Several historic sites and monuments
A combination of sea cliffs, beautiful beaches and the lush river valley of Cabo de Roca
This ancient city of 300,000 inhabitants, ruled by the Romans in 205BC, has also been one of the wealthiest centres in the world, especially during the golden era of the 16th century, when gold and treasure arrived from the new found countries far to the west. Recent excavations have confirmed that Lisbon’s history goes back 300,000 years and today it ranks as one of the oldest cities in the world. Modern times have taken their toll on the city somewhat, but it has undergone a recent facelift and a new generation of entranced visitors are a testament to this.
Lisbon constitutes an eclectic collection of remarkable assets. Some hills have streets that are too steep for vehicles, so funiculars and an elevator do the job. Monsanto National Park, one of the largest city parks in the world, graces most of the western side of the city. Old tramways still operate; the Alfama district of tiny squares has retained its original Moorish plan and atmosphere; downtown Lisbon, the Baixa, comprising two squares, arcades, triumphal arch and a 1901 outdoor cast iron elevator providing panoramic views, is a potential World Heritage site; the Bairro Alto, high up and with great views and a slightly sleazy, but exciting nightlife; the Gothic Tower of Belem and Jeronimos monastery draw tourists like a magnet and there is more, always more. Remember, this is an ancient city, from the narrow, but romantic cobblestone streets, to the Art Deco cafes and the myriad of detail in between, new discoveries are around every corner.
Lisbon is renowned for its local shopping, throbbing nightlife, cosmopolitan atmosphere and the fact that it has more of a northern European city feel. Legend has it that Ulysses founded and named the town, Ulissipo, which derives from the Phoenician words ‘Allis Ubbo’ or ‘enchanting port’. True or not, Lisbon is a beautiful and singular name for this unique city.
No narrative about Lisbon would be complete without mention of the city’s trademark and symbol, the fado. Fado is a nostalgic and melancholy form of song, which has virtually become an art form. It is exclusive to Portugal and specifically Lisbon. The origins, it is said, come from the Moors, who lived near Lisbon and sang these songs as a form of lament long after the Christians had taken over. Other suggestions focus on Brazilian slaves or minstrels, travelling in medieval times. When performed professionally, both male and female singers always wear black. The fadinista, as they are known, always sing about lost love or how the heart rules over the mind or how passion has created a sorrowful outcome. Fado is always melancholy, very beautiful and not to be missed. A haunting memory to take with you on leaving this city of wonder and mystery.
Lisbon also has many interesting museums displaying classical and modern works of art. They include the National Coach Museum, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, National Museum of Contemporary Art and Carmo Archaeological Museum. For something entirely different go to Bairro Alto, which is the centre of nightlife in the city, with various restaurants and bars where a range of music, including fado, can be heard.
When weary of sightseeing, some retail therapy will take all your tiredness away. The city boasts the largest shopping mall, Centro Commercial Colombo, in the entire Iberian Peninsula. For those who prefer to shop in local markets, there is a fascinating flea market at the Campo de Santa Clara.
The best way to discover Lisbon is to get lost in its narrow streets and up and down roads.