Lisbon

Short history

Originating from pre-Celtic tribes and Phoenician recruiters, Lisbon’s strategic significance flourished with Julius Caesar’s establishment of Felicitas Julia. Its history saw dominion under the Visigoths and Moors, highlighting a period of varied cultural and architectural influences. The city’s pivotal moment came in 1147 when Afonso Henriques reclaimed it, eventually leading to its designation as the capital in 1255.

Lisbon became one of the global centers during the Age of Discoveries. Esteemed navigators like Vasco da Gama started their journeys from its ports. The 1755 earthquake represented a traumatic turning point, leading to extensive rebuilding efforts under the Marquis of Pombal, who implemented modern urban planning principles that continue to influence the city’s layout.

As Lisbon transitioned into the modern age, it continued to evolve, reflecting Portugal’s shift from monarchy to republic in 1910, and navigating through periods of political upheaval, particularly during the 20th century. The city has become a cultural and economic center within Europe, marked by its role in hosting the 1998 Expo.

Geography

Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) is Portugal’s capital. It is seated at the confluence of the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean, on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The city’s topography is characterized by a series of rolling hills, contributing to Lisbon’s distinctive urban layout, with its streets weaving through elevations.

Lisbon’s climate is one of the most agreeable in Europe, classified as Mediterranean (Csa), which ensures mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers. This climate influences greatly to the outdoor lifestyle enjoyed by its residents and the flourishing of its green spaces throughout the city. The urban layout, reflective of its historical evolution, combines a maze of ancient, narrow streets in neighborhoods like Alfama, with grand, boulevarded avenues in areas such as Marquês de Pombal.

Population

As of the latest data, Lisbon has a population size of 506,892 within its administrative limits, with the wider metropolitan area housing around 2.8 million people. The majority of population is of Portuguese descent. However, the city also hosts a significant number of immigrants from Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, and other former Portuguese colonies, contributing to the multicultural ambiance of Lisbon.

Regarding religion, Roman Catholicism remains the predominant faith, reflecting Portugal’s historical roots, yet there is an increasing presence of other religious communities, including Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, owing to immigration.

The official language of Lisbon is Portuguese, characterized by its distinct Lisbon dialect. However, the city’s cosmopolitan nature means that English, Spanish, and French are also widely spoken, especially in areas frequented by tourists and in business settings. 

Main sights

  • Belém Tower: A UNESCO World Heritage Site located by the Tagus River, this fortified tower symbolizes the Age of Discoveries and serves as a monument to Portugal’s maritime expansion.
  • Jerónimos Monastery: Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this monastery is a masterpiece of Manueline architecture, reflecting Portugal’s wealth during the Age of Discoveries.
  • São Jorge Castle: Perched atop Lisbon’s highest hill, the castle offers views of the city and the Tagus River, along with a history dating back to the Moorish times.
  • Alfama District: One of the oldest and neighborhoods in Lisbon, