Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Globes and ropes in Lisboa

A dark, misty morning sees us rolling into the river Tejo, entrance to Portugal's capital, Lisbon. Or, better, Lisboa: The name translated means "Lovely Bay" in Portuguese and gives the reason for the long and colourful history of the town in a nutshell. Not less than 3000 years ago the Phoenician traders were the first to discover the advantages of the location and founded a settlement/trading point there. Much later, the Greeks would follow, then the Romans, the Visigotes, the Maures, the Templar Knights - literally every important nation of the Antique settled, conquered, built, modified this city. The heterogeneity of the architecture is the most prominent witness for that; here we have the labyrinthic alleys and winding streets of the Baixa, seeming randomly cut into the assembled houses, now lined with local shops and bars, there the neo-gothic buildings of the times of the first Portuguese Republic. The core of the old city centre is entirely different again: After the devastating earthquake of 1755 it was here that the Marquis de Pombal delivered his chef-d'oeuvre, reconstructing the town in a very short time, creating more space and making it safer against future earthquakes.

All this you can discover walking from our pier, which is more or less around the corner, or by joining the bus excursions, one going more into Lisboas details (and joining a Fado show for lunch), the other one heading for Sintra, summer refuge of the Royalty and the Royalty's Loyals. Especially King Manuel is to be mentioned, great promoter of the Portuguese navigation school and creator of a very distinct building style ("Manuelinic"), featuring the masonry depiction of a lot of maritime details, like ropes and knots, ship's bows and so forth. His influence made Portugal to the leading seafarer nation of the 15th century; but is was certainly the head of the navigation school who provided the knowledge and the training for the country's captains - Henry the Navigator. Although he never took to sea himself he accumulated the greatest skills in his person, so every navigator who came out of his school was up to all imaginable tasks. In 1960 the great monument Padrão dos Decobriementos was erected to remember this brilliant mind who died 500 years before.
The palace of Sintra is not one of those which make you sick of gold and gems, it is rather low key in the choice of materials. But the overall arrangement is so exquisite and tasteful that you are immediately captivated by the beauty of the place. Sintra itself is sitting in the immensely green and lush slopes of the surrounding mountains, a real little paradise.
Back to Lisboa, a city walk is the contrast to the peacefulness of Sintra, the city is buzzing and noisy and busy - but charming. The street cars are moving relics of the old days, the churches realms of silence, the streets a woven network of people, goods, food, and smiles.
Seems the only sad tune today were the melodies of the Fado...