Portugal is a country that maintains a relatively low profile on the world arena. However its Algarve region is a popular summer holiday spot and soccer fans through out the world do follow the exploits of Portuguese soccer star and current golden boy of soccer, Christiano Ronaldo with great enthusiasm and passion.
Lisbon which is also known as ‘Lisboa’ in Portuguese is the charming and quaint capital of Portugal which is currently enjoying a great cultural renaissance quite like that of its golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries when it produced great mariners like Ferdinand Magellan who circumvented the globe and Vasco de Gama who was the first European to sail to India.
Old quarter- Alfama
The city’s old world charm is best witnessed best in an area of town called Alfama which is located on the edge of the majestic castle of the Moors, the Sao Jorge Castle. The area is filled with relics from the times of the Moors like cobbled streets and old stone houses and churches which are adorned with mosaics made of tiles. Also located here is the oldest structure in Lisbon, the Sé Cathedral which dates back to the time of the crusades. Alfama also has many small taverns and restaurants located within its environs where you will have the chance to listen to a typical Portuguese Fado, a hauntingly beautiful ballad of love and sorrow which is usually performed by a solo performer.
World Heritage Sights
Lisbon is world renowned for its famous marine-centric monuments many of which have been declared world heritage sites. Several of these monuments are located in historic area of Belém, a suburb of Lisbon which is accessible via a ten minute train ride from center of the city.
The Jeronimos Monastery is one such monument which was declared a UNESCO world heritage sight in 1983 and is one sight which should be considered a must-do on any visit to Lisbon. This intricately carved church was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gamma’s successful voyage across the oceans to India. The church today is also the final resting place of this great explorer whose tomb is located in the monastery.
Another world heritage sight located in Belém, the site from which many a sea voyage commenced is the Torre de Belém (tower of Belém), which was built as fortified lighthouse on the Targus river. This elaborately carved tower is one of the most prominent monuments of Portugal and is considered to be an ode to Portugal’s ‘Age of Discovery.’ Apart from these two prominent world heritage sights there are many other sights in Belém that are worth exploring like the Belém National Palace which is the home of the Portuguese President, the Belém cultural center, the Coaches museum and the Ajuda Palace.
Sintra’s fairytale castles
Sintra which is located on the outskirts of Lisbon and can be reached via a half hour drive from Lisbon and this town is another UNESCO declared world heritage sight which is a popular spot for a day excursion from Lisbon. Sintra is known for its magical palaces and castles which are built in a mish mash of styles so much so that they look like castles from toy land. Plalácio de Pena, Quinta de Regaleira Palace and the Seteais Palace (now a luxury hotel) are some of the many fascinating buildings located here that are adorned with domes, mazes, turrets, spiral staircases and stone carvings of monsters .
Next time, if you want to have a holiday which is peppered with a healthy dose of history and culture why not give the enchanting Portuguese capital a try?