Elevador de Santa Justa – Santa Justa Elevator
We set out bright and early to explore more of Lisbon’s historical sites and monuments. Going to and from the tower and upper Santa Justa and Baixa streets, has long posed a challenge for pedestrians due to the steep and steady incline. As we walked to the end of Santa Justa street, we were met with the colossal sight of the Elevador de Santa Justa. This massive iron 45 m (7 stories high) structure, was built to facilitate access between the lower Baixa street and the Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square).
Plans for an easier means of access, were proposed in 1874 and promptly opposed by the city as were consecutive planning attempts. In 1882, engineer Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard succeeded in obtaining a permit to build an elevator. A contract for the actual construction work was signed much later, in 1900.
The elevator consists of a metal tower; an observation deck; a walkway and a base. It includes two Neo-Gothic elevator cabins with wood decor, and two spiral staircases that boast different designs at each story. Lisboans still use the elevator for access but meanwhile it has become a magnet for tourists, causing much congestion and frustration for the residents. It is nonetheless worth going up for the beautiful panoramic view of the city.
Castelo São Jorge – St. George’s Castle
High on the hill, overlooking Lisbon and the Tagus River, the castle, originally built by the Moors, was later expanded by the Portuguese, after King Alfonso reconquered the city. The castle became the King’s palace. Additional wall construction enclosed the grounds and castle forming a protected citadel; an ideal defense from enemy attacks. The gradient steps to the main entrance were raised to prevent the advance of battering rams and mounted troops. A partial mote, now dry, provided additional safeguards against unwanted entry.
Today the castle grounds reveal remnants of the wall structure. The present building houses a museum showcasing artefacts, various azulejos displays, and historic documents.
The castle square offers a magnificent view of Lisbon and surroundings, while the well kept grounds and multicoloured flora make for a pleasant distraction during the more arduous parts of the walk.
Artefacts are showcased throughout the grounds.
The castle is well-worth the visit; count on at least a couple of hours to take in all aspects of this citadel.
Arco da Rua Augusta, Rossio Square and Praça do Comércio
Back at the city centre, we walked down Augusta Street to Rossio Square through the triumphal arch, a feat of architectural and sculptural prowess. The capital (measuring more than 30m/100 Ft) supports the colossal statues of Glory(7m/23Ft high) , flanked by Genius and Valour. Below, on both sides of the cornice, smaller statues represent General Nuno Alvares Pereira; Secretary of State Sebastian José de Carvalho, Marquis of Pombal; explorer Vasco da Gama and Viriatus, a Lusitanian warrior who lead several victorious battles against Roman expansion in the region. Two reclining statues at each side of the capital represent the Tagus and Douro rivers, top off the grand design.
We walked across to Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square), which culminates at the bank of the Tagus River. It is easy to picture military parades and festive pageants taking place on this vast and imposing square. First and foremost, it was a gathering place for merchants trading their wares, and for financiers who looked to invest in new and exotic expeditions to far-flung and undiscovered regions.
We had ventured on Tram # 12, which travels on a circular path providing good impressions of the city’s landmarks. Unfortunately, and to the frustration of locals, it’s well-known among tourists. The lineups are therefore ridiculous, as are the consequent waiting times whenever a tram fills up. Once on board, and packed like sardines, you can well imagine how little one gets to see anything at all! I wouldn’t recommend the ride, unless you are fortunate enough to travel at a time where the streets are deserted and the tram slightly occupied! It is better to experience the city on foot.
We headed back to our hotel, again brimming with the sights and sounds of the day. Tomorrow we set out to the coast, where we shall spend a few days on the beach before travelling home.