Lovely Lisbon, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in April 2009
View of Lisbon suburb of Belem from cruise ship in Tejo River, 41-second video clip
View of Lisbon's Cristo Rei statue and 25th of April Bridge from cruise ship in Tejo River, 31-second video clip

Lovely Lisbon, Portugal's capital and largest city with a metropolitan population of 1.25 million, is built on hills above the banks of the Tejo River.  Called "Lisboa" by its residents, this name was apparently derived from the Phoenician term "Allis Ubbo," or "calm port."  Today the city is still an important European port, with one of the world's largest natural harbors.


Lisbon was inhabited by the Romans, and the Moors ruled between the eighth and twelfth centuries.  In the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the so-called "Age of Discovery," Portuguese mariners opened up India, Indonesia, China, Japan and Brazil to trade; and Portugal became the richest country in Europe.  However, Lisbon's Great Earthquake and accompanying tsunami of 1755 caused massive damage to the city, and by 1560 Portugal's power had finally reached its zenith.


King Dom Manuel I, who ruled from 1495 to 1521, lent his name to a new late-Gothic style of architecture.  The two best surviving examples of Manueline architecture are the Torre de Belem and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.  Both of these monuments are in the must-see waterfront suburb of Belem some 6 km (3.5 miles) west of the city center.  It was from Belem that Vasco da Gama sailed to India.  Today the tomb of the great seafarer lies within the monastery.  Originally built in the middle of the Tejo between 1515 and 1520, the Torre de Belem fortress became joined to the river's right bank after the Tejo changed course following the Great Earthquake.  Belem's 52-meter-high (170-foot-high) riverside Monument to the Discoveries was built in 1960 to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) who organized and financed the first of Portugal's great sea explorations.


The 25th of April Bridge, 2.4 km (1.5 miles) long and with one kilometer (3,280 feet) between its towers, is one of the world's longest suspension bridges.  It was constructed in 1966 by the firm which built San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.  The 16-km-long (10-mile-long) Vasco da Gama Bridge, Europe's second longest, also spans the Tejo at Lisbon.  In 1959 the gigantic 100-meter-high (330-foot-high) Cristo Rei statue was buillt across the river overlooking Lisbon, imitating the Rio de Janeiro original.


Lisbon's oldest quarter, the Alfama, dates from the eleventh century when the Moors ruled and is capped by the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the former royal residence.  Other districts of interest to tourists are the Baixa, Chiado and Bairro Alto.  Once the heart of medieval Lisbon, the Baixa is now a busy commercial center.  At one time the center of Lisbon's intellectual life, a 1988 fire destroyed the core of the Chiado.  The Bairro Alto sprang to life when King Dom Manuel I shifted his residence from the Castelo to the waterfront early in the sixteenth century.  Today it is a district of antiquarian bookstores by day and of a large number of fado houses, bars and clubs by night.


A trip to Lisbon would not be complete without a visit to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, one of the world's great institutions, which exhibits works of art from 2,500 B. C. to the early twentieth century.  Gulbenkian, a multi-millionaire, resided in Lisbon from 1942 until his death in 1955.  Housed in a wonderful modern building, this museum is best reached by taxi.  


Hilly Sintra, 24 km (15 miles) northwest of Lisbon, makes for a fascinating day trip.  A summer resort for Portuguese royalty, Sintra boasts the Palacio Nacional where royals dwelled for 500 years until 1910.  Although this is Portugal's oldest surviving royal palace, dating back to Moorish times, much of what can be seen and toured today is from the fifteenth century.  On the other hand, Sintra's Palacio de Pena has been called a "wedding cake of a palace."  Built in the 1840s, this hilltop fantasy is a bizarre riot of domes and towers that survives as a museum portrayed in the very condition in which it was left when the royal family fled the country in 1910.


Another excellent day trip is to the nearby medieval walled town of Obidos, founded in 308 B. C.  During a four-hour coach tour from downtown Lisbon, tourists can visit the seventeenth-century parish church and enjoy a stroll while window shopping along Obidos' extremely picturesque and nearly-carless main street.  The castle above the town has been converted into a hotel.


Few cities are as eccentric and as alluring as lovely Lisbon, which is best visited during its warm and dry summer season from May to September.  Round trip airfare from Cairo to Lisbon on Iberia via Madrid begins from approximately EGP 2,400.


ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 310 of the 319 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  Web site:

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