Lisbon, Portugal, although old and crumbling, is the heart and soul of Portugal. The Old Town is made up of several neighborhoods, the most important of which are the Barrio Alto, the Upper Town, with its confusing network of hilly streets, and Baixa, the Lower Town, whose streets are considerably more orderly. Of special note is Rossio Square, which is, today, lined with shops and restaurants, but was the scene of many burnings during the Inquisition.
Also in the city are vestiges of the ancient Roman city, the site of which is now occupied by St George’s Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge), in the Alfama district, a charming maze of alleyways and stairs and narrow cobble-stoned streets, with tile-covered buildings. Take Tram #28 to the Castle, at the top of one of Lisbon’s seven hills, for a great view of the city. Se (cathedral) is the oldest church in the city and a local landmark. It was begun in the 1100’s in the Romanesque style.
But Lisbon is, above all, a maritime city and this heritage may be best explored in the suburb of Belem. The must-sees here include the white Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a marvelous ship-shaped monument to Portuguese explorers, such as Henry the Navigator, Magellan, and Vasco de Gama, and the Torre de Belem, the 16th century tower, built to repel attacks from pirates, which has now been given World Heritage Site status. Also, near the waterfront is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, another World Heritage Site, which contains the tomb of Vasco de Gama, one of Portugal’s most famous explorers, and dates to 1501. The monastery was constructed, in large measure, from revenue derived from the trade of pepper.
A favorite excursion from the city is the picturesque walled town of Obidos, about an hour north of Lisbon. Its narrow, cobblestone streets and medieval, white-washed buildings, festooned with flowers, are a delight to explore. The walls are 13 meters (45 feet) high and dotted with towers. There is, of course, the attractive, obligatory castle at the highest point of the town.
Another popular side trip is 65 miles (40 kilometers) to the northwest, in the village of Fatima. Here is the location of one of the most famous miracles in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the appearance of the Virgin Mary to three local children in 1937. Since then, the Basilica, built to honor the event and housing the tombs of the children, has become a major pilgrimage site.
1. Music is also important in Lisbon, and every visitor should experience Fado, a unique, evocative, extremely expressive music which is the very soul of Lisbon. Try the Clube de Prado for an authentic evening, but not before 10:00 PM.
2. Another uniquely Lisbon experience involves tasting the incredibly delicious egg custard tart called Pasteis de Belem, which was created by a monk. The revenue from its popularity financed the remainder of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos when the pepper industry began to decline.
3. A third possible excursion from Lisbon is to travel approximately 150 kilometers (90 miles) east to the charming, walled, medieval, Renaissance town of Evora. Walk the historic center of town and get swept up in the vibrancy of the youth and exuberance of this university town.