Early this year I visited Lisbon during the times when having a flu was “socially acceptable”. For a fuller view of the places I have seen, I recommend checking my social media album (here).
After a pleasant flight from Warsaw, with a stopover in Frankfurt, I arrived to Lisbon in the afternoon. The first thing that struck me was the subway (Metro) system, colorful and artistically designed. Each station has a topic and the floors are made of traditional tiles, giving it an impression of tidiness and elegance. If you happen to visit Lisbon make sure you have a look at several metro stops such as Restauradores, Saldanha or Parque, to name a few. I recommend the following link showing some awesome photos from this “enormous underground art gallery” (here). The four major lines (Linha Azul – blue; Amarela – yellow; Verde – green; Vermelha – red) crisscross the city making the use of a private car totally unnecessary. Since my hotel was located near Restauradores square, I spent the evening in this area. An element of architecture that I really liked was the Rossio railway station, designed in the Neo-Manueline style (Portuguese late Gothic, style originating in the 16th century during the Portuguese Renaissance and Age of Discoveries, here). The Rossio square is linked with Praça do Comércio by an elegant street (Rua Augusta), full of café terraces, shops, restaurants, and souvenir shops. I was particularly impressed by the glazed tiles paving this street, a leitmotif of Portuguese art and a heritage brought by the Moors. If you pay attention, on the right side of Rua Augusta going to Praça do Comércio you will find a science fiction-like tower (Santa Justa Lift) offering a generous view, beautifully lit in the night and giving the impression of a space shift that has just landed on Earth. Rua Augusta connects with Praça do Comércio through the magnificent Arco da Rua Augusta, reminiscent of the times when the brave Portuguese sailors explored the charted and the uncharted waters of the world. Praça do Comércio is the place where the former Imperial Palace stood, before the devastating Great Lisbon earthquake (1755). It is also the place with beautiful vista of the Tagus and its impressive bridges. While contemplating in the dark the incandescent bridges and the sound of the bay, I had the strange feeling somebody is watching me from behind. Perched on the top of a hill, the São Jorge Castle was sleeping with one eye open.
The National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga) exhibits an extensive art collection of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, furniture and goldwork. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions. During my visit I came across an exhibition devoted to the Italian Quatrocento (15th century, the first phase of the Renaissance) and Álvaro Pires de Évora, a Portuguese painter that lived and worked in Italy during that time. The quatrocento seemed to be the time when the Mediterranean Sea was the main “highway” of the South of Europe, and the artists could travel and exchange ideas and techniques all over the region. The museum is particular in that it contains exhibits difficult to find in other European museums. Of these, the Nanban panels (“Nanban art refers to Japanese art of the 16th and 17th centuries influenced by the contact with traders and missionaries from Europe and specifically from Portugal”) and beautifully colored azulejos (tiles). Another must see is the St. Vincent panels, a polyptych painted by Nuno Gonçalves, which shows a very detailed radiography of the Portuguese society during the times of Henry the Navigator (first half of the 15th century). The museum has a very pleasant garden where the visitors can serve traditional food and recover their energy for further explorations.
Leaving the museum, I walked through the beautiful streets along the waterfront, lined with old buildings, busting with industrial activity in the past; now hosting many affordable terrace cafés, parks and elegant markets (e.g. Mercado da Ribeira). I spent the rest of the day in Chiado, an elegant neighborhood in the historic center of Lisbon. Here one can find enormous book shops, beautiful buildings clad with tiles azulejos, the Café A Brasileira (the equivalent of Les Deux Magots café in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city), shopping centers and friendly people, locals and tourists alike.
It was a long and rich day in the company of my friend Carlos_Martins, scientist and cultural explorer. Carlos was my guide for the following days and showed me places difficult to find by most tourists, accompanied by information-dense comments about Lisbon, its history and atmosphere. We started the day with a strong coffee in Restauradores, then flocked to Belem district, another picturesque neighborhood of Lisbon. First stop, Pastéis de Belém, famous pastry shop selling freshly-baked pastel de nata and vintage Port wine. The shop also contains some beautiful, old-style azulejos. Full of energy we moved to the Jerónimos Monastery to admire its beauty. The monastery is one of the finest examples of Manueline architecture, a richly ornate style with complex sculptural themes incorporating maritime elements and objects discovered during naval expeditions. The style developed during the reign of King Manuel I (1469-1521), hence its name. While containing some Renaissance elements (e.g. a dome reminiscent of Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence), the monastery is quintessentially Manueline. Make sure not to miss the south and western portals, the richly decorated pillars and ceiling of the main chapel, and the Neo-Manueline tomb of navigator Vasco da Gama (1468-1523) and national poet Luís de Camões (1527-1580). One of the most impressive pieces was the two-storey cloisters, offering a relaxing ambiance and inviting the guests to meditation.
