History lives in the many monuments and buildings of Lisbon
Imagine an unspoilt city which has everything: palaces, castles, churches, monuments, enchanting squares, stupendous vistas and avenues, beautiful gardens built along a river, with the sea close by, and you have Libson. Reaching “Lisboa” itself was magical, after a monotonous 10-hour bus drive from Madris: suddenly we were on to the breathtaking suspension bridge over the river Tagus, a dramatic change of scene, after miles of the flat, olive-tree-dotted Spanish countryside.
The newer high rises on the outskirts of Lisbon, depressingly like Patparganj in Delhi, gives way to a charming European city, its squares replete with patterned flagstones, fountains and statues. Despite not having our trusted lonely planet, we manager to find a good hotel in the heart of the old town
The Praca dos Restauradores, or Restorer’s Square, commemorating the 1640 restoration of Portugal’s independence from Spain, with its great buildings and central obelisk, had an unexpected treat: entries to the Cow Parade, traveling all over the world since 1998 from Zurich. Walking through the streets and squares, we saw several of the life size fibreglass cows on a variety of themes, even a World Cup one with a foot ball on its head. Heading up to the Bairro Alto, we explored the little streets and cafes, coming to life in the evening after the heat of the day, ending up in the FNAC department store to do some shopping.Magnificent view
A city landmark not to be misses was the ancient Castelo de Sao Jorge on the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills, reachable by the quaint city trams. Breathtaking views of the city spread out below in a symphony of white houses and orange-tiled roofs with the blue river in the background. The castle’s history records its fluctuating importance through Moorish and Portuguese times. Of interest is the fact that Vasco Da Gama was welcomed here on his return from India by Manuel I. The Castle’s curio shop was playing haunting fados sung by Amalia Rodrigues, a must-buy for music lovers. The multi-media a walk in time, through 20 centuries of Lisboa’s history.
A walking tour of Alfama, (from the Arabic word Ashama meaning bath), on the ramparts of the Castle, showed us the historic heart of Lisbon, with Roman, Arab and Christian influences in its narrow cobbled streets, quaint houses and shop fronts with their beautiful tiled facades. We explored the churches, enjoyed the views admired more cows, windows-shopped, and drunk Portuguese coffee. Alfama was left almost untouched in the devastating earthquake of 1755 followed by a tsunami and fire, in which the entire city was destroyed, and estimated 60,000 to 1,00,000 people killed. The hero of the hour was the Marquis du Pombal, Joseph the First’s Prime minister, who rebuilt the city on modern lines. His statues look down on us from various spots: the Arco Rua da Triumphal, and Praca de Pombal, and after whom the Baixa Pombalina area is named. Familiar shop names – Coutinho, de Silva, Da Souza, Viera, Figuieredo, reminded one of Goa and old friends, and their nostalgia for all things Portuguese.
Belem district was next stop. The magnificent Monasteiro dos Jeronimos, with its ornate, highly carved exterior, is World Heritage Site, built by Manuel I, on an old hermitage where Vasco da Gama spent the night in prayer before departing for India. Inside are buried Vasco da Gama and the poet Camoes. We are told that it took over 50yrs to complete and cost the equivalent of 70 kg of gold a year, paid for by the tax on spices from India!.Yummy pastries
Therafter, we headed straight for the Casa Pastries du Belem, to taste the delicious, hot, melt-in-the-mouth custard tarts for which it is justly famed. The recipe is a closely guarded secret since 1837, when the tarts were first made outside the monastery. The Casa’s five rooms are crowded to capacity with tourists, all waiting for pasties du Belem, served sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. No wonder that about 14,000 tarts are consumed in a day!. We regretfully stopped at two.
Close by is the unique Torre du Belem , guarding the entrance to Lisbon from the river. A 16th century gothic/Manueline structure, it served many functions: a landmark to celebrate the victories of Vasco Da Gama, a tribute to St.Vincente, the guardian of the city, a custom house and a lighthouse. It even has a rhinoceros carved under one of the turrets, believed to be the first depiction of the animal in Europe!.
Another walking tour took us to Praca Commercio and Praca du Figueira, and then to Baixa Prombalina, built in a modern grid pattern, with interesting streets named according to their traditional trades. Rue du Augusta is a shopper’s delight, complete with little cafes, artistes and a music shop-on-wheels playing fados, the of Lisbon, the strains of which stay with us as we head for the airport.