Portugal Things to Do Tips by traveldave
Portugal Things to Do: 748 reviews and 1,169 photos
A pleasant way to experience the Lisbon of old is to wander on foot in the Alfama, the oldest surviving section of Lisbon. When the city was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, the Alfama survived, thanks to the solid bedrock of the hills on which it is located.
The Alfama is characterized by narrow streets, winding alleyways, tiny squares, small churches, and whitewashed houses with wrought-iron balconies and red tile roofs. Many of the older inhabitants have lived here all of their lives, giving the area a strong sense of community. There are many traditional grocers, workshops, and other businesses which also contribute to the district's sense of community.
Recently, wealthy people have been moving into the Alfama and restoring their homes. This has resulted in an increase in the cost of living, and will probably mark the end of the traditional life that has characterized the area. In addition, many immigrants from Mozambique and Cape Verde have moved into the Alfama, and their restaurants and night spots feature African food and music.
The Alfama was first settled by the Romans. The Visigoths lived in the area after the Romans were expelled, and it was a Jewish quarter in the fifteenth century. It was the Moors, however, who laid out the street system. They made their streets narrow as a defensive measure, and to keep their houses cool in the summer. (Alfama is a corruption of al-Hamma, Arabic for "springs" or baths", and refers to hot springs found in the area). The Alfama's current architecture and atmosphere is purely Portuguese, and comes from the twelfth century.
Visitors should wander the narrow streets to experience the atmosphere of the Alfama. And they can admire the spectacular views from miradouros, or scenic overlooks, established throughout the district.
The Lisbon Cathedral, commonly called the Sé, is the oldest church in Lisbon, and is the church of the Roman Catholic Archdioces of Lisbon.
In 1147, the Moors were expelled from Lisbon by King Alfonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal. In that same year, he demolished the city's main Moorish mosque and ordered that a cathedral be built on the site.
Construction started in 1147 and was completed sometime in the early 1200s. Although originally designed in the Romanesque style of architecture, the cathedral was modified several times over the centuries and repaired after earthquakes, so it now has a mixture of architectural styles.
The Lisbon Cathedral has a fortress-like façade because it would be more than a century before the Moors were finally banished from the country, and they still represented a threat to Lisbon when it was built.
In the thirteenth century, King Dinis I of Portugal added a Gothic cloister to the cathedral, and his successor, King Alfonso IV, had the main chapel converted into a Gothic royal pantheon for him and his family.
Earthquakes caused major damage to the cathedral in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The worst one occured in 1755, however, and destroyed the main chapel and royal pantheon. It was partially rebuilt after the earthquake, but was not finished until the early twentieth century.
The Lisbon Cathedral contains a font where it is believed Saint Anthony of Padua was baptized.
Directions: The Lisbon Cathedral is located on Largo da Sé, in Lisbon's Alfama district.
Formerly called the Royal Palace, the National Palace of Sintra is one of the best-preserved royal palaces in Portugal. Its unique cone-shaped chimneys have come to symbolize Sintra, and can be seen on everything from T-shirts to azulejo tiles.
The palace was built on a site originally occupied by the residence of the Moorish rulers of the region. After King Alfonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, expelled the Moors in the twelfth century, he used the Moorish building as his residence.
Eventually all the Moorish buildings in Sintra were demolished. Much of today's palace was constructed during a building program initiated by King João in 1415. The parts of the building that surround the central courtyard date from this period, as do the Sala dos Árabes, a room with a marble fountain and fifteenth-century Moorish tiles; the Sala dos Cisnes, an enormous reception hall with swans painted on the ceiling; and the Sala das Pegas with magpies painted on the ceiling.
A second major building program ordered by King Manuel I occured between 1497 and 1530, and determined the final structure and decorations that can be seen in today's building. The decorative flourishes added at that time were in the Manueline style of architecture. In addition, the Manuel Wing and the the Sala dos Brasões, whose ceiling panels were painted in 1515 and show the coats of arms of 71 Portuguese noble families, were added to the palace.
