LISBON, Portugal — If London and Paris are the Grand Dames of Europe, then Lisbon, Portugal is the unruly, prettier stepsister who deserves all of the attention. Similar to Dorothy’s Oz, with its pale yellowish cobblestone streets, the “city of the seven hills” is a winding stretch of neighborhoods that have as much character as a NYC stalwart, to ‘Miradouras,’ or overlooks, where visitors can survey the delights of seven seas below.
In Lisbon, bathed in the sensational sunshine and refreshed by the Atlantic breezes, your appetite jumps to life and all of the beauty in the architecture and culture is magnified.
Lisbon is contained within just 10 square miles, and is navigable by foot or public transportation “" a sleek modern tunnel metro system. The most common transport, however, is the tram. With the yellow tram and steep hills, west coast mentality, and sea-conomic industries,‚ Lisbon evokes‚ modern day San Francisco. The city has a beach mecca that rivals southern California, and is a surfer’s paradise.
For flea market lovers, street fairs are aplenty. The overflow of historical sites, like the Castelo Sao George “" a reminder of the fortress-on-the-hill era “" as well as modern government houses, decadent churches, and monasteries, provide entertainment for‚ the history buff, the art buff, and the explorer in all of us.
Lisbon is over 3,200 years old, and has been plundered by the Romans, the Moors, the Celts, Germanic Tribes, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Crusades, and other significant historical players. Their influences abound today, as Lisbon naturally combines her history with her future. Navigation, both of her people, and those seeking to own their own little piece of Iberia, has always been a driving force in her veins, and has shaped every cultural facet, most notably‚ food, architecture, the art, and the music.
Bohemian ideals ring throughout the city, and there is a heavy influence from the reign of navigation that has held the city throughout its birth and growth, both domestically and to the outer reaches of the world, and the multi-cultural lusting over her wealth and prime location.
Portugal is a country that isn’t afraid to reinvent itself, and the Portuguese people are capable at adapting, changing and living the experience to its fullest. They are a people to make their mark on history. This is evident throughout Portuguese life, as they have overcome many foreign interruptions. There has been no more remarkable example than the Carnation Revolution, on April 25, 1974, in which no bullet was fired and the government was successfully overthrown by the military, seeking rule in the name of the people.
Lisbon is one big art gallery, with the architecture on display reflecting a vast array of European influences. It echoes every other major European city-center. However, along the Tagus River in Expo Park, the newest area of Lisbon, which was built for the 1998 World’s Fair and splits southern Lisbon from the north, the architecture boasts exquisitely the navigational roots of Lisbon, in quick geometrical lines that sweep like sails into the wind and sky. Home to the world’s second largest aquarium, the Oceanarium, Expo Park is like a whimsical drift into a sailor’s modern-day Neverland.
One of the bridges spanning the Tagus River is named after the peaceful revolt of the Carnation Revolution; the 25 de Abril Bridge, symbolizing the bridge to civility and strength to span the world for years to come. It, of course, is red. There is another resplendent bridge in Lisbon, the Vasco de Gama, which overtook the 25 de Abril Bridge as the longest in Europe. It was an event that welcomed the world to adventure into Portugal and see, in it, their history.
Art is the heartbeat of Lisbon, with the city giving birth to poets, writers, and musicians alike, one of whom is a Portuguese icon of culture and faith, Amalia Rodrigues. Rodrigues brought Fado, a traditional, emotionally-charged style of song, to the world. Fado showcases the lament for what was, the pain in being separated from home or loved ones in a way only a nation of sailors’ families could manifest.
The art culture in Lisbon is a perfect blend of its traditional roots, and its journey through the centuries, living and embracing all aesthetics. There is a museum for every imagination, reflecting the interaction art has on daily life in Lisbon. In this wisdom is a relaxed metropolitan attitude, where all things exist as an exhibition. There is an eclectic mix amongst this variety, with a Museum of Pharmacy, a Museum of Costume and Fashion, a Museum of Coaches (which houses the largest collection of Royal Coaches), and cultural gems like the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of the Portuguese Tile-Mosaics. The tile art is an icon of Portuguese architecture, and spans the walls of the city’s buildings like ivy climbing to the sun. The motifs are often botanical or geometrical in nature.
The majority of Portuguese food comes from the waters that surround the way of life in Lisbon.‚ Fresh fish and shellfish are prepared in many different ways; the cuisine at one restaurant reflects that family’s history, and will not be the same from kitchen to kitchen, family to family. Their food is their legacy. It is the tale of the sailors, farmers and laborers who came before them and what their experience of the culture-blended world around them was, but always maintain a very strong Portuguese identity. It, like everything else, is an art.
The late night of the mythical swashbuckling sailor on shore-leave, drinking in the streets, singing, mingling with the people, the food, and the culture, does in fact exist in Lisbon. The weather is conducive to mild nights, and most of the bars are so small that the clientele tend to overflow onto the streets and alleyways, beneath apartments and commercial spaces. The community feeling of knowing everyone and being free to speak openly, of art and politics, remains. In Portugal, English is a prominent language, so meeting new people and making new friends is an easy task, especially in this pub-crawl environment. There is an eminent joy in the people of Portugal that comes from a keen understanding of their historical value, and cultural identity.
The Portuguese footprint can be found throughout the world today, but its charms are often overlooked. A trip to Lisbon awakens the senses and the visitor leaves with a renewed outlook on life.