The city that lives with its lights and colours.
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“There is no flower which can be compared to the chromatism in Lisbon in a sunny day”
This sentence on his beloved native city has been written by Fernando Pessoa. Indeed, Lisbon is a city that live by light, with a special chromatism that comes from afar, the Atlantic and is reflected in the Tagus river. Then it disappears in the narrow streets and in the backstreets.
It is a land full of charm and history, heiress of the many sailors who have sailed the seas of the world. The city is famous for the singer’s poignant soul of Fado, who was custodian of a vast cultural and historical heritage given to her by the Arabs and the many peoples with whom she came into contact over the centuries. The city amazes and surprises for its colors and the warmth of the people and is today one of the most visited place in the world and one of the most loved capitals by tourists from all over Europe.
According to legend, Lisbon was founded by Ulysses, and its name derives from “Olissipo”, a word whose roots are in the Phoenician words “Allis Ubbo”, which means “enchanting port”. The most probable thesis, however, wants Lisbon to have been founded by the Phoenicians and built in that Moresque style so evident in the strong Arab influences (in fact it was controlled by the Moors for 450 years). In the twelfth century the Christians regained the city, which in fact became the capital of the country only after the middle of the thirteenth century. At the beginning of the era of the Maritime Discoveries, Lisbon grew to become an important center for the trade in jewelry and spices, but nevertheless, the great step forward in the Portuguese expansion occurred in 1498, when Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India. This marked the beginning of the city’s Golden Age, which in the architectural field translated into the introduction of the Manueline style, characterized by the constant use of maritime motifs in the decorations. Over the centuries Lisbon has grown and has been changing. After the earthquake of 1755, which almost entirely destroyed the city center, the Marquis of Pombal created the so-called Baixa Pombalina, a commercial area that still retains much of its original layout. After a four-year period of Napoleonic occupation, Lisbon and the rest of Portugal lived for more than a century in a situation of great political confusion until it fell in 1926 under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, which lasted for 36 years. In 1986, Portugal joined the European Union, and thanks to the support of the EU and the influx of capital that was most needed, it finally managed to leave behind the dictatorship of Salazar.
In recent years, the stability of government and the will of the Portuguese, together with the huge European Union funding, have kicked off a phase of renewal of Lisbon, declared in 1994 European Capital of Culture, a city that looks to the future with confidence, a historical capital with an unusual character and charm in which 800 years of cultural influences mingle with the most modern trends and lifestyles, giving rise to truly particular contrasts.
It is not difficult to love this city and live in it, also because the Portuguese, “people of the world”, have become accustomed to live with people from every continent, so that they love every difference. Baixa, entirely rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1755, is the center of the city, the part that goes from the Tagus arrives to the Avenida da Liberada. Alfáma and Bairro Alto extend to the sides. The oldest part is Alfáma, the district that climbs up from the Tagus to one of the seven hills of the city. Maybe the best way (and also the funniest way) to discover the place is to take the historic tram 28. Bairro Alto, the opposite hill, is full of life by day as well as by night, a tangle of narrow streets in which noble buildings alternate with popular houses from which bars, restaurants, and live music venues … so, the ideal place to feel a little traveling, a bit at home. In front of Baixa is Chiado, which has always been the cultural district of Lisbon, particularly loved by Fernando Pessoa, now home to large shops, bookshops and theaters. Following the 1988 fire, has born again thanks to the architect Alvaro Siza Vieira, who rebuilt the destroyed blocks while maintaining the historical style of the neighborhood. The district of Bélem, in the western part, contains a large number of museums, monuments and infrastructures aimed at promoting high quality cultural initiatives.
The city is an explosion of life for all: culture lovers will have the opportunity to visit some of the most important European museums and to take part of some events of global importance, shopping fans will find what they like in many shops around the city, or in shopping centers (some of the largest in Europe), those who love life by night will enjoy, as well as lovers of relaxing walks can enjoy a nice ride in the city, among squares, gardens and beautiful lookouts, children can count on the secure soul of Lisbon, which reserves them very interesting attractions … even those who love food will not be disappointed. An unmissable sight in this sense is undoubtedly the famous and ancient Antigua Confeitaria de Belém located in the district which has the same name, a historical pastry known throughout Portugal for having invented the recipe of “pastéis de Belém”. The restaurant has remained unchanged over time and retains many azulejos that visitors can observe while sitting in the dining rooms.
For lovers of excursions out of town, the surroundings of the city are enchanting. It is enough to mention the famous Estoril coast, the “Portuguese Riviera”, or the Costa Azul, and the numerous beaches bathed by the sun more or less at all times of the year. But the wonders do not end only with naturalistic itineraries. Numerous ancient villages, with an intact and suggestive charm, will capture the most romantic souls. For religious, Fatima can be easily reached in just over an hour by train, or with one of the many tour buses.
Finally, a separate mention deserves the fado, the poignant music of Lisbon, the noblest expression of popular Portuguese culture, the essence that permeates every corner of the city and makes it even more beautiful and unforgettable.
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