Between the early fifteenth and late nineteenth centuries, the National Palace of Sintra was used by the Portuguese royal families as their summer retreat. The palace is now a museum open to the public, and a tour through the palace offers an interesting insight into the lifestyle of the former Portuguese monarchs.
Directions: The National Palace of Sintra is located on Largo Rainha Dona Amélia, in the center of Sintra.
The village of Sintra is located in the Sintra Mountains 17 miles (28 kilometers) from Lisbon. It is near the Atlantic coast, where warm southerly winds clash with moist westerlies, causing a microclimate which is cooler and wetter than in the surrounding countryside. Its pleasant climate made it a favorite summer retreat for Portugal's royal family and nobility.
The Moors were the first to settle in the Sintra area in the eighth and ninth centuries. They built a castle and defensive walls, now called the Castle of the Moors, on a hillside overlooking the site of the future town. The town of Sintra itself was probably first settled in the eleventh century.
After the reconquest in the twelfth century, Portuguese kings and aristocrats built palaces, villas, and churches in and around the town. It is these buildings that make Sintra a popular destination for day trips out of Lisbon. Tourists come to see the National Palace of Sintra, the Pena National Palace, the Montserrate Palace, the Seteais Palace, the Regaleira Palace and Gardens, the Castle of the Moors, and Sintra-Cascais National Park.
This collection of historic buildings led UNESCO to name Sintra a World Heritage Site in 1995.
The Jerónimos Monastery is a monument dedicated to Vasco da Gama's discovery of a trade route to India in 1498 and his safe return to Portugal. It was constructed mainly in the Manueline style of architecture, and is the best example of that style of architecture in Portugal.
The monastery was built on the site formerly occupied by a hermitage constructed by Henry the Navigator in about 1450. Construction of the present building was ordered by King Manuel I, and lasted from 1502 to 1580. The project was funded by a five-percent tax levied on all precious stones and spices flowing into the country from Africa and the East Indies.
Although the initial architect, Diogo de Boitaca, designed the building in the Manueline style, subsequent architects employed over the decades of construction built parts of the monastery with themes in the Plateresco, Renaissance, and Classical styles. Interior decorations were done with sea motifs, such as columns carved with coils of ropes, sea monsters, and corals.
After completion, the monastery was occupied monks of the Order of Saint Jerome, who were responsible for praying for the safety of Portuguese explorers and mariners while on their voyages of discovery. During this time, tombs of famous Portuguese figures were placed in the building, including that of Vasco da Gama, the kings Manuel I and Sebastião, and the poets Luís de Camões, Fernando Pessoa, and Alexandre Herculano.
In 1893, the Jerónimos Monastery was converted into a museum which contains the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Maritime Museum, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium.
Along with the nearby Belém Tower, the Jerónimos Monastery has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Directions: The Jerónimos Monastery is located on the Praça do Império, just off Avenida da India.
The Belém Tower sits on the banks of the Tagus River, and marks the spot from which Vasco da Gama and other explorers set off on their voyages of discovery. The tower commemorates the expedition of Vasco da Gama, and was dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of Lisbon.
The tower was commissioned by King João II to complement a defensive system at the mouth of the Tagus River that included fortresses at Cascais and Caparica. It was also to serve as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.
The 100-foot (30-meter), four-story tower was designed by military architect Francisco de Arruda in the uniquely Portuguese Manueline style of architecture (named after King Manuel I). Construction began an 1515 and was completed in 1521. In 1845, the tower was restored by Queen Maria II. At that time, neo-Manueline elements were added, including the battlements and rampart walkway.
The Belém Tower served as a fortress until 1580. After that is was used as a political prison, then as a customs house for ships entering Lisbon.
Along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery , the Belém Tower has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Directions: The Belém Tower is located on Avenida da India, just west of the Monument of the Discoveries.
The Monument of the Discoveries was commissioned by the Salazar regime to honor Portugal's Age of Discoveries in which much of the world was discovered, explored, and charted during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The monument was completed in 1960 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese prince who sponsored many of the voyages of discovery. It was built on a site on the Tagus riverfront where many of the ships departed into the unknown on their epic journies.
