Lisbon
Portugal Travel

Lisbon

After five weeks in Turkey, it was time for me to decide what to do next. One option was to stay there longer and visit eastern parts of the country. The other option was to do something different. I was also getting a bit tired and I missed company of my friends. Regardless of numerous, but sporadic interactions with various people, I was practically on my own for five weeks. So, I decided to go to Italy, to stay with a friend of mine in Riccione. As Riccione is on the Adriatic coast and as it was the middle of August, it meant more time on the beach. But, the main reason for my travel to Italy was to join my Italian friends in their trip to Portugal, planned for the end of August. Our first stop was Lisbon.

 

Lisbon - Portugal
Lisbon

 

 

MY OLD IMPRESSIONS ABOUT LISBON

 

I went to Portugal once before. I visited northern parts of the country in September 2005, also with my Italian friends. That particular trip started in Spain, in Santiago de Compostela. From there, we went to Porto, Braga, Coimbra, Leiria, Fatima and we finished in Lisbon.

I remember that I was very impressed with the Portuguese capital. I certainly did not expect to see such a magnificent city, although that was my fault. While Portugal may seem like a small country, especially if compared to bigger European and world countries, its history is rich and impressive. In fact, it was only when I saw Lisbon that I fully comprehended that Portugal used to be a big colonial power in the past. In other words, to build a city like Lisbon, they had to have a lot of money which they obviously extracted from their colonies. Only rich countries could afford to construct such monumental buildings and squares, churches and monasteries.

I also remember that 15 years ago Lisbon looked slightly rough around the edges. It reminded me of Belgrade, with its many dark and crumbling facades, although Lisbon is a much more beautiful city than Belgrade.

Finally, it was a relatively tranquil place. I remember not seeing many tourists around and that was an aspect that I particularly liked about Lisbon. It seemed authentic, there were mostly local people going about their daily lives.

 

 

MY NEW IMPRESSIONS ABOUT LISBON

 

This time, Lisbon was even more beautiful. Clearly, the authorities have invested a lot of effort in the maintenance of the city. Many facades have been restored and brought to their former glory. The city or at least its most central part did not seem neglected like 15 years ago. Lisbon certainly deserves such care.

But, the most obvious thing was that it was full of tourists. They were everywhere and in huge numbers. As per current statistics, approximately 4.5 million tourists visit Lisbon annually. That’s a lot of people for what in reality is not a very big city. There were long queues of tourists everywhere we went, waiting to enter various sites and attractions. Perhaps, that a was a particularly busy week. Although, I was in Lisbon at almost the exact same time 15 years ago, but back then there were hardly any tourists around.

Unfortunately, it was an aspect that I didn’t like. I appreciate that people want to travel and visit beautiful places. At the same time, those beautiful places become victims of their own popularity.

So, the prevailing impression that I had was that there were far too many tourists everywhere. Normally, I try to avoid such places. I’m aware that sometimes I don’t have a choice, if I want to visit a historical place that is at the same time visited by many other people.

 

 

TOUR AROUND LISBON

 

There is a lot to see in Lisbon. Unfortunately, neither the last time nor now I stayed in Lisbon for long enough, to discover the city properly. We wanted to see as much as possible in two days. The city centre is not very big and that is a sufficient time to get a good overall impression. But, that’s not enough time to visit museums, for example. More importantly, that’s not enough time to observe and absorb the city and to connect to its vibe.

 

 

BAIRRO ALTO

 

We stayed in an apartment, just outside of the historical Bairro Alto. That part of Lisbon is particularly beautiful. It’s also where numerous restaurants, bars and clubs are.

 

Bairro Alto - Lisbon
Bairro Alto

 

 

CONVENT OF SÃO PEDRO DE ALCÂNTARA

 

The first day, we came across the Capuchin Franciscan Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara. In 1665, the first Marquis of Marialva, the Count of Cantanhede, made a vow on the eve of the battle of Montes Claros, during the Restoration War, to erect this convent if the Portuguese won this battle. The royal consent was given in 1670.

 

São Pedro de Alcântara - Lisbon
Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara

 

But, this is no longer a monastery. In 1833, the monastery was given to Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, a charitable organisation that looks after the old, the sick and the abandoned or orphaned children.

 

Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara - Lisbon
Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara

 

We could only enter the church. I’ve been to many churches in my life, but I was considerably taken aback when I entered this church. But, let me explain. Prior to coming to Portugal, I spent five weeks in Turkey, where I visited numerous mosques. In Islam, the Qur’an does not permit idolatry. Images of people or animals are forbidden, as distraction. Mosques are mostly decorated with calligraphy and other geometric images. Additionally, ceramic tiles feature prominently as an integral decorative element, especially in Ottoman era mosques.

