About Lisbon


Monuments and points of interest




Video credits: Tourism of Lisbon


Lisbon as its roots in a pre-historic settlement. The region was inhabited by Pre-Celtic tribes, who built religious and funerary monuments, megaliths, dolmens and menhirs. The Celts occupied the region in the 1st millennium b.C.. Lisbon was an important Phoenician and then Greek trading post, as the sheltered harbour in the Tagus River estuary was an ideal spot for a settlement and provided a secure port for provisioning of ships.

The city was then transformed by the Romans: Lusitanian raids and rebellions during Roman occupation necessitated the construction of a wall around the settlement. During Augustus' reign, the Romans also built a great theatre, the Cassian Baths and the temples of Jupiter, Diana and Cybele. A large necropolis still remains under Praça da Figueira and a large forum and other buildings such as insulae (multi-storied apartment buildings) in the area between the Castle Hill and the historic city core were found during archaeology digs.

As a consequence of the fall of Rome, the Iberian was occupied by Sarmatians, Alans, Vandals and Suebi, during the beginning of the 5th century a.C. Then, by the end of the 6th century a.C. the city was conquered by the Visigoths. A long Arabic period lasted from the early 8th century a.C. till the so-called "Reconquest" - the Christians conquered the city in the year of 1147. The new lords of the Iberian Peninsula built many mosques and houses inside the city limits, rebuilt the city wall (known as the Cerca Moura) and established administrative control over the region. The Muslim influence is still present nowadays in the Alfama (an old quarter of Lisbon that survived the 1755 Lisbon earthquake): many place-names are derived from Arabic and persist today.

Lisbon became the capital of Portugal in the middle of the 13th century due to its central location.The first Portuguese university was founded in Lisbon in 1290 by King Denis I; for many years the Studium Generale (General Study) was transferred intermittently to Coimbra, where it was installed permanently in the 16th century as the University of Coimbra. During the last centuries of the Middle Ages, the city expanded substantially and became an important trading post with both Northern European and Mediterranean cities.

Most of the Portuguese expeditions of the Age of Discovery left from Lisbon during the 15th to 17th centuries, including Vasco da Gama's expedition to India in 1497. Lisbon became one of the richest cities of Europe, connected to all significant commercial interfaces: North, Africa, South America, Far East... products from all over the World arrived there and were exported to all main European commercial cities. In the early 18th century, enormous quantities of gold coming from Brazil allowed King John V to sponsor the building of several Baroque churches and theatres in the city.

On 1 November 1755, the city was destroyed by a devastating earthquake, which killed an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Lisbon residents of a population estimated at between 200,000 and 275,000. The earthquake and the tsunami destroyed 85% of the city's buildings. Lisbon was one of the largest cities in Europe and the catastrophic event shocked the whole of Europe and left a deep impression on its collective psyche. Voltaire wrote a long poem, Poême sur le désastre de Lisbonne, shortly after the quake, and mentioned it in his 1759 novel Candide.

After this tragedy the city was rebuilt largely according to the plans ordered by the Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marquess of Pombal; the lower town began to be known as the Baixa Pombalina (Pombaline central district). Instead of rebuilding the medieval town, Pombal decided to demolish what remained after the earthquake and rebuild the city centre in accordance with principles of modern urban design. It was reconstructed in an open rectangular plan with two great squares: the Praça do Rossio and the Praça do Comércio. This area is still as Marquess of Pombal decided it to be and walking these streets one may have the strange feeling of time-travelling to the second half of the 18th century...

In the first years of the 19th century, Portugal was invaded by the troops of Napoléon Bonaparte, forcing Queen Maria I and Prince-Regent John (future John VI) to flee temporarily to Brazil. During the 19th century, the Liberal movement introduced new changes into the urban landscape. The principal areas were in the Baixa and along the Chiado district, where shops, tobacconists shops, cafés, bookstores, clubs and theatres proliferated. The development of industry and commerce determined the growth of the city, extending north along the Avenida da Liberdade (1879), distancing itself from the Tagus River.

During the 20th century the importance of the city as capital of a colonial empire was evident in public monuments, statues, etc. However, the Portuguese revolution of 1974 put an end to that period, establishing the principle of self-determination to the former colonies. Portugal reduced to its European (and Atlantic islands) boundaries and the importance and significance of Lisbon in the World changed accordingly.

In the 1990s, many of the districts were renovated and projects in the historic quarters were established to modernise those areas; architectural and patrimonial buildings were recuperated; the northern margin of the Tagus was re-purposed for leisure and residential use; the Vasco da Gama Bridge was constructed; and the eastern part of the municipality was re-purposed for Expo '98, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's sea voyage to India.

