While settling into our hotel room, we soon realised that this wouldn’t be a peaceful stay. We opened the window and were assaulted by the intrusive sound of the trains crossing the River Tejo (Tagus River) into the city.
The Vila Galé Opera, while offering all comforts of a 4-star hotel, was our worst accommodation. The owners must have enjoyed a fire sale on the property lot, and not given heed to the incessant overhead rumbling noise of metal on metal. On the other hand, if sleeping with closed windows doesn’t bother one, then the fracas, tempered by well-insulated windows, may go unnoticed. A redeeming factor was the 20 minute walk to where restaurants, cafés and bars vied for attention.
Ponte Vinte e Cinco d’Abril – 25th of April Suspension Bridge
Named in memory of the Carnation Revolution of April 25. 1974, when the country was freed from Salazar’s authoritarian Estado Novo (New State) government. Aside all previous rebellions and revolutions, Portugal witnessed three revolutions during the 20th. Century alone.
This impressive structure reminds one of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. With good reason since it was built by the same construction company. The bridge connects the borough of Almada on the south to the northern edge of Lisbon, and took four years to complete.
Cristo Rei – Christ the King
As we crossed the bridge to visit Lisbon’s Belém (Bethlehem) district, we noticed the statue of Christ the King, high on the Almada hill overlooking Lisbon and surrounding areas. The Portuguese Episcopate commissioned the work as an act of gratitude to God for sparing Portugal from being caught in World War II. Modelled after Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Cristo Rei is not quite as tall at its 28 m (92 Ft) height. The statue rests on a 82 m (270 Ft) high base. An observation deck, libraries and other facilities are housed in the adjacent Visitor’s Centre.
Lisboa – Lisbon
We took a sightseeing bus to get a general feel of the city and to narrow down the areas we could visit during our brief 2-days stay. Come along and take the ride with us:
Legend has it that when Odysseus returned from Troy he founded Lisbon; at least according to the claims of 1st. Century Roman authors. The initial battlements of Lisbon’s castle date from the 2nd. Century BC although the most recent archeological discoveries indicate that the area had been inhabited during the Iron Age (from the 8th. to 6th. centuries BC).
To withstand the many raids, the Romans fortified the castle by building a wall. After the Roman Empire broke apart, Lisbon was occupied by a host of foreign invaders. Ancient Lisbon was then known as Ulishbona.
In the summer of 711, North African Muslim armies (Berber and Arab tribes) took control of the city, and rebuilt the wall. Although Islam was the official religion introduced by the Moors, the authorities allowed the various ethnic groups to maintain their culture and traditions. The Christian’s lingua franca was Mozarabic, a Romance dialect, whereas Arab was the common language for the religious collective.
Portugal experienced its Golden Age of explorations during the 15 th, to 17th. Centuries. The Portuguese were prominent explorers of their times and brought enormeous wealth to Lisbon. Vasco da Gama, Count of Vidigueira(approx.1460-15240) was the first European to embark on a sailing expedition to India (1497) prior reached only by land. Now that da Gama had braved the Atlantic and Indian oceans connecting Europe to the Orient, he paved the way for future seafaring explorers and with it, the dawn of Imperialism. A formidable explorer, Vasco da Gama had nonetheless quite a dark and cruel side; I’ll spare you the details of the atrocities he perpetrated during his voyages.
Of note is that during World War II, Portugal was one of the few countries who remained neutral. Thanks to its non-involvement, Lisbon’s port became the ideal escape route for those fleeing to the United States. 100,000 Jews had fled to Spain, who took a limited number of refugees and sent the majority to Lisbon where they awaited passage to the United States.
Torre de Belém – Belém (Bethlehem) Tower
In former times, this 16th. Century Tower stood proudly guard at the mouth of the Tejo River, welcoming its sailors home. Now, this Manueline structure, built in the river, has become Lisbon’s icon and a delight to many tourists. King Manuel I commissioned the building of Belém Tower in order to protect the city. It was designated a UNESCO Cultural Heritage in 1983.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos – Monument of the Discoveries,
commands the banks of the Tejo River with its impressive 52 m (170 Ft). Built of wood for the 1940 World Fair, the monument underwent a concrete metamorphosis in 1960.
Padrao dos Descobrimentos is situated where Belem’s old harbour used to be, and where many of the naval expeditions cast anchor. Unique to this monument is its shape; the prow of a ship when seen from the banks of the river, and it resembles a cross when seen from the Jerome Monastery on the opposite side.
Courtesy: By Walrasiad – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14778467
Courtesy: By Walrasiad – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14778490
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos – Hyeronimite Monastery
In 1496, King Manuel I sent a dispatch to Rome requesting papal permission to build a monastery. Construction commenced in 1501 and took close to a century to complete. It was built on the site of a former mosque. Its initial modest construct made way for an elaborate and extravagant building, thanks to the funds that flowed from the 5% levy Portugal imposed on spices from Africa and the Orient. The architects must have had a heyday being able to create lavish plans to their hearts content. The influx of wealth eliminated any financial constraints.
The Manueline-style monastery was built to immortalize the Infante Don Henrique; King Manuel I’s profound devotion to Our Lady of Belém and his faith in St. Jerome. The monastery was therefore donated to the Hieronymite monks, hence its appellation Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Over time, sections of the monastery became a royal pantheon and a resting place for nobility of note, along with heroic explorers and poets.
Vasco da Gama purportedly overnighted at the monastery on the eve of his first expedition to India. He was laid to rest at the monastery when his remains were transported back from India on his last expedition.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimo was secularised in 1883. The monks were forced to leave the premises that had been occupied by the order for close to four centuries. The monastery was turned into a school until 1940. In 1983 it was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of note is that the monastery survived the devastating 1755 earthquake.
Our heads filled with the day’s awe-inspiring impressions, we returned to Almada for a much needed rest in preparation for the next day’s adventures.
(An interesting overview of Portugal’s history: Wilde, Robert. “Key Events in Portuguese History.” ThoughtCo, Oct. 19, 2018, thoughtco.com/events-in-portuguese-history-1221724.)