Lisbon, Portugal melds new world San Francisco landscape with old world European charm. Trolley cars, formidable hills, and riverside views, complete with suspension bridge, are layered with narrow cobble stone streets, grand squares lined with cafes, and impressive reminders of Lisbon’s glorious history. Within this remarkable city, Portugal’s past has left its mark: the remnants of Moorish and Spanish invasion, the wealth of discovery, the devastation of the earthquake of 1755, and the subsequent rebuilding of a noble city.
The Castelo do São Jorge perches atop a hill overlooking the red tile rooftops of the city. From this fortification, the Portuguese managed to expel both the Moors and the Spanish. Visitors can scale the ramparts for 360 degree views of the area. Lisbon’s seafaring past is ever present in a tour of the city. In the neighborhood of Belém, the celebrated Vasco da Gama’s tomb can be seen in the Monastery of São Jerónimos with its fluid and delicate Manueline architecture. The monastery itself was built to commemorate da Gama’s great exploits. The tower of Belém remains the great beacon from whence the famed Portuguese explorers set sail in centuries past. And the Discoveries Monument faces out towards the Tagus River, memorializing the many faces of Portuguese navigation. In the heart of the city lie several reminders of the earthquake of 1755, like the ruins of the Igreja do Carmo, which is both haunting and beautiful. The Sé, with its rose stained glass window too was a victim of the earthquake but was rebuilt to its former state as a grand gothic cathedral. The Praça do Comércio also was reconstructed after the earthquake. This wide open square sits along the Tagus River, surrounded by porticos housing outdoor cafes. A monument to a former king stands erect in the center of the square guarding his domain. These are but a few of the many highlights of a city that includes numerous palaces, museums, gardens, and more. The many facets of Lisbon’s grandeur are best experienced by walking and riding the trolleys and buses from neighborhood to neighborhood.
After a hard day’s site seeing, the best way to relax is to take full advantage of the city’s prodigious number of cafes and their vast array of Portuguese wines, pastries, cheeses, and olives. Truly, the castles, monuments, and squares are just dressing for the real reason to visit a southern European city, ample leisure afternoons seated at a café sipping cappuccinos and red wine. Lisbon does not disappoint.