessings, which led to a significant gesture of gratefulness towards God: he decided to build the spectacular Jerónimos Monastery (Hieronymites Monastery), which flaunts a unique mix of gothic, Moorish and Indian architectural styles, and which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The sad thing about Lisbon is that a very large number of its buildings were tragically destroyed in 1755 during a powerful earthquake followed by several huge waves that washed the shores of the Iberian Peninsula, and powerful fires that devastated everything in their path. As a result, approximately 15,000 buildings were ruined, including 110 churches and 300 palaces. This makes every vestige of the city’s past a true gem of history.
One of them is the massive Castle of São Jorge. It is a remarkable Moorish construction set on a hill that overlooks the historic center of Lisbon. The medieval castle is one of the capital’s most important tourist attractions. Many visitors want to see the famous Porta de Martim Moniz (Gate of Martim Moniz), because of the legend that explains its name. They say that when the crusaders came to conquer the castle, a Portuguese knight called Martim Monizthrew himself in the doorway to stop the gate from being closed. His sacrifice allowed his fellow soldiers to enter and take hold ofthe fortress.
Under the first Marquis of Pombal, the reconstruction of the city began and included the vast Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio), which covers an area of 35,000 square meters (376,736 square feet). The most visited square in Lisbon, however, is Rossio Square, also dating back to the Middle Ages. From here, the Avenida da Liberdade (a 90 meter/295 foot wide boulevard) is only steps away, flaunting its pedestrian pavements with beautiful gardens.
This is an excellent place to stop for an espresso (umabica) on a terrace, if the sound of the ten busy lanes doesn’t bother you. And after you catch your breath you will realize that you still have so many things to see in Lisbon. There are 42 museums to discover, delicious foods to taste, and a wonderful culture to admire.
- As you leave your restaurant table, make sure you leave a 5-10 percent tip to the friendly waitress.
- For the best possible experience come here either from September till the beginning of November, or from March till the beginning of June.
- Love to try new foods? How about the fascinating Bacalhau (fresh cod) that can be cooked in over 300 different ways?
- If you like excursions, you should take one day to visit Sintra, Coimbra and Obidos, or just half a day to go to Cascais and Estoril.