THE CITY ON SEVEN HILLS, Gönül Midesiz | 26.10.2014

After Athens, Lisbon is the oldest capital city in Europe. On the spur of the moment, in the middle of November, we decided to visit Lisbon, the city which was established on seven hills just like Rome and Istanbul. Its similarities with Istanbul don’t end with hills. Like Istanbul, it's by the sea, a river runs through it, and it has two suspension bridges (Vasco da Gama and 25 de April Bridges). Though it's kind of spit and sawdust, the grandiose historical buildings on every corner still reminds you that you're in the capital city of an empire. In Lisbon the historical texture was very well preserved. 

Before we even arrived at our hotel, we had to say hello to Lisbon by buying a paper cone full of chestnuts roasted in ashes. Our arrival had coincided with the chestnut festival! We checked in to our hotel, which was a five floored old building in the city center, Rua Augusta, and went out for a stroll.

Rua Augusta is a pedestrian zone and the most popular shopping area of Lisbon. The cobble-stoned street hosting cafes, shops and street artists, was decorated for Christmas. Walking along the street we saw a magnificent gate: the Arco da Rua Augusta. With the statue of Marquise de Pombal on one side and the famous explorer Vasco da Gama on the other, the arch was built to commemorate the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. Passing through the arch we reached Praça do Comércio, the Commerce Square. The square, situated by the seaside, was very lively. We took a few photos and went back to Rua Augusta.

As we were strolling around the Augusta Street we saw a very fancy tower. When we went closer to check it out, we realized that it was an elevator. Elevador de Santa Justa connects the upper streets of Baixa District with the lower streets of Bairro Alto. Lisbon has lots of slopes, so the lift was originally constructed to make transportation easier, but now it is more of a tourist attraction. It was a great pleasure to watch the panoramic view of the city from the top.

After taking the lift up to Bairro Alto, and wandering through the narrow streets we reached a small square with lots of cafes. We took a short coffee break at one of the cafes and listened to a little, impromptu concert performed by youngsters who had gathered around the statue in the middle of the square. If you keep on walking up to the slope you'll see the antique shops, historical houses and little boutiques. We strolled around a little bit and then headed down the slope to Rossio Square.

Praça de D. Pedro IV, Rossio Square  has been one of the main squares of the city since the Middle Ages. The square, with fountains on both sides, has always been a spot for celebrations, rallies and demonstrations. In the middle of the square, on the column, there is a bronze statue of Pedro IV, the King of Portugal.

We continued on to Figueira Square, which is separated from Rossio by a group of buildings. There is a bronze equestrian statue representing King John I. When we looked up from the square, we saw the Sao Jorge Castle at the top of the hill. Planning to return to this district in the evening, we made our way back to Commerce Square. We would visit the castle later.

If you go to the right of the square, surrounded by government buildings, you'll reach Alfama district, if you go to the left, the Belem District. (I mean if the bay is behind you) In Lisbon, the yellow tram will get you just about anywhere, but we thought it was more fun to go on foot, get lost and discover new places.

We chose Alfama and walked along the bay. We took the first slope and started climbing up the narrow streets of Alfama. Most of the houses are old and their facades covered with ceramics. There are lots of buildings covered with ceramics in different colors and patterns, graffiti is drawn on the walls of the buildings, and wet laundry is hung out to dry from windows or across streets. Because the buildings are old and they didn't have balconies, to dry the laundry they created a system were they tie ropes or wires between the buildings. We took a coffee break at one of the cafes in the narrow streets, and then proceeded to a church we had seen as we were walking.

The construction of the Sé de Lisboa, the Lisbon Cathedral, started in 1147 and they have added a few new parts since then. It is the oldest church in the city and has a mixture of Gothic, Baroque and Roman styles. When it started getting dark, we went back to Commerce Square and continued our way, this time on the side of Belem. There are lots of restaurants on the bay. On this, our first night, we chose to eat at a Brazilian restaurant. After dinner we went back to the sparkling Rossio Square and spent the evening people watching.

The following day, our first destination was Campo Pequeno, the former bullring and the new concert and show area. We got off the subway at the Campo Pequeno stop. Designed in the horseshoe shape, in orange, The Campo Pequeno, still holds bullfights, but generally it is used for concerts and shows. We were really disappointed to find it closed and so we could only take photos from the outside.

