You can continue exploring the Fleur-de-Lis Boa of Europe diving into its heart. After a long walk from the Belém District along the Tagus River you will reach Terreiro do Paço (the Palace Square) or better known as Praça do Comércio (the Square of Commerce). And now imagine being a nobleman entering the city of Lisbon of the past centuries who arrives and wants to feel the rhythm of the city climbing up and down its hills.
T H E H E A R T O F L I S B O N
If you visited the 18th century city of Lisbon as a nobleman and if you arrived by boat, definitely you would enter the city through Cais das Colunas (The Pier of Columns) that was the main entrance of the city for many centuries. The pier is a wide marble stairway whose name comes from the two tall marble columns that stand in the water, in front of it. The idea of the two columns comes from the pillars of the Temple of Solomon and they symbolize wisdom and devotion, respectively. Nowadays this tiny pier at the Tagus River is a preferred place by artistic persons or simply by pedestrians who could have a nice rest contemplating either the Southern shore of Lisbon or the Square in the opposite direction.
The Square astonishes you with its beauty and whiteness. The first thing your eyes focus is the statue of a horseman. This is the Monument to Dom José I (or King Joseph I). Then you fix the majestic Arco da Rua Augusta that is a French-style triumphal arc facing the Square. The historical figures of Vasco da Gama, Virato, Nuno álavares Pereira and Marquês de Pombal coexist with the allegorical figure of Glory that crowns Genius and Bravery. The Arc is one of the numerous spots for amazing birds’ eye views to the city. So don’t hesitate to invest some euros & time and climb up to the top where the city will be in your hands.
Ta-taa-taa …. You are stepping firmly on the ground again. Are you wondering what to do next? Don’t ask yourself that question again because there are loads to visit in this parish of Lisbon. If you are on the Rua Augusta you might do the shopping in the pedestrian street or the nearby side streets, or have a typical Portuguese meal at one of the outdoors restaurants. But if you want to go back to the three significant historic periods of the city, just turn to the right and climb up the hill to Castelo de São Jorge (the Castle of St. George). It is a Moorish citadel built in the 11th century but it still keeps the ruins of the 7th century known settlement as well as the remains of the palatine residence. Unlike other European castles, this one wasn’t meant to be a residence but it was always used for housing troops and had a military function, or the treasures from the New World were kept there. The eleven towers and ramparts impress you with breath-taking views of Lisbon and you can access them easily by climbing up one of the three sets of steps. There is no doubt that the most interesting is Camera Obscura where 360◦-views present the city, the river and the Southern bank and all this is achieved simply owing to one big mirror in the middle, some lenses and natural light.
If you are done with the castle, you might climb down to the city itself again. This time you might use the two urban elevators that make your journey from the past times to the present easier and shorter. This genial means of “public transport” really accommodates greatly the movement along the hill and is widely used, indeed. Moreover, the elevator that is closer to the castle also offers a balcony for awe-inspiring views of the 25 de Abril Bridge, the National Sanctuary of Christ the King on the Southern shore and the city of Lisbon, of course.
Being on the topic of belvederes and elevators, there is another tourist site where one can enjoy the beauty of the city from above. It is the so-called Elevador de Santa Justa (the Santa Justa Lift) or also known as Elevador do Carmo (the Carmo Lift). The 45-metre tall tower serves as a view point which is reachable either on foot or by the Eiffel-tower-like indoor lift which is a cabin with wooden benches on both sides in it. When one reaches the lower platform, they can go to the top via spiral staircase where the sky meets the Tagus River, the towers of Castelo de São Jorge and the roofs if the Lisbon houses.
Going from the lowest points of the city (the downtown) to the highest ones like Bairro Alto with the elevator you pass by numerous shops, restaurants and cafés. The way from Baixa Pombalina to the nightlife in Bairro Alto goes through Chiado. If you starve for a cup of aromatic cup of coffee and if you are an artist by nature and soul, your place is A Brasileira (the Brazilian Café). The Chiado Square and the Café were a gathering cultural and political point at the beginning of last century where prominent politicians, artists and poets exchanged thoughts and views. Since then this place, and especially “A Brsileira” has still been keeping that image and the figure of the regular visitor of the Café – Fernando Pessoa, has been prompting tourists and locals alike to have a photo taken at his usual table.
Before jumping into the nightlife of Bairro Alto with its Fado bars offering you to feel The Soul of Portugal as well as a great portion of bacalao (a traditional Portuguese meal of dried and salted cod with vegetables or cream) and a glass of Ginja (a traditional Portuguese liqueur from sour cherry), don’t miss Elevador da Glória (the Glória Funicular). It is another means of transport up and the down the hills in Lisbon, connecting again Baixa Pombalina to Bairro Alto.
Being in this hilly parish of Lisbon one should decide either to walk on foot or take an urban elevator or a tram funicular, or just to take a ride in the iconic Lisbon trams. I will open a bracket here. Trams are principally yellow but there is also a red and green one whose purpose is touristic. A postcard view is that of a Lisbon tram taking downhill in a tiny and picturesque street. When this postcard enlivens in front of your eyes, you do nothing else but take photo after photo of the tram until it disappears at the first hilly curve. Nice, a?! The bracket closed. After a short journey, we should get off the tram and wave a hand in the street in order to stop one of the buses that will bring us to a place that commemorates Vasco da Gama’s great feat and discovery. Click-click