Legend goes that Lisbon’s name has derived either from Allis Ubbo,meaning “safe harbor” in Phoenician,or from the pre-Roman name of the River Tagus,Lisso.
Nestled at Europe’s western edge and featuring numerous architectural styles,it ranks as the world’s 10th oldest city and traces its roots back to the Phoenician Civilization,who settled it approximately three millennia ago.
Over the ages,the Greeks,Romans,Moors and Christians moved in,each leaving their own cultural footprints. The conquest in 714 by Islamic Moors,who were mostly Berbers and Arabs from the Maghreb,has certainly left a big mark in the city,with Moorish architecture and planning still quite present in Lisbon’s oldest quarters,around Sao Jorge Castle.
Among other course-changing events in Lisbon’s history was the discovery in 1498 of the sea route to India,which turned the city into one of the world’s most important mercantile centers,bringing unmatched prosperity; but also the Great Earthquake on November 1, 1755, followed by a tsunami and fires,which caused near-total destruction and prompted the construction of the -at the time very modern- Baixa district.
By the following walking tour,we will make sure you explore Lisbon’s three most centrally located disctricts,or “bairros” : Bairro Alto,Chiado and Baixa,each carrying great historical,cultural and social significance and counted among the best to see and enjoy the city’s life as it is really lived.
- Praca do Comercio
Lisbon’s waterfront Praca do Comercio was completely rebuilt after the devastating 1755 earthquake and subsequent tsunami,meaning that its overall layout that has been progressing throughout centuries was razed to the ground and its new symmetrical buildings were filled with government bureaus regulating customs and port activities.
The centerpiece of the 35,000 sqm square,the equestrian statue of King Jose I,on whose watch the earthquake happened and whose efforts initiated the city’s massive rebuilding,is very interesting.
At the square’s northern side,Arco da Rua Augusta – a triumphal arch linking the square with Rua Augusta – should not be missed. Also,the Cais das Colunas,a small riverfront pier with two columns,or pillars,and marble steps,usually half-covered by water,that served as the “noble entrance” into the city,and through which kings,queens,heads of state and other official “celebrities” arrived during Portugal’s maritime era,definitely merits a quick stop.
At the western side,the corner of Praca do Comercio and Rua do Arsenal,look up to discover a plaque commemorating the assassination of Carlos I,the then 44-year-old King of Portugal,who was shot at that spot,together with his 20 year old heir apparent (Luis Filipe),by two assassins calling for a republican government. King Carlos I was succeeded by his other son,Manuel II,who would rule for only years before the whole family was exiled and the monarchy jettisoned.
- Santa Justa Lift
A unique Lisbon attraction,this vertical street lift at the end of Rua de Santa Justa dazzles everyone with its views over the downtown Baixa neighborhood,the Rossio Square,and the Sao Jorge Castle. The lift,more precisely,dates from 1902,was built by Raoul Mesnier and was originally powered by steam,having been converted to electrical operation in 1907. With an iron lace exterior decorated in neogothic style,it’s an impressive piece of engineering and art testifying to the connection with Gustave Eiffel’s work,as Mesnier was his discipline.
There are two lift cages,each with a wooden interior and accommodation for a maximum 20 passengers. Note that you are quite exposed at the top,so you may wish to check the weather conditions before deciding when to visit.
- Carmo Archaeological Museum
The Carmo Convent that was home to Carmelite nuns until 1755,the year of the devastating earthquake that shook Lisbon,Still stands atop a hillock overlooking the busy Rossio Square and facing the Lisbon Castle Hill. During the Carnation Revolution,it was the place of refugee of Marcelo Caetano (successor of the dictatorial president, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar) and those loyal to him. He was later deposed,ending over half a century of authoritarian rule in Portugal.
You will need about 80-90 minutes to get a comprehensive look,though you might want to save some extra time for the surroundings terraces,to enjoy the views to the castle of the Moors.
Perfect place to take amazing pictures against the blue sky,but fascinating to experience during the sunset as well.
- Church of Saint Roch
The Church of Saint Roch was the earliest Jesuit Church in the Portuguese world and one of the first Jesuit churches anywhere,having served as the Society’s home church in Portugal for over two centuries before the power-hungry Jesuits were expelled from the country. After the 1755 Lisbon earthquake,the church and its ancillary residence were given to the Lisbon Holy House of Mercy who still owns and operates the site today as one of its many heritage buildings.
Sao Roque was one of the few buildings in Lisbon to astonishingly survive the earthquake relatively unscathed. Its plain 16th-century facade should not dissuade you from entering inside,as the old adage goes “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Its gilded gold altars,marbles and alabasters,stones of amethyst and lapis lazuli,highly inlaid artistry that climbs the wall,and some of the finest ‘azulejos'(tiles), adding a further luster to the glorious space.
