What you’re missing out on in the luminous Lisbon
Lisbon is built on seven hills (something which actually reminds me of Istanbul), near the mouth of the River Tagus. Portugal's capital is renowned for its warm and sunny disposition. Lisbon has been a true witness of history from Roman imperialists to exotic Berber pirates, Moorish builders to fierce Reconquista knights. Here’s how to marvel the contrast between the old-fashioned village atmospheres of medieval Alfama with the sophistication of Baixa & Belém.
The heart of Lisbon was completely destroyed by the devastating 1755 earthquake, and the reconstruction was a grid-and-block layout. Major sights of the district include:
* Praça do Rossio (Rossio Square),officially titled Pedro IV Square, spreads out in wide boulevards between the Tagus and Baixa rivers. The site of the plaza itself has been famous since the medieval age, when public beheadings and bullfighting showdowns were held on its cobbles.
*Praça do Comércio: Lisbon’s huge riverfront square and its historic centre for trade.
*Arco da Rua Augusta: The 19th-century triumphal arch was designed by Portuguese architect Santos de Carvalho and built to mark the reconstruction of the capital after the earthquake. Statues include national heroes like Vasco da Gama (the first European to reach India by sea, from the Atlantic ocean) and the Marquês de Pombal.
*Rua Augusta: the city's main pedestrianized thoroughfare.
*Santa Justa Lift: a neo-Gothic elevator. At first glance its riveted wrought-iron frame is quite ugly if you ask me. The French architect Raoul Mésnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, had designed the elevator, which was inaugurated in 1901. It was built as a means of connecting the Baixa with the Largo do Carmo in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, a trendy area of the city peppered with expensive shops, Fado houses, and small restaurants.
*Bairro Alto is the nightlife hub of Lisbon; by day it’s more about the authentic pastelaria bakeries, but at night it becomes alive with the sound of Fado (the traditional music of Lisbon) wafting out of the live music venues.
*Restauradores Obelisk: The thirty meter tall obelisk, designed by artist and architect António Tomás da Fonseca, was erected here in 1886 and commemorates the restoration of Portuguese Independence from Spain in 1640 after sixty years.
*Igreja do Carmo: Built to an almost exclusive Gothic design, this Carmelite treasure was constructed between 1389 and 1423. The skeletal ruins have remained only after the earthquake and rest of the church was never rebuilt.
*Mercado da Ribeira is a nearby attraction while you're in the area. The biggest food market is informally known as the Time Out Market. The first version of Mercado da Ribeira opened in a different location in the 12th century. The current structure was opened in 1882 to house the city’s main wholesale market. It was only in 2014 that the market as we now know came into being, thanks to the efforts of Timeout Magazine.
The oldest neighborhood in town is characterized by irregular winding medieval streets and alleyways that have been the neighborhood of fishermen for as long as anybody can remember. Popular tourist attractions in Alfama include:
*Church & Monastery of São Vicente of Fora: Originally ordered by Afonso Henriques to be built in 1147, after capturing the city of Lisbon from the Moors, the Augustinian monastery outside the city walls (fora), was decided to be completely rebuilt by the Spanish king Philip II who commissioned Juan Herrera. The church was completed first, in 1629, but it took until the eighteenth century before the whole monastery was completed.
*St. George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge): the great citadel was first built more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans. Since then, it has been developed by subsequent rulers of the city, from the Berbers to the Reconquista knights. Its impressive view, engaging museum, and fascinating archaeological site combine to make the castle a rewarding experience. Perfect spot to watch the sunset.
*Sé Cathedral: the original structure was consecrated in 1150, built over the ruins of a mosque. A series of earthquakes completely destroyed what stood in the 12th century. The word Sé derives its name from the initials of Sedes Episcopalis which when translated means bishop’s seat.
*Iconic Tram 28 & Red Tram: Listen to the Lisbon tram bells as you enjoy rides aboard a vintage tram and explore the city. The public transport Tram 28 (aka, Eléctrico 28) take you from the palm-spotted hills of Graça weaving toward the hair-pin alleys of Escolas Gerais up to the Estrela Basilica whereas the Red Tramcar lets you hop on & hop off around the major landmarks such as the imposing St. George’s Castle and other picturesque neighborhoods.
Belém is the picturesque district to the west of Lisbon that lines the northern banks of the Tejo Estuary.
*Torre de Belém: Built in 1515-21 as a fortress and originally sited in the middle of the river (the watercourse has shifted over the years), the tower represents architectural styles from the Mudejar to the Moorish, the Gothic to the Romanesque.
*Monastery of Jerónimos: It was built to mark Portugal’s most glorious age which was called ‘The Age of Discovery’. Commissioned by King Manuel I in 1501,the monastery was built to honor Vasco da Gama's epic 1498 voyage to India. The gold and wealth that flowed into Portugal from the newly discovered colonies funded the construction of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
*Padrão dos Descobrimentos: It’s been here since the early 1960s and is an ornate testimony to the successes of Portuguese exploration during the Age of Discovery. You can reach the towering landmark by strolling along the waterside of Santa Maria de Belém. More of Vasco de Gama among the figures can be noticed. I wonder why they haven't names the city after him 🙂
*Ponte 25 de April is often considered as a twin sister of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco because of its similar design. It was considered as the primary connection between north and south Portugal until the Vasco da Gama Bridge was built only 2 years later. This was another similarity with Istanbul,so I have heard, but boy the view has nothing to do with the Bosphorus', sorry guys. The marina and bars under the bridge at the Docas de Santa Amaro are far from İstanbul'a posh restaurants, clubs and mansions. Anyway, back to the 17km long Ponte Vasco da Gama, it was inaugurated to commemorate the 5th centenary of Vasco de Gama's arrival from India.
- Eating out is what to do in Lisbon, and doing it regularly is very much part of the Portuguese culture, therefore locals dine out as readily as tourists, this keeps standards high and prices low.
- One of the musts in Lisbon is trying the most famous pastel de nata, aka, creamy tart with puff pastry. These delicious treats were created by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery. The Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém is where you should try it.
- The national dish "chicken piri piri" apparently owes its fame to the spicy chili sauce originating from Angola and Mozambique.
- Portuguese wine is under-rated and much cheaper than imported wine from Spain, Italy or France.
- Ginjia, is a sweet cherry liqueur, you should give a try.
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