CHARLOTTE, January 3, 2012— Rome has its seven hills. Paris showcases wide boulevards and a tower built by Gustave Eiffel. And San Francisco features the Golden Gate Bridge and charming trolleys. But if you want to see them all, or at least a reasonable facsimile, try Lisbon, Portugal.
Lovely Rossio Square (Photo: Nuno Calvet)
Nestled upon the shores of the Tagus River, which can accommodate major cruise ships since it flows into the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon traces its roots to the ancient Phoenicians as well as a seafaring heritage where famous navigators sailed forth to explore a new world.
Much of Lisbon is immediately captivating from the majestic Moorish stronghold of St. George’s Castle to the elegant tree-lined 300-foot wide boulevard known as Avenida da Liberdade which was built between 1879 and 1882. No matter where you turn there’s something of interest including spacious squares and countless monuments such as the Padrao dos Descobrimentos honoring Portugal’s Age of Discovery.
While Lisbon is a great walking city, it does require local transportation to reach many of the places where a leisurely stroll can offer a treasure chest of rewarding surprises. Like Rome, Lisbon also has seven hills, which are higher and more dramatic than its Italian counterpart. In fact, the Portuguese capital features three funiculars to manipulate the ups and downs of certain districts.
Take a day or two to explore the external delights of this ancient city and then immerse yourself in its hidden treasures. There are many and you won’t be disappointed.
Begin at St. George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) which overlooks the historic city center and the Tagus River from a dominating position at the crest of the highest hill of Lisbon. Behind the walls of the once fortified citadel, the interior today is largely filled with spacious promenades, gardens, houses, a church and countless panoramic views of the lively metropolis below. There is also a multimedia history of Lisbon, the Castle Gallery and the Tower of Ulysses which was once the royal treasury.
Tram to Alfama (Photo: Jose Manuel)
Outside the walls of the castle, amble through Alfama, the oldest part of the city. This exotic area, which thrived under the Moors, is a tangle of narrow, winding streets that twist and turn past charming cafes and colorful shops. Tip — Don’t be afraid to get lost.
To reach the top take tram #28. It’s the most interesting way to get there. The inexpensive little yellow “Toonerville Trolleys” that bump and grind through town are usually crowded, and frequently uncomfortable, but you’ll get more than your share of local culture during the ride. It’s all part of the adventure.
Lisbon is a city with many faces, each with its own personality. Once you adjust to that concept, it becomes more manageable. Baixa is perhaps the best known district because it is the commercial hub of Lisbon famous for the colorful street-life of Rua Augusta. The neighborhood of this main pedestrian street with its gridded configuration was rebuilt after an earthquake leveled the city in 1755. Now, more than 250 years later, Baixa is a rich blend of history and culture.
Another popular shopping area is Chiado which represents the primary intellectual and cultural section of Lisbon. Like Florian in Venice and Café Greco in Rome, the A Brasilera Café was once a haven for writers and artists during the late 19th century and early part of the 20th. Little wonder then, that Chiado would be known for its galleries, bookshops and eclectic cafes.
Everywhere you turn in Lisbon you will encounter huge plazas, parks and green spaces, and historic monuments honoring its rich and diverse history. Even the 8,000 seat bull ring with its Moorish-style architecture is impressive. Bullfighting was once used as a means of training Portuguese soldier and, unlike Spain, the bull is not killed in the ring in Portugal.
Heading north from Restauradores to Marques de Pombal Square is the lovely and elegant 19th century Avenida da Liberdade. Though it is said to be patterned after the Champs Elysees in Paris, the fountains, sidewalk cafes and historic mansions give the boulevard an ambience that feels more like Rome’s Via Veneto. Here you will find most of the upscale hotels and designer shops of the city.
The April 25 Bridge
Of particular interest is the pavement on the mile-long stretch with its abstract decorations made of black and white stones. Eventually the avenue spills into the Marques de Pombal,a huge square and monument honoring the prime minister who rebuilt Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755. Appropriately, the monument is also the gateway to one of the most breathtaking belvederes in the city.
No visit to Lisbon is complete without a visit to the waterfront along the Tagus River. Here, too, is an area filled with museums and monuments, not the least of which is a close replica of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Inaugurated in 1966, the Bridge of 25th of April (Ponte 25 de Abril) links Lisbon with the municipality of Almada. It was originally named the Salazar Bridge after Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, the prime minister at the time of construction.
Monument to the Disoverers (Photo: Lisbon Tourism)
Though Salazar was no longer in power in 1974 when a coup known as the “Carnation Revolution” ousted the authoritarian regime of the New State (Estado Novo), the citizens of Lisbon quickly changed the name to Ponte 25 de Abril in honor of the date of the victory in the coup. The Carnation Revolution refers to the fact that no shots were fired during the uprising.
Another impressive memorial along the shores of the Tagus is the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos). Celebrating explorers who sailed from the site of the sculpture in search of new worlds and trade with India and the Orient, this poignant work of art honors 33 adventurers who brought Portugal to prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries.
For the traveler, Portugal’s capital is one of the least expensive major cities on the continent of Europe. The sights mentioned above are but a taste of the treasures that can be found in a city that built much of its history on exploration. Now, five hundred years later, you, too, can enjoy your own personal “Age of Discovery” in Lisbon.
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Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC, founder of The Magellan Travel Club which creates and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.
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