Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal, with about 3 million people living in the metropolitan area. Lisbon, or Lisboa as it’s known in Portugal, is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe and the world, predating such capitals as London, Paris and even Rome. Portugal is a southern European country on the Iberian Peninsula. It has the Atlantic Ocean to its west and south, and only Spain on its west and northern borders. Its location on the Atlantic Ocean has influenced many aspects of its culture dating back from the 1500s to the 1800s, when Portugal had a powerful maritime empire. During the Age of Discovery Portugal spearheaded European sailing exploration of the world. Currently Portugal is part of the European Union and uses the Euro as currency.
During our trip we drove from Sevilla in Spain to Lisbon via some terrific motor ways. We approached Lisbon from the south crossing the Tagus River, which divides Portugal, over the April 25 Bridge. The over two kilometer long bridge is the longest suspension bridge in Europe. It is quite similar design and color to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. On the other end of town is the Vasco de Gama Bridge, at a total length of over 10 miles, it’s the longest bridge in Europe and very impressive. Before crossing the April 25 Bridge, in Almara, a tall sculpture monument and shrine to Christ with his arms spread open is easily visible to one’s right, inspired by Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer in Rio.
The expressway from the bridge led us to Avenida Duarte Pacheco which ends at the roundabout plaza Marques de Pombal and Monument. It is here, near our hotel, where tourist Hop-on-Hop-off buses start their routes and two Metro lines also have stations. This large traffic circle is located at the top end of the Avenida da Libertade and at the bottom end of the Eduardo VII Park, which offers tremendous view of the city from its hill top.
Lisbon is quite rich in different styles of architecture, from Gothic to Romanesque and Baroque and to Modern and Post-Modern. There are seven hills throughout the city as well as cobblestoned streets and alleys. They also feature a lot of stone pavements in artistic patterns known as Calçada Portugesa, beautiful, but slippery at times. It also an enormous amount of impressive historic monuments and statues in all areas of the city.
Moving around the city is easy, besides the best way to experience which is by walking, there are trams, a metro, buses as well as small tuk-tuks, taxis and Uber cars.
We walked down the tree lined Boulevard Avenida da Libertade, one of the few flat streets in the city. The four lane boulevard has two lineal tree-filled parks with statues and decorative tiled walking paths on either side, followed by one-way streets on each side. On those streets are all types of high-end businesses, from designer boutiques to art galleries, international banks, and grand hotels.
One interesting store we visited in Boulevard Avenida da Libertade, only sells a variety of tin canned fish with the year marked on the cover, you can find any year from the 1930s to the 1960s to the 1990s to present day.
At its south end is at the Monuments dos Restauradores Plaza featuring a tall obelisk celebrating Portugal’s independence fro Spain. This Baixa district and due east is the center of the “old town” Lisbon. Just blocks past the plaza and the grand entrance to the train station is the more decorative Rossio Square, which is more like a gathering space.
Featuring some beautiful cobblestone walkways in wave patterns, two large fountains and a central column with a statue of Dom Pedro IV, king of Portugal standing at its top. It is a great place to sit and people watch on a bench or from a nearby cafe.
Across the East end of the plaza is the Dona Maria II National Theater with a Greek temple style front accentuated by six large Ionic columns.
We continued walking to Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon. Weaving though the narrow sidewalks and streets for about half a mile, you arrive at the very large and open Plaza do Comercio square.
It is a really large square that opens to the riverfront on its East end and is also lined with outdoor cafes next to buildings with arched facades on either side.
While very reminiscent of Venice’s San Marco Plaza, it is actually larger. At its center is yet another huge ornate monument, topped by a bronze of Dom Jose I atop a horse. Jose I was king of Portugal from 1750 to 1777. This tremendously large square plaza is used for all types of gatherings and celebrations.
Across the street on the north side is the Ministry of Justice building with an imposing center archway topped by larger than life-size statues. At the opposite water’s edge area it features what looks like a stage with 2 columns. Here you might find a local wedding couple posing for photos by the water.
Lisbon has many surrounding neighborhoods, towards the west of center there’s Belém. Next to the Tagus River this district features many historic monuments and important tourist attractions. It is from here that many of the great Portuguese explorers started their voyages of discovery.
