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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.
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
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.
UK City Breaks
UK Free Days Out
Vasco da Gama
Born ca. 1460-1469 at Sines,
Died December 24, 1524
(aged approx. 54-64)
military naval commander