Before lunch we had a glimpse in the tropical garden near the Monastery, then enjoyed an excellent Bacalhau (cod fish) and white wine. We spent the rest of the day exploring the neighborhood, Belém Tower, anther Manueline showcase, depicted on most Lisbon postcards. A monument that impressed me a great deal was the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). Erected on the bank of the Tagus, it represents a stylized caravel setting out to sea, with Henry the Navigator in its prow. On the two lateral descending lines there is a plethora of navigators, cartographers, warriors, missionaries, chroniclers, and artists. The monument conveys a striking impression of movement “in stone”, an amazing achievement when working on such materials. The square hosting Padrão dos Descobrimentos contains a beautifully designed atlas of the world.
Alfama! One of Lisbon’s oldest areas, the neighborhood developed around to 11th-century São Jorge Castle. Its steep streets can be walked on foot or using the historic no. 28 tram, which winds through its narrow streets. The area is full of nice restaurants and terraces, cobbled streets with citrus trees and small and welcoming public gardens. Alfama was initially a Moorish area, then became inhabited by the fishermen and the poor, and, of course, by artists, an atmosphere that would have probably fascinated Ernest Hemingway. Miradouro da Graça terrace offers breathtaking views over the slopes of the area to the River Tagus. A perfect setting to enjoy a glass of Ginjinha (sour cherry liqueur) and relax contemplating a city sweeping view. Lisbon has several view points (miradors) offering captivating and relaxing panoramas over the city. There is a Fado museum in the neighborhood worth a visit, near the waterfront. The museums has a big Fado discography, books and memorabilia. If you want to fully enjoy the atmosphere and the spirit of the neighborhood make sure to visit it on Saturday!
Gulbenkian Museum (here) boasts an amazing and eclectic collection of European and Asian Art. It is very rare when a museum is built to fit a collection. Most of the time, the collection comes to a preexisting building and the two of them co-evolve with time. Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was a businessman and a philanthropist with a taste for art. After building his collection piece by piece, his foundation built an impressive building to host it in Lisbon. The building is very elegantly integrated in a complex containing a music hall and a beautiful garden. Although modern, the building harmonizes very well with the entire collection. The journey takes you from the Egyptian and Greco-Roman art to Islamic, Persian, Asian and European exhibits. I was particularly impressed by the Asian and Islamic ceramics, an illuminated bible with colorful drawings (in the tradition of the illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells). European art is well represented by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Rembrandt, Carpaccio, Francesco Guardi and many others. There is also an extensive furniture and silverware collection. You can install the museum’s app for free and have access to informative commentaries and images. If you want to go for a guided tour, the museum has excellent guides. I really liked the quality of their English and their extensive knowledge of art. The museum has a cafeteria with excellent food and a view to the garden. I highly recommend this cultural hotspot of Lisbon! The music hall has very elegant and modern architecture with a top class orchestra. I did not have time to attend any musical event, but the music lovers know the prestige of this orchestra.
The final day of cultural explorations! National Museum of the Azulejo (here) occupies the former Madre de Deus Convent, and boasts one of the largest collection of ceramics in the world. The azulejos (painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework) were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors. The first time I came across them was during a trip to Sevilla and Granada. Apart from their beauty, the azulejos are amazing and durable materials used both indoors and outdoors. The museums takes you through the history of this tilework, presenting various stages of their development, matching the passing of time and the mannerism of different epochs. There is also an abundance of information about their making, the materials used, the pigments, and the various technique of preparing them. The museum has a very good app that can be installed for free, and the visitor will have access to many hours of explanations and pictures.
- Lisbon is really a place to visit and to live
- The city has a big cultural offer
- People are friendly and most employees in shops, restaurants (even at the outskirts of the city) speak good English
- Excellent food and drink at affordable prices for all pockets
- Big and well supplied shopping centers
- Well connected and pleasant airport and very good public transport
- Good air quality