- Miradouro de Sao Pedro Alcantara
This small,well-designed park serves as one of the many viewpoints found around Lisbon,offering another spectacular view over the central part of the city,especially Sao Jorge Castle and the Graca Hills. Laid in two levels,it has a map made of typicall Portuguese tiles to help visitors in spotting landmarks they see on the horizont.
The upper part has a fountain and a monument in honor of Eduardo Coelho,founder of the popular ‘Diario de Noticias’ joined by the figure of a newspaper boy who once sold the paper in the streets of Lisbon.At the lower level,there are flower beds and busts of famous heroes and gods from Greek and Roman mythology(such as Minerva and Ulysses),and a beautiful small waterfall built into a walled archway.
- Elevador da Gloria
Try not to imagine this as a tourist attraction,but as a marvelous feat of engineering! Inaugurated in 1885 and recognized as a national historic site in 2002,this famous Lisbon tram features antiquated,partially wooden streetcars that connect the Praca dos Restauradores at its downhill starting point to Rua de Sao Pedro de Alcantara at its terminal point,a few steps away from the eponymus ‘miraduro’ (lookout point)
A tram ride lasts roughly 2-3 minutes,while a walk down along the track takes anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes,depending on age and/or physical endurance. Either way,by climbing or descending the Galcada da Gloria,you will pass one of the best displays of neighborhood graffiti in all Lisbon,mostly on the right (in the uphill direction),since the area is officialy dedicated to legal street art.
Good photo opportunities from the top,and a good way to start exploring the Bairro Alto in a descending way.
- Avenida da Liberdade
Once home to statesmen and public figures,this spacious tree-lined pedestrian walkway leading to the squares at the heart of Lisbon has beautiful paving,designer shops and trendy bars either side,but also small kiosks where you can get coffee/drinks/snacks and rest for a while. Between the luxurious and exclusive decadence,there are fine examples of classical 19th-century architecture and the two central plazas contain charming water features and grand statues.
The avenue’s upper end (Lisbon’s most expensive real estate) houses many of the city’s designer shops,the likes of Armani and Louis Vuitton and ends in a swirl of traffic at the landmark roundabout of Praca Marques de Pombal,also known as Rotunda,right next to the city’s principal park.,Parque Eduardo VII,best known for its views and immense hothouses.
- Praca do Rossio
One of Lisbon’s main squares since the middle ages,Rossio has been a popular meeting/strolling place for locals and visitors for centuries. It may not have many places to relax,but you could sit in one of its cafes all day long and not get bored. The place looks active always,but if you have time,visit at night. The fountains are lit, and the crowd can be a bit livelier too.
The square itself is laid in the beautiful wave-patterned Portuguese paving,’calcada portuguesa’ (the paving style traditionally used in Portugal and many of its colonies),with two baroque fountains at the southern and northern edges and a column dedicated to Pedro IV,King of Portugal and first Emperor of Brazil. The square is actually officially called Praca de Dom Pedro IV,but this newer name never stuck and Lisboetas keep referring to it by the old “rossio” name,roughly equivalent to the English word “commons”,or a commonly-owned terrain.
- Praca de Figueira
Once the site of Lisbon’s main market,the conveniently located Praca de Figueira has been been re-purposed as a major traffic hub,but still houses the smaller outdoor Mercado da Baixa with varied Portuguese food/drink specialities,as well as shops for authentic goods and wares,a perfect spot for a small break,especially if you aren’t looking for a sit down meal. The fine equestrian monument to the heroic King Joao I was unveiled in 1971. Joao’s long reign of 48 years,the most extensive of al Portuguese monarchs,saw the beginning of Portugal’s overseas expansion. His well-remembered reign earned him the epithet of Fond Memory (de Boa Memora). He was also referred to as “the Good” (o Bom) , sometimes, “the Great” (o Grande) , and more rarely,especially in Spain,as “the Bastard” (Bastardo).
- Sao Jorge Castle
The Sao Jorge Castle occupies a commanding position overlooking the city of Lisbon and the broad Tagus River beyond. The strongly fortified citadel, which,in its present configuration,dates from medieval times,is located atop the highest hill in the historic center of the city. Its footprint is roughly square in shape and was originally encircled by a wall.
The complex consist of the castle proper,some ancillary buildings,gardens and a large terraced square from which impressive panoramas of Lisbon are afforded. The main entrance of the citadel is a 19th century gate surmounted by the coat-of-arms of Portugal,the name of Queen Maria II and the date 1846.
Restaurants,cafes,wine bar,ice cream stand, and public restrooms are available once inside.Peacocks live and run wild throughout,especially around one of the main dining areas. The food is more expensive in the castle walls than in areas outside,but not terribly expensive. You can also pack your own foods and beverages and walk around with open containers. €10 per adult. kids are free. A great activity for international guests.