We reached Lisbon late one afternoon. It was a time of long summer days when the sun sets at half past nine. The half an hour drive to the city took us through wide boulevards bordered byJacaranda trees in full bloom, and road islands marked by statues commemorating national heroes. We were excited to explore this commercial hub of Portugal—one of the oldest cities of the world.
On the same evening as our arrival, we dashed to the picturesque old area ofAlfama. With a history that dates back to the Moors, Alfama is characterised by narrow cobblestone streets that wind past quaint shops and cozy little restaurants, all reflecting a well-preserved architecture.We walked for miles and rewarded ourselves with a dinner of sardines, lentilsoup, and a fruit and vegetable salad while being serenaded by localFado musicians.
The following morning,we drove to St. George's Castle perched atop Lisbon's highest hill in Alfama, offering both excellent history and views of the city. The castle served as a fortification for the Romans and the Moors, who turned it into a royal palace before it was eventually taken by Portugal's first king, Afonso Henriques. The attraction includes the building's relics—canons, underground chambers, and dilapidated towers.A cup of cappuccino at an onsite restaurant recharged our energy.On the way,we came across the beautiful Sé Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece.
A city tour took us through the different city squares of Lisbon. We started with the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square), Lisbon's main square, built on the site where the old Royal Palace stood before being destroyed by the earthquake of 1755.It was once considered the “door” to Lisbon.On the river banknear the square is the ferry terminal from which several ferries depart down the Tagus River.
The Pombal square, meanwhile, is located in the popular Baixa district, a major public transport hub of the city. The name of the area's attraction—Praçado Marques de Pombal—pays tribute to the first Marquis of Pombal.
And then the last stop on the tour was Rossio, the liveliest square in Lisbon. On either side of the square are two baroque fountains, and in the center stands a monument attributed to Dom Pedro IV. On the north side of the square is the Dona Maria II National Theater, a monumental neoclassical building.Lisbon is also a haven for fish lovers. Famished from our exploration of these sites, we relished some sea bass and calamari for lunch.
An entire day was spent at Belém,a historic neighborhood that houses some of Lisbon's most important monuments and museums.Torre de Belém, an idyllic mini-castle seamlessly floating on the Tagus riverfront, was originally a fort that served to protect Lisbon's port in the 16th century. It served as a departure point for explorers looking to travel the world during the Age of Discoveries. Some notable adventurers that have embarked from Belém include Vasco da Gama, who was the first person to sail directly from Europe to India, and Ferdinand Magellan, who was aboard the first ship that successfully circumnavigated the world. Today, the structure serves as a monument to that heyday and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.Also located nearby is the Belém Palace,the official residence of Portugal's President amidst scenic gardens.
The most impressive monument is the Jerónimos Monastery, a symbol of Portugal's power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. King Manuel I built it in 1502 on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, to honour explorer Vasco da Gama, as he and his crew spent their last night in Portugal at the site before embarking on their famous journey to India in 1498. During the 17th century, the structure served as a monastery for monks, whose job it was to comfort sailors and pray for the king. It was fascinating to come across Vasco da Gama's tomb, right close to the tomb of poet Luis de Camões, author of the epic The Lusiads which glorifies the triumphs of Vasco da Gama and his compatriots.A stone's throw away from this historic site is a famousPortuguese tart place. Nobody leavesLisbon without having a bite of their famous pasties; there is always a long queue.
And then there was Sintra, a resort town located about half an hour's drive from Lisbon.A veritable heaven on earth, the hills are clad with rich forests and padded with cobblestone streets. The most impressive structure is the colourful Palácio Nacional de Pena, which was built to be a romantic getaway for Queen Maria II and her husband. We reached the entrance gate at the base of the Palace by taxi and then availed a tourist bus to the Pena.The Palacio Nacional de Sintrais situated in the heart of Sintra,whose azulejo-adorned interiors make up for its bland exteriors.
Full of historical sights and delectable local cuisine almost always to be accompanied by some Fado music, Lisbon, calm and quiet, was an unforgettable experience.
Shamim Ahmed is a public health and nutrition specialist.