During the 15th century, Portugal rose to dominance as a maritime power and Lisbon, one of the oldest capitals in Europe, became the most prosperous trading center on the continent. Under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal entered the Age of Discovery. Knowing we were walking in the footsteps of these great travelers who preceded us sent shivers down my spine.
We set off with alacrity the morning of day 2 in Lisbon to continue our own exploration. After a long fruitless wait at a tram stop for the famous Tram 28 to show us the city highlights, we continued walking until we reached Figueira Square, a transportation hub for the city.
Adjacent to Figueira Square, we found Rossio Square where it looked like a market would open soon, judging by the small white tents lining the square. No time to wait for that. We were intrigued by the wavy pattern in the pavement that seemed appropriate for the capital of a country whose Golden Age was based on sea power.
We debated how to get to the district of Belem, about 4 miles away, to see the UNESCO World Heritage sites and the Monument to the Discoveries. The trolley supposedly went there and we had yet to ride it so that was one option. Lori and I were somewhat enamored with the touristy yet appealing tuk-tuk but Jim was unenthusiastic. We could also go by bus or taxi. In the end, we settled on a taxi as the quickest and simplest solution with our limited time.
We had the taxi deliver us to Belem Tower, constructed around 1515 as part of the defense system on the Tagus River to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
A short walk away, we found the other UNESCO site, the Monastery of the Hieronymites, built by King Dom Manuel I as a gift to the monks of St. Heronymus in exchange for their prayers for the king and seafaring explorers. Appropriately, Vasco da Gama, who famously discovered the route to India by sailing around Africa in 1497 and prayed here with his men before the voyage, is entombed within the monastery.
After exploration on our own, we eventually discovered the underpass to cross the highway to the Monument to the Discoveries. Built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, this monument memorializes explorers, cartographers, monks, leaders, and others from the Golden Age of Discovery, including Vasco da Gama, Magellan, King Manual I and others, led by Prince Henry at what appears to be the bow of a ship headed out to sea.
If the two sights in the photo above look familiar, the 25th of April Bridge, named for the revolution of 1974, looks much like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco except that this one is longer. Cristo Rei, the monument on the other side of the Tagus River, was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio de Janeiro.
Whether you call it a cable car, trolley, or tram, a ride on this vehicle is a highlight of any visit to Lisbon. We had the taxi drop us at the stop farthest west for Tram 28. The famous tram is so full by the time it gets further into the city that it’s nearly impossible to get a ride. At the outermost stop, everyone is required to get off and reboard and we were rewarded with seats by using this strategy. Tram 28 comes with pickpocket warnings due to the crowds of tourists who are distracted by the sights and ripe for the picking, so a seat where we could grip our purses while we took in the views was reassuring.
While the photo ops from a moving vehicle aren’t always the best, we saw more of the old city than we could cover on foot and we thoroughly enjoyed our ride on Tram 28.
After we disembarked, we saw the scene below. The old buildings covered in satellite dishes struck me as a study in contrasts that demanded digital capture.
On our way back to the ship, we encountered a flea market but we didn’t really have the time or interest to shop.
Here are just a couple more photos from the city.
Our final stop on our way back to the ship in time for our departure was a peek into the National Pantheon Church of Santa Engracia.
As we sailed away, I imagined the feelings of the sailors who accompanied Vasco da Gama centuries ago as they departed from Lisbon to sail into the unknown. They, like me, likely hoped they would return to see this beautiful city again.
Based on events from May 2016.