Having arrived at my accommodation through Airbnb later than planned I felt a little down, I didn’t know what to expect from Lisbon even though I had done a little research before arriving; not eating properly for the day was not helping, silly although circumstances resulted in that happening. I was limited on choice as my original accommodation was cancelled at the last minute; the place I found was on Rua Maria Pia, a little two-bedroom apartment not in the best of conditions but under the circumstances I had to take what I could get – the reviews seemed good but like I said I had little choice, oh well. I was hungry so went for a walk and found something to eat, I was happy to find a few shops very local including a health stop, priority was get coffee and breakfast for the next morning; didn’t feel like walking about to find breakfast – it’s also cheaper and in a place you don’t know it is better to start the day off with a full stomach (I still had a few bananas and pears from Lisbon which I would take with me for the next day to snack on).
I do what I do and started the next day off by getting to know my surroundings and the city; big cities cannot be walked in one day so I had not intention of walking form one end to the next but wanted to, as I do, get the vibe and layout of the city etc. To be honest I totally underestimated the size of the city and how hilly it is! All in all the day wasn’t productive, this was my fault as I would normally do a little planning the day before even if I have no real agenda for the day otherwise you end up wondering around aimlessly…..but I didn’t this time hence it not being as productive. Anyway, at least I can say I did cover a good number of kilometres, a lot more than I anticipated. My I saw some interesting landmarks like the Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa Lift – the most impressive thing I had seen on the day, it was opened in 1901 and still impressive), Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square), Timeout Market and obviously a few others too. I did see one thing that interested me, a public “charging” point (phones etc.) powered by solar panels in the design of a contemporary metal tree.
My first thoughts were that I wouldn’t enjoy the city, I had walked my butt off and hadn’t seen anything that interested me. Sure, there were lots of old buildings, monuments etc. but that’s what you get throughout Europe, by the end of the day I had only taken 6 photos and that was me forcing it. I did a very long walk along the river and although I was comforted that it was flat it really wasn’t that interesting – there were tourists from everywhere especially the US and I wondered to myself why on earth are they here, I must be missing something. At the end of the day (early) when I got back to the apartment I was despondent, I sat down on the couch, cold beer in hand (bought the day before) and decided to do a proper plan for the next, there must be a reason so many tourists come here and I was going to find out – I wanted to in the least give it a full go and then if I didn’t like it well then maybe Lisbon just isn’t my cup of tea.
Next morning I headed out, first stop Basilica da Estreia which was closed, not a good start to the day but I was unwavering in my decision I would stick to the plan and give today 100%. I’d say 95% of the roads are made of square paving stones, about 80-100mm squares but not perfect in shape or surface, the same goes for the pavements only are about 50mm. This makes for uneven wearing and as the surfaces aren’t totally flat it takes it toll on you feet, even with good walking shoes – I could already feel it from the day before although Porto was the same so cumulatively my feet were feeling it. There must be an abundance of the stone here a grey one used for the roads and a beige one for the pavements sometimes decorated with the grey one. The amount of effort it must take to produce the volume they use can’t be efficient, it would be interesting to understand why they do!? One thing is certain, they are not stable and wear and buckle causing concaves and bumpy pavements which gives an added sense of adventure to even the short walk from the apartment to the shops. Enough about the pavements and the roads, if you ever go there you will understand.
The Igreja de São Roque (Church of Saint Roch) isn’t on the tourist map, not sure why and I don’t even know how I found out about it. It’s the oldest Jesuit church in the Portuguese world and dates back to the 16th Century. An unassuming building from the outside compared to most of the other churches in Lisbon but never judge a book by its cover with a beautifully painted church ceiling unlike any of the others I had seen before (most other’s have stone of concrete vaulted ceilings but as with Jesuit they tended to life a most austere life, the interior is far from austere. The gold gilded baroque alters are adorned with relics, the most I’ve ever seen in any church at the time of the chapels completion it was said to be the most expensive chapel in the Europe; Saint’s be they male or female were revered in the past and I wonder if they ever thought some of their body parts would be displayed in churches throughout the Christian world after they died. The church also has a separate museum display which had even more relics; if you can think it they have it, even a part of the “Cross”. I can’t get my head around putting a femur bone inside a trophy like challis and displaying it, different times. It may not be on the tourist map but well worth the visit especially considering its location being so close to many other tourist hot-spots.
Less than 100m from the church of Saint Roch is Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the reason I was actually in the area. The original building/structure was built in the 14th Century (nothing like what was to follow) with the remains that are seen today being part of the “final” construction which was completed in the 16th Century (Carmo Church) which was badly damaged in an earthquake that hit Lisbon in 1755 – after that it was never fully restored so never got back to its former splendour and to many a degree the earthquake started its demise, over the years having had a colourful varied use (even as an army barracks). Lisbon was hit by another earthquake in 1969 which damaged the nave (restored since) so as it stands now is not a far cry to what it has looked like for many years. I love old structures like this, once so elegant now only a skeleton of grey growing out of the ground into the sky allowing you to glimpse and imagine what once stands before you.
Buttressed to the ruins is the museum, aptly called the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo or Carmo Archaeological Museum). *The nave and apse of the Carmo Church are the setting for a small archaeological museum, with pieces from all periods of Portuguese history. The nave has a series of tombs, fountains, windows and other architectural relics from different places and styles.
The old apse chapels are also used as exhibition rooms. One of them houses notable prehistorical objects excavated from a fortification near Azambuja (3500–1500 BC).* (*Wikipedia)
Though a very small museum it is filled with exotic and ancient displays, from Neolithic through to the 19th century with unique items from Peru (mummies encased in glass boxes which I’m sure back it the day would have fascinated visitors even more so than today). I do wonder if things such as this and purely displayed now for their shock and “freakish” reasons should still be exhibited under the guise of “old private collections”. There are plenty of other offerings on show many of amazing stonemasons craftsmanship especially but not exclusively that of Kind Ferdinand (14th Century). Not only in the museum but throughout the city there are still numerous glimpses of the footprint the Moors had in Portugal and their influence on life, religion and death; arriving in the 8th century a nation and movement of people so powerful their presence still clearly represented today.
I made my way to the castle, Castelo de Sao Jorge, which is unmissable anywhere in the city, sitting on the mountain top with massive walls surrounding it. Depending on how you get to the castle it’s very likely you’ll go past an active archaeological site, Roman to be exact. Considering the Romans invaded in the 3rd Century BC what they have found is remarkable – the older things are the more excited I get. What makes it eve more interesting, at least for me that is, is that they have found an old theatre. Over 2000 thousand years ago this would have been a well frequented place and an imposing building in the heart of Roman life where thespians and performers would entertain. There is also another archaeological site around the corner at the Lisbon Cathedral (an impressive interior too), where the dig covers hundreds of years including the Romans and Moors (you can still see immaculate examples of Roman drainage – maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but I thought it was fantastic!). The Castle itself, is just that; most castles are not beautifully decorated as they were build for a purpose like impose, intimidate and defend. It is worth the trip if only for the views.
The day was a busy one and I had walked my socks off. Throughout the day I felt my batteries recharging and my feelings towards the city had changed; it’s an odd city and could easily be dismissed but between it’s history and plush parks I can see why so many people come here, and like, no love it! I was keen to have a good night’s sleep and attack the next day with renewed positive vigour!