Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lisbon









The capital of Portugal sits at the point where the River Tagus feeds into the Atlantic, just about as far west as you can go without getting your feet wet. Being built on seven hills, it has plenty of vantage points from which to contemplate the distant horizons that called the Portuguese explorers in the country’s golden age during the 16th century, when it was the hub of commerce with the far east and gold poured into Lisbon’s coffers from the new west. Devastating earthquakes and loss of empire left the city a little threadbare, but 21st-century commerce took a hand, sprucing the place up for Euro 2004. Portugal may have been the runners-up, but Lisbon emerged a winner.

The grid-like Baixa, or downtown, was laid out after the devastating 1755 earthquake, and is a candidate for being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is flanked by two squares: the riverside Praça do Comércio, framed by arcades and dominated by a triumphal arch and, at the northern end, Praça Dom Perdo IV (Rossio). The Elevador de Santa Justa, an outdoor cast-iron lift that first opened in 1901, offers a panoramic view of the streets in between.

The Alfama district east of Baixa, where black-clad widows potter in tiny squares, retains the layout and atmosphere of Moorish times. The Romanesque cathedral, or Sé , was founded on the site of a mosque, after the 1147 Christian Reconquest. Further uphill there are fine views from the Castelo de São Jorge. The castle was built by the Moors on the site of a Roman fort, but what you see today is almost all 20th-century mock-up. West of Baixa, the shops and cafés of Chiado district give way to the more raffish Bairro Alto, a nightlife haven.

The city’s main axis is Avenida da Liberdade. Lined with cafés and fashion chains, it leads from Rossio to the formal Parque Eduardo VII. Beyond that is the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian , with fine Western and Oriental art.

Tourists also flock to Belém, a half-hour tram ride west. The 15th-century explorers sailed from here into what was then still very much the unknown, as the Monument to the Discoveries reminds you. The Tower of Belém and Jerónimos monastery showcase the exuberant Manueline (late Gothic) style of the time. Nearby, the delicious custard tarts at Antiga Confeitaria are almost as big a draw for visitors.

Lisbon’s eastern waterfront was of little touristic interest until 1998. Staged on reclaimed industrial wasteland, Expo 98 gave Lisbon its biggest facelift in two centuries and a slew of new attractions. Now renamed Parque das Nações , the site has an Oceanarium ; the Pavilhão do Conhecimento , with science exhibits; and – the district’s architectural highlight – Alvaro Siza Vieira’s Portugal pavilion, with its remarkable concrete canopy.

REGIONAL GASTRONOMY

This region is a fish heaven where you can find fresh bass and cockle, and the mussels from Ericeira and Cabo do Roca; the red mullets, clams and oysters from Setúbal; the swordfish from Sesimbra and the crustaceans from Cascais.
Other specialities typical of this area include the goat and sheep cheeses from Sobral de Monte Agraço and from Azeitão, the pastries from Malveira and the "pão de ló" from Loures, the nuts and egg dainties from Cascais, the "zimbros" (gin cakes) from Sesimbra, the "queijadas" (little cheese cakes) from
Sintra; the wines from Colares, Bucelas, Setúbal, Carcavelos and the famous "muscatel" wine from Setúbal. In Lisbon itself, you can try all the specialities of Portuguese cuisine. In this city, you will mainly find typical country dishes like grilled sardines, clams "à Bulhão Pato" style, fish soups "à fragateira" style ... and varied and tasty dishes cooked with codfish. Apart from all the desserts available to you, do not forget to try the local Belém custard pies.

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