The designers of the Monument of the Discoveries were architect Cottinelli Telmo and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida. Their design was of a stylized caravel with Henry the Navigator at the bow. Along the sloping lines on each side are 33 sculptures of Portuguese explorers, mariners, crusaders, cartographers, cosmographers, poets, missionaries, and royal patrons responsible for Portugal's Age of Discoveries. Some of the most notable historical figures in addition to Henry the Navigator include King Manuel I carrying an armillary sphere, King Alfonso V (an early sponsor of voyages and conqueror of North Africa), Vasco da Gama (who discovered and opened a trade route to India), Ferdinand Magellan (the first to circumnavigate the globe), Pedro Álvares Cabral (the discoverer of Brazil), and Luís de Camões, whose epic poem, the Lusiades, celebrates the epic voyages.
The pavement in front of the monument is decorated with a mosaic representing a compass with a map of the world charting the routes taken by Portuguese explorers. It was donated by the government of South Africa in 1960.
The interior of the 171-foot (52-meter) monument contains exhibition spaces for temporary exhibits, a room where a short film about Lisbon is shown, and an elevator to the top where visitors can get a panoramic view of the monuments of the Belém district and the mouth of the Tagus River.
Directions: The Monument of the Discoveries is located on the Praça da Boa Esperança, just off Avenida de Brasília.
The Praça do Comércio is Lisbon's grandest square. It was laid out following the 1755 earthquake which destroyed much of Lisbon. With its waterfront location and classical buildings, it was intended as a gateway leading from the banks of the Tagus River into the streets of the Baixa district to the north.
The site of today's square was originally occupied by the Ribeira Palace, a royal residence built by King Manuel I. After the earthquake of 1755 destroyed much of Lisbon, including the palace, plans were made to convert the space into a large public square. The prime minister at the time, the Marquis of Pombal, was put in charge of the rebuilding scheme.
The architect who designed the Praça do Comércio was Eugénio dos Santos. His plan called for a large open space 558 feet by 558 feet (170 meters by 170 meters) in the shape of a "U" with its open end toward the Tagus riverbank. The arms of the "U" ended in two large towers, and symmetrical buildings were constructed along the sides of the square. These buildings were used for government agencies that regulated customs and port activities.
The centerpiece of the Praça do Comércio is a large bronze equestrian statue of King José I, the king at the time of the earthquake and the subsequent rebuilding. It was designed by Joaquim Machado de Castro, the foremost Portuguese sculptor at the time.
The Tagus River (visible in the background) rises in the Albarracín Mountains of Spain, and flows through Portugal's fertile Ribatejo Plain before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Lisbon. The 645-mile (1,038-kilometer) river is the longest on the Iberian Peninsula. Four hundred forty-five miles (716 kilometers) of the river flow through Spain, 29 miles (47 kilometers) of the river form the border between Spain and Portugal, and 171 miles (275 kilometers) of the river are entirely within Portugal.
Lisbon was founded near the mouth of the Tagus River, where it spreads out so wide that it forms a natural harbor. Lisbon's strategic location on the Tagus River, coupled with the large protective harbor, helped ensure that Portugal would become the primary maritime power in western Europe.
The Church of São Vicente de Fora can be seen on the hilltop in the distance from the Miradouro de Santa Luiza. It is part of a complex that includes the church and former monasteries. The church was dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of Lisbon.
The present church was constructed on the site of an earlier church of the same name that had been built around 1147. Today's church was built during a reconstruction ordered by King Philip II of Spain, who had become king of Portugal in 1580. Construction started on the church in 1582 and was completed in 1629. Some of the complex's monastery buildings were constructed in the eighteenth century.
The Italian Renaissance-style Church of São Vicente de Fora was designed either by Italian Jesuit Filippo Terzi or Spanish architect Juan de Herrera.
After religious orders were dissolved in Portugal in 1834, the monastery was turned into a palace for the archbishops of Lisbon. And decades later, King Ferdinand II transformed the monks' old refectory into a pantheon for the kings of the Bragança dynasty, including King Jõao IV and King Manuel II.
Directions: The Church of São Vicente de Fora is located on Largo de São Vicente, in Lisbon's Alfama district.
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