Lisbon Discoveries

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Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Thursday, July 1, 2010

After a restful night aboard the train from Madrid, we arrived at 7:40 ready to hit the town!  We were met at Lisbon's main train station by a representative from the travel agency ( with all of our documents an vouchers.  We then took a cab to the airport which is just a few minutes away (10-15) to get the rental car.  We struggle a little with the directions to our hotel but we did finally make it, got checked-in and were on the tourist bus by 10:30am.  Not bad for a pair of first time visitors!!  Our first stop was at the Praca do Comercio where we walked in the very large plaza admiring the statue of King Jose I on horseback and comparing it to the massive squares in other European cities such a Venice, Rome, London, etc.  

After a short stroll on one of the pedestrian streets, we hoped on the famous tram No. 28 headed uphill to the Castle of Saint George.  Although in ruins, it offers wonderful views of the city below and one can navigate the many passageways around and on top of the castle walls.  It was a gorgeous day and to make the ambiance even better, a young man was playing faro on a guitar in the castle courtyard.  It was try charming.   We walked back down the hill and stopped at the Cathedral of Lisbon which dates back to the 12th century.  In the cloister behind the cathedral, we could see the excavations being made that revealed the past of the cathedral.  It shows remnants of roman walls, moorish buildings, and much more.  It is true that thru generations and generations, we build in the same places over and over.

Since we were almost at the bottom of the hill, we continued on foot to our bus stop which we just missed :(   We found a little corner of shade and waited patently for the next one.  People watching is always fun, especially in a different and touristy place.  Our next stop was in the Belem neighborhood of Lisbon to visit the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery) and the Tower of Belem a World Heritage Site.  The ride took us along the Tejo river passed refurbished shipping storehouses, now quaint little restaurants and cafes.  We also passed the Presidential Palace which was once home to the Kings of Portugal, nothing too elaborate but all painted of pink.  Quite different for a King's Palace!

The Mosteiro de Jeronimos is breathtaking.  It is very large, bright white and decorated with fine features to make it look like lace from a distance.  It was built under the order of king Manuel I to commemorate the discovery of the maritime route to India discovered by the Portuguese in the 16th century.  The discoverer Vasco de Gama is burried here in the church.  The interior is just as magnificent as the outside and well worth the visit.  The cloister is said o be one of the most beautiful in the world.  In other parts of the monastery, are a couple of museums.  What a beautiful piece of work and how privileged we are that it still stands today for us to see and experience.  

Across the gardens (which used to be a fluvial beach when the Mosteiros was constructed) and the road, we stopped at the Pradao dos Descbrimentos - Monument to Discoveries, a piece of work dedicated in 1960 for the 500th anniversary of the death of Henrique the Navigator.  He is said to be the true heart of the Portuguese Discoveries and stands at the front of the ship.  Each figure sculpted is about 12 feet tall and depicts all portuguese people as they were "all" beckoned by the sea.  After an "ice cream stop", we walked along the banks of the Tejo river towards the Torre de Belem.

The tower of Belem, an iconic feature of Lisbon, was built in 1515 as a military installation.  When looking at it, no one would think that was it's purpose due to the delicate lace work and detail in the carvings.  It served as a prison, guard/watch tower, gun position and military outpost.  No side of the structure is the same as the other.  It is another beautiful example of Manueline style of architecture which was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1976.  Back to the bus, heading back into town where we made an unscheduled stop at the Basilica de Estrela (Royal Basilica of the Star).

The basilica was built in the 18th century by the order of Queen Maria I and was dedicated to the Holy Heart of Jesus as a result of giving birth to a son, heir to the throne.  Construction began in 1779 and it was consecrated on the 15th of november 1789.  Queen Maria I is buried here in an elaborate Empire style tomb.  There are several beautiful very large paintings on the walls depicting various saints and scene from the life of Christ.  In the back of the church is a very impressive nativity scene composed of more than 500 figurines y the sculptor Machado de Castro.  It is one of the largest nativity scenes ever built and truly a work of art and should absolutely be visited while in Lisbon.

After a bus ride to the more modern area of Lisbon we returned to our starting point the Placa de Marques de Pombal where we left the bus and walked back to the hotel.  We stopped a the neighborhood grocery store for some supplies for dinner and that concluded a wonderful first day in Portugal.  It is definitely summer here - about 90-94 degrees - and I can feel the need for the ocean!!!!

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Rebecca on

How wonderful! I remember some of the Moorish architectural details from the Alhambra, and can imagine how beautiful your discoveries must be.

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