An Architectural City Break in Lisbon – Part 2

Our city break to Lisbon was short but we were able to see many sights without rushing around too much.  Our travel around the city was varied.  We walked along the traditionally styled Portuguese pavement (consisting of small flat pieces of stones arranges in mosaic).  We used a Hive Scooter.  We dodged pedestrians while mastering an Uber electric bike.  We relaxed in a Tuk Tuk as we were driven around the streets. 

It’s good to have a purpose, and visit the famous features.  However, it’s also good to meander.  We walked the tiny cobbled streets and climbed and descended steps.  We spotted beautifully decorated houses alongside buildings in need of renovation.  We gazed at ornate gated entrances and wondered what lay behind them.  We often felt we were getting lost, only to come to a place we recognised, as when we wandered through a maze of narrow streets, then emerged into a square near the Museu do Fado. 

Here are some of the architectural highlights.

Praca do Comercio

Praca do Comercio is spectacular.  It is situated on the river-front and is surrounded by symmetrical buildings with lemon coloured facades and grand arches.  From the square, the Arco da Rua Augusta provides an impressive view to the other well know square in Lisbon, the Rossio. 

In the opposite direction (south) are the marble stairs (Cais das Colunas) that lead down to the waters edge.  It’s easy to imagine royalty and dignitaries of yesteryear parading in their finery. 

There was a large festival taking place in the Praca Do Commercio while we were there.  Dancing,  stalls and loud music, along with the bright buildings, made the atmosphere vibrant.

The Praca do Comercio and Augusta Street contain examples of key Portuguese architectural styles.  The Pombaline building, characterised by a four-storey block with differentiated windows and symmetrical facades, is a Portuguese style from the 18th Century introduced after the 1755 earthquake.  The design is one of the first instances of earthquake resistant construction.  It comprises a flexible wooden structure implanted on the walls, floors and roofs that are later covered by pre-manufactured building materials so they shake but don’t fall down.  Reading its architectural history, it is fascinating to learn that the Marquis of Pombal ordered that models be built then troops march around them to simulate an earthquake. 

Santa Justa Lift

Walking back into the city from the Praca do Comercio we passed the magnificent Santa Justa Lift.  The lift connects the lower streets of the Baixa district to Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square).   The wrought iron has not just been used as a construction material it has been used as an art form.  There are amazing geometric patterns and neo-gothic arches.  A symbol of the industrial age, this magnificent piece of engineering was opened in 1902.  It rises an impressive 45 metres high.  It has many similarities to the Eiffel Tower – it’s builder (Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard) was an admirer of Gustave Eiffel.  It was originally powered by steam but, in 1907 was converted to electrical operation by a British company (R. Waygood).  It is now classified as a National Monument. 

Alfama Neighbourhood:

We explored Alfama in the evening.  The narrow streets were decorated and there was music everywhere, because it was the Santo Antonio Festival (a celebration of Portugal’s patron saint).  We ate a delicious monkfish stew at a small restaurant called Beco (Beco do Espirito, Santo 9, Alfama) then strolled through the streets.  The sheer joy of living pulsated around you with people dancing and singing.

Next morning it was time to set off to the airport and the pleasingly short flight back to the UK.

Conclusions

Bearing in mind that Lisbon hadn’t been on my list of places to visit, was the trip a success?  Absolutely.  I feel I only scratched the surface of the architectural delights it has to offer. 

It was a good decision to combine purposeful visits to famous buildings with casual perambulation that yielded unexpected delights.

In parallel with exploring Lisbon’s architecture, we explored Lisbon’s culinary delights.  We sampled traditional Pastel de Nata (pastry nest filled with custard cream) at one of the many small cafes.  We enjoyed a breakfast (and a lunch) at Local Avenida (R.Rodrigues Sampaio No134 1150-282 Lisboa).  We had drinks at the roof top Sky Bar at Hotel Tivoli (Avenida da Liberdade 185 Lison 1269-050) in the centre of Lisbon and were able to take in the postcard-perfect panorama of the hillsides.  We visited the Mercado Do Ribeira where Time Out have brought together some of Lisbon best eating experiences under one roof – sardines, cheese, seafood, pastries, steak.

On my next visit I would like to take one of the ferries on the River Tagus and view the city from the water. 

If you are thinking of visiting Lisbon, or have any questions arising from this item, don’t hesitate to contact me – Alison Taylor-Stokes, ICE Arch Ltd, alison@ice-arch.co.uk