 

Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara - Lisbon
Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara

 

But in Christianity, it’s a different story. The image of Jesus Christ takes a prominent place in every church, together with many other scenes from the Bible.

 

Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara - Lisbon
Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara

 

This particular church is very beautiful, especially its azulejos tiles that adorn the walls of the church. Various images narrate different stories, most likely related to the local history. I don’t know whether it’s possible to find out the precise story behind every image, although perhaps that’s not necessary. Rather, it is sufficient to simply enjoy in the beauty of this place.

 

Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara - Lisbon
Convent of São Pedro de Alcântara

 

 

GLÓRIA FUNICULAR

 

We continued our tour of Lisbon, all the time coming across the typical and unique features of the city. A tram that you can see in a photo below – Glória Funicular – is not the most famous one. That one is in a different part of the city.

 

Glória Funicular - Lisbon
Glória Funicular

 

 

CHURCH OF SÃO ROQUE

 

The Church of São Roque, built in 1619, was the first Jesuit church in Portugal and one of the first in the world. In 1759, King José I’s prime minister, Marqis de Pombal, expelled Jesuits from Portugal because of their involvement in a revolt against the King. Subsequently, the King assigned the church to Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa.

 

Church of São Roque - Lisbon
Church of São Roque

 

From the church, we continued our tour down Rua da Misericórdia.

 

Rua da Misericórdia - Lisbon
Rua da Misericórdia

 

It’s a beautiful street, adorned by buildings made in a typical Lisbon architecture. It reminded me of Madrid, although the main difference is that a lot of facades in Lisbon are covered in tiles. That’s not a feature that you can see in Spanish contemporary architecture.

 

Rua da Misericórdia - Lisbon
Rua da Misericórdia

 

 

LUÍS DE CAMÕES SQUARE

 

At the end of this street, we arrived to Luís de Camões Square. A monument in the centre of the square is of Luís de Camões. He was Portugal’s greatest 16th century poet. Obviously, it’s a very beautiful square, additionally adorned with two baroque churches: Loreto and Encarnação. But, you can’t see them in this photo, because I took it from where these two churches are. However, this square was also where I noticed a huge number of tourists and it really went downhill from there.

 

Luís de Camões Square - Lisbon
Luís de Camões Square

 

 

BAIXA POMBALINA

 

The elegant Baixa Pombalina is Lisbon’s most central area. It is the heart of the city and rightly so. In 1755, a powerful earthquake destroyed approximately 85% of the city. Marquis of Pombal took charge of rebuilding the city. He opted for the grid pattern for this particular area. Before the earthquake, there was an organic street plan, similar to what you can see in other neighbourhoods, such as Alfama and Bairro Alto.

The most important street is Rua Augusta. Baixa Pombalina is the area that surrounds this street. At one end of the street is Praça do Comércio. At the other end you will find Praça do Rossio. All of this is what you would inevitably want to see in Lisbon.

 

Rua Augusta - Lisbon
Rua Augusta

 

However, the same as in other popular touristic cities, while very beautiful, Rua Augusta is completely soulless and probably the least interesting of everything that you can see in Lisbon. You will find the ubiquitous chains, exactly the same as in all other western European cities. There are also some restaurants and bars, but all very touristic. Perhaps, if you ignore this grotesquely touristic aspect of this street, you may enjoy in its architecture and in typical Portuguese facade ornaments.

 

Rua Augusta - Lisbon
Rua Augusta (detail)

 

 

PRAÇA DO COMÉRCIO

 

I remember, it was when I saw Praça do Comércio for the first time, that I fully comprehended that Portugal used to be a huge colonial empire. How else would they’ve managed to build such a magnificent square after the 1755 earthquake, if not with wealth extracted from colonies? The square is glorious, together with its monumental Arco Triunfal de Rua Augusto.

 

Praça do Comércio - Lisbon
Praça do Comércio

 

Before the earthquake, this area housed the Royal Ribeira Palace. However, after the earthquake, instead of rebuilding the palace, they built Praça do Comércio. A monument in the middle of the square is to King José I, who ruled between 1750 and 1777.

 

Praça do Comércio - Lisbon
Praça do Comércio

 

 

PRAÇA DA FIGUEIRA

 

From Praça do Comércio, we went back to see two squares built after the earthquake, at the other end of Rua Augusta. We arrived to Praça da Figueira. Before the earthquake, in the area where the square is today, there used to be a hospital. A monument in the square is to King João I de Portugal, who reigned between 1385 and 1433. Interestingly, the monument was originally in the middle of the square, but it was moved to the corner with Rua da Prata, so that it can be seen from Praça do Comércio.

