Lisbon is a city of stories, its tales woven into the fabric of the city, its plot as twisted and as full of surprises as the walkway and alleys that snake their way up and down hills, and its cast of characters as colorful as the graffiti found scrawled across city walls and buildings. It is a seaside city, sorrounded by water, irrevocably shaped by it.
The Setting: The city of seven hills.
The Cast of Characters: A motley crew—it’s history is laden with Moors, Crusades, colonization, migration, and reverse migration. This seaside city is diverse in the way of all watery things: a swiftly moving body of languages and cultures swimming in with the tide.
The Backstory: We’ve got the Moors, we’ve got two sets of Crusades, we have feuding brothers, we have the longest lasting authoritarian regime in Western Europe, we’ve got military leaders that became Saints, we’ve got peaceful revolution. There are failed annexation attempts and successful annexation attempts. Napoleon drops by for a bit. A King disappears one foggy morning. There is passion and drama and legends, all tangeled between what was, what could have been, and what might have been.
My Lisbon Story:
My first introduction to Lisbon came shortly after my plane landed. I was attempting to find my Airbnb and learning firsthand what they meant when they describe Lisbon as the city of “seven hills.” I think I walked up and down every seven of those hills, hauling my suitcase behind me, before finding out I was going in circles. Luckily my host was able to send someone to find me and lead me down a street (one I had passed more than once because I thought it was an alley and not my turn) and into my charming rental.
I settled in and took the time to come up with a tentative plan for the day and charge my phone in preparation for snapping ALL THE THINGS during my visit.
The first day was really just a prequel. I wandered the city, making my way through some Lisbon recommendations sent to me by friends (thanks Dori!) , but with no set itinerary . I chatted with locals, stuffed myself with delicious food, and made the transition from business trip ( I had just wrapped one up the day before) to vacation.
It was relaxing, but I finished the day unsatisfied. I felt like I enjoyed the city, I could see it as a cool place to live, but I didn’t feel any closer to unlocking its secrets, to figuring out what made the city special. I wanted to shake the whole city and yell TELL ME EVERYHTING. I settled for going to bed early and trying again the next day.
The following morning began with an impromptu walking tour that would shape the rest of my stay in Portugal. It was there I met my on and off travel companions for the rest of my stay, got tips and places to add to my itinerary, and began collecting the story of Lisbon.
We departed from the Camões Monument ( Largo de Camões) and wound through history and the city, learning a little more with each step.
Saint Nuno, a military man and a holy man. He was instrumental in saving Portugal’s Independence, and after successfully helping place King John I on the throne, he donated the majority of the wealth he was offered to veterans and the church, before spending the rest of his life in a convent he helped build.
The earthquake of 1755—a disaster that would change the course of Lisbon’s history. On November 1st, All Saints Day, in a devoutly religious country, the combined effects of a hurricane, a tsunami, and fire, destroyed almost the entirety of a city, including several churches, but inflicted only minor damages to “Alfama,” what was at the time the home to the thieves, the prostitutes, and the morally suspect. The physical effects were obvious, but historians think this disaster striking one of Europe’s great cities, and one so devoutly religious, on such a holy day, caused a crisis of faith with many within Europe and helped usher in the age of Enlightenment. #Radical.
And of course more current tidbits –here graffiti is considered art and had been legalized, leading to a plethora of beautiful murals throughout the city…and of course the random wall tagging of the lesser talented.
After the tour, I felt like I was finally starting to get a little closer to the heart of the city. I grabbed dinner with new friends from the tour, climbed the hundreds of stairs to my rental, and grabbed a nap before checking out something a little bit more modern—the night life.
I did a bar crawl with another new friend from earlier ( quality only okay), but we ended up staying out until 4:30 am exploring the Barrio district.
Some of the bars were the size of a New York City living room, which made for quite the experience, but I had enough fun to stay out later than I planned and get a late start the next day to Sintra.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Intrigued enough to start planning your trip to Lisbon? Check out my tips here.