If you’re walking down a picturesque street and have the sudden feeling that you’ve gone back in time, you’re very likely to be in Lisbon. Lisbon’s neighborhoods bear the stamps of bygone eras and historical events all over them. We explore the city that has survived earthquakes, fires, and tsunamis and continues to stand out as one of Europe’s finest destinations
Breathtaking ivory limestone structures, winding alleyways, vibrant museums, chic cafes – every corner of Lisbon is an experience. Truth be told, it has been so since the second century. So that’s where we begin our exploration – in a spot that predates the Romans and has withstood
the ravages of time.
A treat for history aficionados
The 2000-year-old Castelo de São Jorge is our very first stop. A site that has witnessed the fall of the Romans to the Visigoths, fierce conflicts between the Arabs and the Christians, and the battle where the Castilians lost to the Portuguese. Castelo de São Jorge has seen many transformations- from a palace to military barrack to the site of the national archives to what it is today – a monumental museum. No matter how many times we visit, there is something new to see, feel, and experience.
A blend of the past and present
In the historical quarters of Alfama, a profound Fado rhythm draws us in. Alfama is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque and oldest neighborhoods in Europe, boasting of a mixture of architectural styles inspired by Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque elements. These winding streets house some of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments, and have an energetic vibe that’s truly infectious! What was once an impoverished neighbourhood has transformed into a veritable treasure of cafes, alleys, and visually distinctive landmarks like Sé de Lisboa, Museu do Aljube, Museu do Teatro Romano, and Panteão Nacional.
Of resilience and Portugal’s recovery
Portuguese resilience is abundantly visible in the Baxia district, which literally translates to ‘resurrection.’ The Giant Earthquake of 1755 has destroyed the town, and it’s said that the shocks were so severe that candles flickered as far as Ireland. But, that wasn’t all – Baxia suffered back-to-back hardships with fires ravaging the city and a tsunami slamming into the harbor front. Even today, we can see the scars on the pillars of the Church of Sao Domingos and most of the buildings here.
It’s inspiring to learn how Baxia was rebuilt from the ground up by the then Prime Minister, The Marquis of Pompal. We could see how the buildings were made earthquake-proof to withstand the mightiest of upheavals.
Navigating sea routes
We learn the lore of Vasco da Gama on the Belem shore, from where he left in search of India. We take a swim off the Padrão dos Descobrimentos beach, after which we visit his tomb at the Jerónimos Monastery and Church.
Apart from being the hub of routes and discovering, Belem has one of the most delicious pit stops for Portugal’s famous custard tarts, at Pastéis de Belém – best eaten straight from the oven, warm, and sprinkled with cinnamon.
Meeting the intellectuals
At Chiado, we join 19th-century intellectuals for a tete-a-tete. This hip neighborhood has the world’s oldest operating bookstore, the Opera House, charming cafes, art galleries, and everything that would drive one to create.
Chiado also houses the world’s smallest bookshop, which is as small as a cupboard crammed with 4,000 books.
Back to the 21st century
We return to the present (albeit reluctantly) in Madragoa and Santos, under-the-radar gems that are perfect for modern-day nomads. And finally, we celebrate in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, which is filled with trendy restaurants and bars as far as the eye can see. As the sun sets, we can’t help wondering if it’s a day or many centuries we’ve spent in the mesmerizing city of Lisbon