This morning our mission was a 3 hour walking tour with Henrique (“Henry”) of Lisbon. We set off in our Uber with plenty of time this morning in case of rush hour traffic. Luckily, our driver skirted those mostly so we managed to arrive time for an expresso and a traditional Portuguese pastel de nada pastry (custard cream tart)… when in Rome as they say.
After exchanging WhatsApp messages of what we were wearing like a blind date with Henry we managed to meet at the appointed fountain at the Miradour de São Pedro de Alcântara. This was a great view over Lisbon and finally we could understand the version of Lisbon a sea of red pantile roofs for which it is famous but which is not apparent on the tram route. Henry showed us the neighbours we would tour from above and we departed after confirming yes indeed we were happy to walk, even up the hills, our Cornish walking having more than prepared us for the ascents.
First stop was the statue to Luis de Camões in the square of the same name in the Chiado neighbourhood. Camões is regarded as the poet of Portugal, who wrote a 30,000 verse poem about the Discoveries. The era of led by the Portuguese of exploration outside the Mediterranean which saw them build a large empire across South America, Southern Africa and ports across Middle East, India and South Asia.
This was was clearly the literally district, with a street and statue to Chiado (‘Squeeky”) a tavern owner famous for reciting poetry in his squeeky voice in the 16th century so much so to be immortalised to this day. Also a statue to Fernando Pessoa outside the coffee shop of he frequented who is famous for instead of writing in a pseudonym, he created hetronyms, writing under 80 different characters, also in different languages. Also writing his own biography in the a third person. Opposite the coffee shop is the oldest operating bookshop in the world where you can purchase the products of their work.
We learned next from Henry about the terrible earthquake that almost entirely flattened Lisbon in 1755. I was surprised not to have learned about it before somehow. It was apparently one of biggest known, occurring mid-morning on All Saints Day, estimated to measure 8.6-9.12 on the Richter scale. I had not even associated Portugal as being prone to seismic activity but I gather from Henry it sits on the same fault lines as Italy that link in the Atlantic to Further lines. Sadly the people of Lisbon ran to river for safety and were subsequently hit by the tsunami and what was not impacted by that was damaged by fires from the All Saints Day candles left burning when the earth quake hit. 85% of the city was flattened and 60-80,000 killed. Much of Lisbon was rebuilt but the remains of the Carmo convent which we saw next were left unrestored as a testament to the damage and those lost.
Behind the convent Henry showed us the back street route to the famous Santa Justa escalator built by a student of Eiffel, which people queue from the bottom of for 20mins plus to ride for €5. We actually saw it from a distance yesterday and wondered what the heck it was, the benefits of a guided tour! So we took the free local elevator next door
Next to the church of St. Dominic, rebuilt after the earth quake only to devasted by fire in the 1950’s.
We then walked through the old Moorish quarter we reached at the end of our tram tour yesterday. We passed an apparently deserted house, which we have seen a lot in Portugal, I asked Henry if they had the same inheritance laws as Spain where the estate is automatically inherited by the estate, which apparently it is. The subsequent court battles which can take decades resulting in yet more descendants to agree the fate of the building resulting in empty and decaying properties. Though apparently in the last couple of years, new laws have given powers to the estate to restore and reuse the building for business have apparently been passed. The building we had this discussion about Henry said was a former dukes palace, due to the stone crown in the door lintel worthnhe estimated £40M plus with a large walled garden in the rear in one of the prime area of Lisbon, lying empty.
We next saw the remnants of the wall of Lisbon at the Portas do Sol, dating back to 10-12th century Moors, now forming parts of buildings. Though the information signs did a good job of showing how it was. The view from the viewpoint here is I think the image of the red panties people have of Lisbon looking out to sea. Somewhat dwarfed by the enormous cruise lines in dock though today!
Next onto the Alfama district, the one area of Lisbon which withstood the earthquake being built into bedrock beneath the castle, so retaining its street structure and architecture, like English Tudor houses of the large upper floors. Lovely tiny narrow streets where apparently 60% of the original residents remain, certainly it felt that way with older men and women in their doorways chatting to each other as we passed by. Here we also got to sample some of the famous Ginja liqueur from Lisbon made from spiced sour cherries. The original recipe version which Henry had picked out for us was not sweeten like many of the new versions, traditionally drunk from chocolate cups. it was very tasty, so obviously another bottle was bought. I think most of our souvenirs from Portugal are alcoholic!
Finally we emerge from the nicely cooled shaded streets of Alfama into the bright daylight of Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square), though still known locally as Royal Palace Square after the Opulent royal palace which stood there until the earthquake. The triumphal type arch (Arco da Rua Augusta) acting as the entrance to the city for those arriving from the sea.
We really enjoyed the tour from Henrique, obviously we talked about a lot more than I have remembered ‘ written here and we both walked away with a much great fondness for Lisbon than we had gotten from a tour in the “sardine can” trams. He was very knowledgeable on Portuguese history and culture and we learned a great deal and isn’t that partly what travel is for.