Lisbon was once a center for travelers and explorers. Very few cities rivalled Lisbon during the Age of Discovery for explorers. Portugal was a key contributor in exploration during this period by providing explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Christopher Columbus (Italian born but lived in Portugal). The term discovery is in regards to the western world, Europe at that time, discovering the rest of the world that already had been populated. It’s only natural for a modern-day explorer to visit Lisbon. Being a part-time explorer, I made it my first stop on my European Expedition.
The trip didn’t start well as the transfer company didn’t inform their airport representative that I was arriving and I had to wait over an hour for them to sort this out before I was finally picked up by my driver. I arrived in the morning and I was checked in and in my hotel room by noon. I wanted to maximize my short three-day visit so by 2:30 I was quickly on my way touring the area. My accommodations were near Marques of Pombal Square which is the center of the downtown area. I picked this hotel due to its vicinity to the square and Eduardo VII Park which is also the origin to most of the tours. Lisbon is a great mixture of a modern city and old historical charm. You can easily move around the city by the subway but it seems the locals still prefer to drive their personal vehicle and face traffic jams like most large modern cities. Like most modern cities in Europe, pick-pockets are a problem but other than that I had no fears as I wandered the city and Portugal.
Eduardo VII Park, biggest park in central Lisbon, named after Britain’s King Edward II who visited the city in 1903 to strengthen Anglo-Portuguese relations. The park is dominated by a maze-patterned garden that has become one of the iconic symbols of the city. Walk on the grass or the mosaic patterned walkways that stretch uphill to a beautiful panoramic view of downtown.
Marques of Pombal Square is situated in front of Eduardo VII Park in an important roundabout in the city of Lisbon. The square is the radiating point of various large avenues. Named after Marques of Pombal, a general who rebuilt the city after the disastrous 1755 earthquake, after most of the leaders had left the city. The devastating earthquake destroyed 75% of the city. A large column with a statue of the Marques and a lion, symbol of power, sits on the top of the monument.
Monument to the Restorers (Monumento dos Restauradores) is a monument that memorializes the victory of the Portuguese Restoration War which saw the end of the House of Habsburg and the rise of the House of Braganza. It lasted from 1640 to 1668. An obelisk monument sits in the center of the square which I consider the most central part of downtown.
The Belem area
The Tower of Belem on the Tagus River, built in 1515-21 as a fortress and originally site was in the middle of the river. The watercourse has shifted over time and the tower is now on the bank of the river. It once guarded against intruders from sailing into the river and threaten the interior of Portugal. The decorative architecture is so valued it is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Jeronimos Monastery was built in honor of Vasco da Gama’s epic 1498 voyage to India. It was built to symbolize the wealth of the Age of Discovery and a house of worship. It was mostly funded by trade in the spices brought back by da Gama. Vasco da Gama’s tomb lies just inside the entrance to Santa Maria church.
Monument to the Discoveries is an enormous monolith over the Tagus River and resembles the prow of a caravel, the type of ship commanded by the Portuguese in the 15th century used to explore the oceans and discover new land. It was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. It also pays tribute to all those who were actively involved in the development of the golden Age of Discovery by way of statues set along both sides of the monument.
The downtown area is relatively small and if you are an active person, like myself, you can walk from Pombal Square to the waterfront in about 45 minutes. I do recommend staying in the area of the Monument to the Restorers area. It’s a more central area which is minutes away from the Alfama area and the Pombal Square and filled with multiple restaurants .