The remarkable city of Lisbon, lies on the western edge of the European continent, in the Estremadura region on the coast of Portugal. Built on seven hills above a stunning bay, Lisbon overlooks the gorgeous natural harbor where the Tagus River makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal’s capital and largest city, Lisbon serves as the country’s main port and center of commerce and political affairs.
Lisbon’s fascinating history dates back thousands of years. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Celts arrived as early as the first millennium BC. Over the next several centuries, it was occupied by a succession of invaders, including the Phoenicians, Romans, and Visigoths. The Moors conquered Lisbon in 711 AD, and remained in possession until 1147, when Alfonso, First King of Portugal, conquered it. During the Middle Ages, Lisbon grew significantly and by the beginning of the 16th century had become a prominent trading hub. This era also saw the birth of the Age of Exploration, with most of Portugal’s expeditions, including that of Vasco da Gama, setting out from Lisbon’s harbor. Disaster struck in 1755, when a devastating earthquake, followed by a tsunami and fire, destroyed 85% of the city and left an estimated 60,000 dead. The city was reconstructed fairly quickly, with contemporary street layouts, squares and buildings replacing many of the medieval neighborhoods that had been leveled. The 19th and 20th centuries saw political upheaval, with an invasion by Napoleon’s troops, military coups, and turmoil. In spite of periods of instability, Lisbon continued to expand and flourish. A cultural phenomenon in Lisbon is fado, meaning destiny or fate. It is a beautiful style of music that is melancholy and poignant. A guitar traditionally accompanies a fado singer. Lisbon features many fado houses - clubs that specialize in fado. An eclectic mixture of ancient and modern, Lisbon has a wealth of delightful sights and attractions. The city is divided into several districts, or bairros, each with its own distinctive character. Alfama, situated near the river, is one of the few areas spared from major earthquake damage. Its enchanting maze of narrow streets, ancient houses and shops is a delight to explore. Located here are the inspiring Lisbon Cathedral, the city’s oldest church, and the Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George’s Castle), which affords striking views from atop the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills. Bairro Alto, another picturesque older neighborhood, is the colorful center of Lisbon’s youth and nightlife scene. It features an excellent selection of restaurants and bars, and dozens of clubs offering every type of music from punk to reggae. Bairro Alto and Alfama are known for their many fado houses. Chiado’s modern streets are lined with stylish shops featuring designer names, upscale restaurants, theatres, bookshops and cafes. Chiado is one of Lisbon’s most elegant shopping districts. The Belem district is home to the iconic Belem Tower, built in the early 16th century as a fortress to guard the entrance to the harbor. The Tower is a splendid example of the Portuguese late Gothic Manueline architectural style. Nearby is the magnificent Jeronimos Monastery. Belem’s many other attractions include the outstanding Berardo Museum of Modern Art, Archaeology Museum, Coaches Museum, Ajuda Palace and Maritime Museum. Uptown is a modern area with shopping malls, and also some of the city’s best museums. The Gulbenkian Museum (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian) has a collection of Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Asian antiquities, as well as masterpieces by Western artists, and other treasures. Right across the park is the superb Modern Art Museum. The 1998 World’s Fair, Expo 98, was hosted by Lisbon and received 11 million visitors. The former site of the Exposition is now known as Parque das Nacoes (Nations’ Park), one of the prime tourist attractions of the city. It features a shopping mall, arena, hands-on science museum, the Oceanarium, hotels, and gardens. With its intriguing history, captivating attractions, stunning views and high-energy nightlife, Lisbon truly has something for everyone.