Two monuments are the fairytale looking Tower of Belém, a medieval defensive fort and lighthouse, and the larger concrete monument to the Age of Discovery. As you approach the monument there is a square walkway featuring a rose and black colored tiled design of a very large compass and a map of the world.
The monument is lined on either side by statues of the most famous of Portuguese navigators of the past, from Henry the Navigator to Ferdinand Magellan to Vasco da Gama. All around are small boat marinas. Nearby other attractions are the 500 year old Jerónimos Monastery, the Maritime Museum, the National Coach Museum, the Belém Cultural Center and several tranquil gardens including the Botanical Gardens.
Just north is a large park-forest, Florestal de Monsanto, that features walking trails and a recreation party area. A bit further north you’ll find the Lisbon Zoo with a children’s farm and over 300 species of animals.
Back on the eastern side of old central Lisbon, there’s the large São João Batista Cemetery which features above ground tombs and graves, some of historical figures. While it is similar to those I’ve visited in Paris and in Buenos Aires, it is not quite as ornate as those.
Much closer to the river and overlooking the East side of old town is also the Castelo de S. Jorge, a hilltop Moorish castle and palace ruins, featuring an archaeological museum. It sits at the highest point in the city, overlooking the historic city and Tagus River. Lisbon is a hilly city and it offers a few high viewing point called Miradouros. These are scenic viewing points around the center of town, some with panoramic views of the city rooftops and the water beyond.
One such is the terrific viewpoint Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, with a small park next to the Convent da Graca Church. Another viewpoint in Bairro Alto area is the Miradouro de Sao Padro de Alcantara which you can reach from a tram called Ascensor da Gloria by the Restauradores Monument, near the train station. Nearby is one of the buildings of The University of Lisbon, its Botanical Gardens and the large Natural History Museum.
What at one time was just a bull fighting ring arena now house both an indoor arena and a modern movie complex called Cinema City Campo Pequeno.
It is located just north of city center in an area of newer buildings of different architectural styles on Avenida Republica Boulevard. Throughout Lisbon, you’ll hear about and see references to Fado. Fado (fate) music genre is the traditional music of Portugal. It features Portuguese guitar and bass guitar, and is expressed with mostly mournful tunes and lyrics.
The food in Portugal is influenced by the nearby sea, and is not very different as you will find in Spain, specially in the coastal areas. Lisbon also features some fine pastry shops.
Lisbon is quite an impressive city to visit for its incredible history and old world beauty in architecture, its many monuments, hilly views, as well as the warm Portuguese people.
About a 90 minute drive north of Lisbon is Fátima, located near in the middle of Portugal. Fátima is one of the most important Catholic shrines to the Virgin Mary in the world.
Second only to Lourdes in France as Europe’s most important pilgrimage site to the religious and nonreligious alike. As the story goes, three young children saw six apparitions of the Virgin, who told them three secrets back in 1916. Originally marked by just a simple cross, over the decades with more and more pilgrims traveling to the area, different chapels and building have been added.
There are numerous buildings to visit and be marveled by in Fátima. Besides the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima and the Apparitions Chapel, there’s the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary as well as the Sacred Heart statue, all around an enormous open plaza.
The very modern Basilica of the Holy Trinity is quite tremendous in its size and has seats for almost 9,000 people. The circular exterior features at one exit an enormous hanging white rosary beads and cross. The altar area is wider than an auditorium and the central isle is extra wide. A huge Christ on the Cross is over the altar. Nearby the church’s northwest corner there is a marble statue of Pope Paul VI.
At the other end of the plaza the colonnade and more the traditional sanctuary are as impressive. The tombs of all of the children, Francisco and Jacinta, along with the child that lived to old age, Sister Lúcia, are located on either side of the altar. The churches and the enormous central plaza along with the statues, fountains and other places of interest in Fátima make it a not to miss stop if you’re anywhere near in Portugal or Spain.
While you can take tours to Fátima from Lisbon, we drove to visit the Shrine on our way to the city of Oporto, or Porto, as it’s known in Portugal. Porto located by the Atlantic Ocean is the second largest city in Portugal and is the place that gives Port wine its name.
For now, hope you’ve enjoyed reading about wonderful Lisbon and the impressive and moving Fátima. We will leave writing about Porto for another time while continuing exploring dream locations to visit.