 

Praça da Figueira - Lisbon
Praça da Figueira

 

 

ALFAMA

 

The next area of Lisbon that we visited was Alfama. It’s an old part of Lisbon that did not get very damaged in the 1755 earthquake. It’s an authentic part of the city, with many beautiful historical structures everywhere. We first went to the São Jorge Castle. But, when we arrived there many tourists were waiting to enter that we decided to skip this castle and we went to Miradouro das Portas do Sol. It’s a point from where there are spectacular views of Lisbon. You can see the magnificent Monastery of São Vicente de Fora below.

 

Monastery of São Vicente de Fora - Lisbon
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora

 

On the other side, there are beautiful views of the River Tagus.

 

Tagus River - Lisbon
Tagus River

 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t really enjoy the magical side of this historical area of Lisbon. There were simply far too many tourists everywhere. Frankly speaking, it was becoming ridiculous. Just as an example, you can see a tram full of tourists in a photo below, going nowhere. Although, it’s probably a good sight-seeing tour.

 

Largo Portas do Sol
Tram on Largo Portas do Sol

 

We ended the tour of Alfama by visiting the 12th century Sé de Lisboa, which is the Lisbon Cathedral.

 

Lisbon Cathedral
Sé de Lisboa

 

 

BICA FUNICULAR

 

To get back home, we walked all the way to the Bica Funicular. This tram is the most famous one and it is one of Lisbon’s symbols. We took it in Rua de S. Paulo and got off in Largo Calhariz. Apart from being a useful transport mean, it is also a tourist attraction. There were a lot of people in the queue when we arrived, so we had to wait for approximately half an hour for our ride up the hill.

 

Bica Funicular - Lisbon
Bica Funicular

 

 

BÉLEM

 

Away from the city centre, Belém is what everyone coming to Lisbon should see. It’s a touristic area with some of the most famous Manueline constructions that survived the 1755 earthquake. But, to get there you have to use some mean of transportation. It’s too far away from the centre and it would take too long to walk. We had a car, so the following day we went to see this area and historical structures.

 

 

BÉLEM TOWER

 

Probably, the Belém Tower is the most recognisable symbol of Lisbon. It used to be a military outpost, constructed in 1519. Together with the Monastery of the Hieronymites, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Belém Tower - Lisbon
Belém Tower

 

 

MONUMENT TO THE COMBATANTS OF THE PORTUGUESE COLONIAL WAR

 

Immediately next to the tower, you can see the Monument to the Combatants of the Portuguese Colonial War.  In former colonies, this was the War of Liberation. I don’t really know very much about this part of the Portuguese history. However, the monument tells us that this war is historically significant for Portugal.

 

Monument to the Combatants of the Portuguese Colonial War - Lisbon
Monument to the Combatants of the Portuguese Colonial War

 

 

MONUMENT OF THE DISCOVERIES

 

On the other side and also in vicinity of the Belém Tower, you will find the Monument of the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos). It celebrates the Portuguese golden Age of Discovery, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

 

Padrão dos Descobrimentos - Lisbon
Padrão dos Descobrimentos

 

Construction of the monument was finished in 1960. The third person that you can see in a photo below, after Prince Henry the Navigator and King Alfonso I, is Vasco da Gama.

 

Padrão dos Descobrimentos - Lisbon
Padrão dos Descobrimentos

 

 

JERÓNIMOS MONASTERY

 

In my opinion, the Jerónimos Monastery is probably the most beautiful structure that you can see in Lisbon. Built in 1495, it is the most scintillating example of the Late Gothic Manueline architectural style.

 

Jerónimos Monastery - Lisbon
Jerónimos Monastery

 

 

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON LISBON

 

I am happy that I visited the Portuguese capital city again. But, the same as the first time when I was there in 2005, I feel that I rushed through. To see and to explore the city properly, I would have to go back and stay there for at least a week, perhaps longer. The city is rich in history and there is so much to see.

But if I ever go back, I would like to choose a period with fewer tourists. One other point to consider is the cost. Because of its huge popularity, I felt that it was rather poor value for money. Our apartment was far too expensive for what it was. Also, we had average, but not so cheap meals.

To get an idea of what I am talking about, you can see a long queue of tourists waiting to enter the church of the Jerónimos Monastery. Basically, that’s how it was everywhere we went. I can easily cope with that once or twice during a visit, but not when such crowds of people are a constant throughout the day. Then, it becomes a very hard work and I don’t particularly like it.

 

Jerónimos Monastery - Lisbon
Jerónimos Monastery

 

 

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