Our stop after that was a public park, which was on our list of places to see:  Parque Eduardo VII. The name comes from the King of Britain who visited the city in 1902 to improve relations between the two countries. Lisbon Book Fair is held there annually. The park, occupying an area of 26 hectares, has the Tagus River to the back and Avenida de Bilerdade to the front.

We passed through the park to the Marquis of Pombal Square. Marquis de Pombal lived between 1699 and 1782, and was a politician whose position would be defined as prime minister today. After the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, he revived the Portuguese economy, made a lot of reforms, and today is seen as a national hero by the Portuguese. 

Avenida da Liberdade, Liberty Avenue, combining Marquis of Pombal Square and the Restauradores Square, is one of the most important avenues of Lisbon, and is 90 meter wide and 1100 meter long. After having a wander around the avenue and squares we headed for our next destinations: the Belem Tower, the Monument to the Discoveries, Jeronimos Monastery and, of course, the famous Casa de Pasteis de Belem.

As you are walking to Belem Tower, you'll come across a statue of a plane. This is a monument dedicated to the memory of the two Portuguese pilots who made the first flight from Lisbon to Rio De Janerio in 1922.

“Torre de Belem” (Belem Tower), along with the nearby Jeronimos Monastery, is listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. It was built in the 15th century as a part of a defense system and was also used to the watch the departing explorers. It has a very beautiful architectural design and still has canons.

After climbing the stairs to the top of the tower, you will be met by a magnificent view of the 25 de Abril Bridge. Ponte 25 de Abril which is on the Tagus River was built in 1966 by the same company that built the San Francisco Bridge. Up untill 1974 it was named the Salazar Bridge; the name was changed to ‘25 de Abril’ to commemorate the Carnation Revolution. A lot of people compare the orange colored bridge with the Golden Gate Bridge. After enjoying the scenery on the top of the tower and taking lots of photos we went on to the Monument to Discoveries.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos, has figures of Portuguese explorers, like Vasco da Gama, Macellan who departed with the encouragement of the Infante Henry the navigator, and the nobles who supported them in the 15th and the 16th century. It was created to celebrate the Portuguese Age of Discovery and is located along the river where ships departed to explore, and trade with India and the Orient.

Along with Belem Tower, which is located opposite it, the Jeronimos Monastery, Mosteiro Dos Jerónimos, is one of the symbols of Lisbon. The construction started just after the return of Vasco da Game, during the Age of Miracles, in 1501 and ended 70 years later, the project was funded by King Manuel. The money was obtained from the 5% tax placed on commerce from Africa and the Orient, equivalent to 70 kilograms (150 lb) of gold per year, with the exception of pepper, cinnamon and cloves. You can tour the inner court of the two storied monastery and there is also a fountain, but entering the chambers is not allowed. 

After that, we went to Santa Maria de Belem Church, designed in Manuelin style. Richly embellished the church has sailor figures carved on limestone, and different statues besides the graves of Vasco da Gama and King Manuel I. 

Then to eat the famous tarts of Belem, we walked to the Casa de Pasteis de Belem, established in 1837. After waiting in the queue for some time, we succeed in getting inside. Although it seems small from outside, it’s actually very spacious and composed of many chambers. After checking out the interior for a while, it was time to order Pasteis de Belem; we ordered five tarts with coffee. They were delicious with hot coffee and absolutely worth the wait in line. I recommend you order 3 tarts per person!

After eating the tarts we took a small tour through the labyrinth like patisserie. The original recipe of these desserts is a secret, only three people know it. In Lisbon, you can find versions with the name of Pastel de Nata at lots of patisseries, but the taste is not the same.

To listen to some Fado and have a dinner, we went back to Barrio Alto, but unfortunately we couldn't find anywhere holding a Fado concert, so we ate at a seafood restaurant. Lisbon is the home of seafood lovers. It was very cheap and there were lots of options. FIY, in Lisbon they charge for couvert (olives or olive oil and crackers.) If you don't want them, be sure to tell the waiter when he comes to wait on your table.

Since our flight was in the afternoon, on our last day we went to the Castle of San Jorge.  The castle which is on the highest hill of the town was built by the Moors and was concurred by the Portuguese in the 12th century. We went up to the mirador, the turret affording an extensive view, and enjoyed the scenery of the historical city center, the Tagus River and Lisbon. Later we took a walk, looked at the garden with peacocks, left from the back door of the castle and proceeded to the narrow streets of Alfama. There were still lots of places to see but our time was limited. We said goodbye to Lisbon with hopes of seeing it again.

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Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal