We were surprised to learn that the patron saint of our adopted hometown of Valencia, San Vicente Martir, is also the patron saint of Lisbon. Although he’d never visited Portugal in life, his mortal remains were brought here in 1173. We visited the ancient church and monastery named in his honor, set on a hill in Alfama.
As Western Europe’s oldest city, it almost goes without saying that Lisbon would have a fascinating history. This was the de facto capital of the European Age of Exploration, and has lived through both tremendous heights of wealth and power, and abysmal lows. Here’s a concise rundown of the most important events in they city’s story.
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.
A gem hidden in plain sight, the Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa has been operating for almost 150 years, in a beautiful hall in the center of Lisbon. It’s worth stepping inside to see the ethnographic collection cobbled together from around the world, as well as to check out the elegant headquarters of the society.
The Basilica da Estrela lies west of the Baixa, in the upscale neighborhood of Lapa. Built by the Queen of Portugal to fulfill a promise to God, the church sits atop a hill, with a giant dome that’s visible throughout Lisbon. We visited both it, and the adjacent Jardim da Estrela on an overcast Sunday.
The neighborhood of Mouraria will be our base of operations during these 91 days in Lisbon. Ranged along the hill east of the center, underneath the shadow of the Castle of São Jorge, this has historically been the city’s most ethnically diverse section. We took a long self-guided tour, to get to know our new home a little better.
Rivaling the nearby Praça do Comérico in history and prestige, is the Praça do Rossio. Officially named Praça de Don Pedro IV, in honor of the former king who stands atop a massive column in the plaza’s center, Rossio has been at the heart of Lisboan life since the earliest days of the city.
We’ve only been here for a couple days, so it’s hard to be definitive, but one of the most unforgettable sights in Lisbon must surely be the Jerónimos Monastery, in the western neighborhood of Belém. Construction began in 1501, during the height of Portuguese power, and the complex has remained in incredible condition. UNESCO inscribed it as a World Heritage Site in 1983.
What better place to begin our exploration of Lisbon, than the square which has long served as its entrance gate? The Praça do Comércio, usually called the Terreiro do Paço (Palace Yard), is situated at the base of the Tagus River, where ships laden with riches from around the world once came to shore.