05 November 2014
I wonder whether Portugal for most Irish people means the Algarve, perhaps vintage Port, or even, for a few, just Fatima, and how many have ever spent time in the Portuguese capital.
This is my first time in Portugal or in Lisbon, and I was surprised that the flight from Dublin was so short that I was able to begin exploring the city from early morning soon after I arrived on the first flight with Ryanair early yesterday.
Of course, the first introduction to Lisbon came when the flight took a wide turn over the beach at Caparica and crossed the River Tagus above the lengthy suspension bridge before descending above the rooftops of the city.
It was a short taxi journey to the Real Palacio Hotel near the Parque Eduardo VII on the northern side of the city. There, two of us quickly realised that the Yellow Bus was an efficient, hop-on-hop-off way of getting around the city for the first time.
We hopped on at Praça do Marquês de Pombal, and eventually hopped off at Praça da Figueira in the heart of the old town.
Sitting on a wet seat on an open-top bus after a rain storm is not a pleasant experience and I first needed to buy another pair of trousers before we could begin our exploration of the old city in Baixa Chado and Alfama.
We began our walking tour on the Rua Augusta, which is lined with restaurants, cafés, tourist shops and chain stores.
At the end of the street stands the Triumphal Arch commemorating the city’s recovery from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 1755. The arch opens out to Praça de Comércio with its equestrian statue of Dome José I.
Three sides of the square are lined with colonnaded arcades, while the fourth opens to the estuary the Tagus and is lapped by the waves. Even though it was November, and the day was interspersed with thunderstorms, this was a pleasant place to linger, and there was even a small sandy shoreline abutting the square, although the tide was high and I never got to walk on this miniscule beach before climbing up through the old town.
Towering above the narrow alleyways and steps of the old city, Lisbon’s Patriarchal cathedral, Sé Catedral, looks like a mighty fortress. It was built in the mid-12th century soon after Lisbon had been captured from the Moors in 1147.
The Gothic towers embracing the Rose Window are the first thing that strike the visitor, and inside the cathedral is warm and welcoming.
There are nine ambulatory chapels, including one with the curious tombs of Lopo Fernandes Pacehco, with his pet dog at his feet, and his wife Maria Villalobos, reading her book in bed, beneath a canopy.
In the Cloisters, archaeological digs have unearthed early Phoenician, Roman and Moorish remains.
Below the cathedral, the Igreja de Santo Antonio stands on the supposed place where Lisbon’s patron saint, Saint Anthony of Padua, was born in the late 12th century.
Below the cathedral ramparts, we had lunch in Esperança Sé, on the corner of Rua Sao Joao de Praça, before climbing further up through the narrow, steep alleys and lanes to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the castle that crowns the principal hill in Lisbon.
The castle is said to stand on the site of the first settlement in Lisbon, dating back to the 6th century BC. There are remains from the Roman and Moorish eras. After its capture by Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, this became the royal residence until 1511. The castle may have been named after Saint George because of the role played by English crusaders in the capture of Lisbon.
At the top of the outer fortifications, we strolled along the Esplanade, with a glass of fine Portuguese wine from an enterprising barrow called “Wine with a View.”
The sun was beginning to set behind the bridge over the River Tagus, and we had splendid views across the city from the battlements.
By the time we started to climb back down to the city centre, darkness was beginning to fall. It was dark when we got back to hotel.