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Portugal - Lisbon - A Glimpse of Old Portugal
By Rikki White

A mixture of modern and medieval architecture, the magic of Lisbon is at its best if your first glimpse of the city is from the bridge over the river Tagus.

From the bridge over the River Tagus you get a glorious panorama of the Lisbon delights that await you. The bridge itself, named after the bloodless revolution of 25th April, 1975, a revolution which is little remembered outside of Portugal, is dominated by a giant statue of Christ at its southern entry, reminding everyone that Portugal is a deeply religious Catholic country.

Much of the city was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755, but the Alfama and Mouraria remain virtually unchanged over the centuries with their strong Moorish influence from the years when virtually the whole of Iberia was occupied by the Arabs. The Moors were finally expelled from Portugal in 1249, and about a century later the Portuguese captured Ceuta in North Africa, initially to protect itself from further Moorish invasion, but so began its golden era of exploration and expansion. Prince Henry the Navigator founded a school of navigation and huge advances were made in shipbuilding, map making and navigational instruments.

World history abounds with famous Portuguese names in pushing the boundaries of exploration; Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and Magellan are the most famous.

Britain's oldest ally, Portugal had overseas territories to rival the British Empire so we have much in common and there is a great deal of affection between the nations. The overseas territories discovered and colonized were remarkable for such a small country; Madeira, the Azores, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde Islands, Guinea, Goa and Brazil.



 


Out and About in Lisbon, Portugal

The Alfama is a warren of narrow twisting streets winding up the hillside to the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Buildings are decorated with azulejo tiles typical of the old style architecture. It reeks of atmosphere and is the soul of old Portugal. Here is the home of fado, the national music of Portugal; deep, mournful and full of longing – usually one singer accompanied by a Portuguese guitar and a bass guitar.

Magnificent churches are to be found in every part of the city. The Romanesque - or Se – dominates and within walking distance of the Alfama are the churches of Sao Vicente de Fora and Santa Egracia. After the earthquake, the Marquis de Pombal was given the task of rebuilding and it was from him came the wide avenues and streets of the newer quarters, a very impressive concept for those days. The Avenida da Liberdade is a superb example. The central part of Lisbon, the Baixa, is home to the squares of Praca do Comercio (also known as Black Horse Square) and Rossio, joined by the streets Rua do Ouro (gold) and Rua da Prata (silver). Rossio is where the Portuguese meet their friends for a coffee in the mornings.

Close by is the Chiado, a very chic shopping area. For a panoramic view of the area, you can take a ride in the Elevador de Santa Justa. Everywhere there are small side streets bursting with bistros and restaurants. Fish predominates, with bacalhau (salt, sun-dried cod, which can be cooked in 365 different ways) being a favourite of the Portuguese.

The Portuguese drink white port, as we would take sherry, as an aperitif. Most of their fortified red port goes for export. Their vinho verde (green wine) is delicious and widely consumed in Portugal.

Graffiti is commonplace in Lisbon, but this is not your average graffiti. After the 1975 revolution it was a way in which the workers could express their deep resentment at the injustices of the days of the dictatorship. Since then it has developed into an art form and brightly coloured frescoes adorn walls everywhere and have a charm of their own.

A short distance from the centre of Lisbon is the Cais do Sodre (the train station) and from there you can get a train to all the places of interest. The trains are very cheap and frequent and a good way of seeing the area. En route from Lisbon to Estoril and Cascais, you will pass the monument to the discoverers, the Torre de Belem and the magnificent Mosteiro de Jeronimos. The “bairro” of Belem is home to some of the most famous pastries in the world – delicious custard tarts (pasties de Belem) and visiting dignitaries rarely pass up an opportunity to taste them.


 

 


Lisbon Life

Life in Lisbon (and indeed all Portugal) is quite different from its neighbour Spain. The Portuguese do not take a siesta – they are a very hard-working people, but, in the heat of the day, they do like to take a leisurely lunch. The shops are normally closed for a couple of hours.

If your taste is for culture, you will not be disappointed in Lisbon. There are Museums of Ancient Art, Contemporary Art, Tiles, Archaeology, Ethnology, Coach, Costume, Theatre, Maritime, City, and the famous Gulbenkian. Palaces open to the public are the Ajuda and the Fronteira. And you might be interested in the life of their most famous poet, Luis de Camoes, who rivals Shakespeare in the hearts of the Portuguese. His most famous work is “Os Lusiados”.

When you are considering where to stay, you will not be disappointed in the state-run pousadas, many of which are restored palaces and convents and are very reasonably priced. Orange trees, laden with fruit, are tempting but beware do not pick the fruit. This is reserved for the needy and breaking the rules will incur a hefty fine.

Not far from Lisbon by train is Sintra with its wooded heights and magnificent Pena Palace. Remarkable not least because one wonders how it could possibly have been constructed on the top of a hill without the help of modern technology. Cooler, because of its altitude, it is a treat for a hot day when the Atlantic breezes can’t cope with the heat of the day in Lisbon.

And if all this is not enough for you, the golf courses in the immediate area, are plentiful and challenging. There is sailing and wind-surfing in the Guincho, a formula one race-track for the motor racing enthusiast and beaches galore.


 

TMUK apologise for the repetition of some place or proper names with different
spellings, but where this happens there is either no definitive spelling translation
of these words or the place is known by different names by different peoples.




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Vasco da Gama - Portugal

Vasco da Gama

Born ca. 1460-1469 at Sines,
Alentejo, Portugal

Died December 24, 1524
(aged approx. 54-64)
Kochi, India

Occupation: Explorer,
military naval commander



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