The oldest and most important church in Lisbon is its cathedral, the Santa Maria Maior. The Sé, as it’s commonly referred to, was built in 1147, immediately after the city was conquered by the Christians. We checked it out after having visited the National Pantheon in the nearby church of Santa Engrácia.
Ever since arriving in Lisbon, we had been aware of the Igreja da Santa Engrácia, with its massive dome capping the skyline of Alfama, and wondered how beautiful the church inside must be. Upon visiting, we immediately realized that, while beautiful it is… a church it isn’t. At least, not anymore. Today, the Santa Engrácia holds the National Pantheon, which honors some of the country’s most prestigious historical figures.
In 1998, Portugal honored the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s historic journey to India by constructing the longest bridge in Europe. A gondola provides incredible views over the bridge, the Tagus estuary which it spans, and the former pavilions of the 1998 World Expo.
If you’ve spent enough time among the cobblestone streets and 19th-century architecture of Baixa and central Lisbon, the Parque des Nacões might come as a shock. This area which stretches along the Tagus estuary northeast of the city center, was totally redeveloped for Lisbon’s 1998 World Expo, and is defined by its modern pavilions, parks and attractions.
Built in the mid 1700s, the Aqueduct das Águas Livres soars 65 meters above the Alcantâra Valley. Today, the waters have stopped running, and the aqueduct has been opened to tourism. For a small fee, you can walk all the way across.
One of the oldest structures in Lisbon, the Convento do Carmo was completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. Well… almost completely destroyed. The roof collapsed, but a handful of the supporting arches survived, along with some chambers. Today, the ruined remains of the church have been preserved as a striking memorial to the biggest natural disaster in Portuguese history.
After the earthquake of 1755, the Royal Palace was moved from Praça do Comércio to more stable ground. The neoclassical Palácio da Ajuda would be the occasional home of Portugal’s royalty until the end of the monarchy. We visited the palace, and also the neighboring botanic gardens.
If a city can be said to have a birthplace, Lisbon’s is the massive stone bluff which soars over the Tagus River Basin. This hill was home to the earliest humans to populate the area, and has served as a fortress and a castle for centuries of Romans, Moors and Christians. Today, the remains of the Castelo de São Jorge serve mostly tourists, who show up in droves to take in the best views in the city.