Monuments and points of interest


This first building was completed between 1147 and the first decades of the 13th century in Late Romanesque style. At that time the relics of São Vicente de Saragossa, patron saint of Lisbon, were brought to the cathedral from Southern Portugal. In the end of the 13th century King Dinis built a Gothic cloister, and his successor King Afonso IV had the main chapel converted into a royal pantheon in Gothic style for him and his family.

During the 17th century a fine sacristy was built in Baroque style and, after 1755, the main chapel was rebuilt in Neoclassical and Rococo styles (including the tombs of King Afonso IV and his family). Machado de Castro, Portugal's foremost sculptor in the late 18th century, is the author of a magnificent crib in the Gothic chapel of Bartomoleu Joanes. In the beginning of the 20th century, much of the neoclassical decoration from outside and inside of the cathedral was removed to give the cathedral a more "mediaeval" appearance.

Castle of S. Jorge

The Castle of São Jorge is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic centre of the Portuguese city of Lisbon and Tagus River. The strongly fortified citadel dates from medieval period of Portuguese history, and is one of the main tourist sites of Lisbon.

When Lisbon became the capital of the kingdom in 1255, the castle served as the alcáçova, a fortified residence for King Afonso III. It was extensively renovated around 1300 by King Dinis, transforming the Moorish alcáçova into the Royal Palace. Between 1373 and 1375, King Fernando ordered the building of the Cerca Nova or Cerca Fernandina, the walled compound that enclosed the entirety of the castle. The master builders João Fernandes and Vasco Brás were responsible for its construction. This wall, which partially replaced the old Moorish walls, was designed to encircle previously-unprotected parts of the city. Completed in two years, it had 77 towers and a perimeter of 5,400 metres.

Monastery of Jeronimos

King Manuel the 1st had the idea of building a large monastery close to the site where Henry the Navigator had established a chapel dedicated to Santa Maria de Belém in the 15th century. The monastery was given to the Order of St. Jerome, which is why it was given the name of Jerónimos (or Hieronymite) Monastery.

The Monastery is a cultural reference point that has attracted artists, chroniclers and travellers in the course of its five centuries of existence. It received, and became a burial place, for kings, and later poets.

Today it is admired by one and all, not only as a remarkable piece of architecture but also as integral part of Portuguese culture and identity. The Hieronymite Monastery was declared a National Monument in 1907 and in 1983 UNESCO classified it as a "World Heritage Site".



«Fado» (meaning "destiny" or "fate") is a music genre which can be traced to the 1820s in Portugal, but probably with much earlier origins. Rui Vieira Nery, a Fado expert and scholar, stated that "the only reliable information on the history of Fado was orally transmitted and goes back to the 1820s and 1830s at best. But even that information was frequently modified within the generational transmission process that made it reach us today."

Although the origins are difficult to trace, today fado is commonly regarded as simply a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain traditional structure. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. This is loosely captured by the Portuguese word saudade, or "longing", symbolizing a feeling of loss (a permanent, irreparable loss and its consequent lifelong damage). This connection to the music of a historic Portuguese urban and maritime proletariat (sailors, dock workers, port traders, etc.) can also be found in Brazilian Modinha and Indonesian Kroncong, although all these music genres subsequently developed their own independent traditions.

Famous singers of fado include Amália Rodrigues, Dulce Pontes, Carlos do Carmo, Mariza, Camané and many others. On 27 November 2011, Fado was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

St. António

On the feast day of St Anthony, patron saint of Lisbon, the Portuguese capital goes sardine crazy. The winding streets and steep staircases in Alfama, the city’s oldest quarter, fill with the smell of sardines being grilled outside little houses and restaurants. There is music everywhere and people dance in the streets and squares all night long. Traditional marches became a competition and the oldest quarters of Lisbon make their best to win the years' award.


Pastéis de Belém

After the liberal revolution (1820) all convents, monasteries and other religious houses where closed (1834) and the clergy and labourers who used to live there wer expelled. Near the monastery of Jerónimos (in Belém) there was a sugar cane refinery linked to a small general store where some of the former workers of the monastery offered sweet pastries for sale in the shop. Their attempt to survive produced the first known pastries that rapidly became famous as 'Pasteis de Belém'.

People started to come from the city just to buy the "pastéis" and by the mid of the century the baking of the 'Pasteis de Belém' was transferred into buildings nearby the refinery. The ancient recipe from the monastery was carefully taken as a secret, passed on and known exclusively to the master confectioners who hand-crafted the pastries in the 'secrets room'. Till today this recipe remained untouched preserves all the tradition and flavour of the 19th century!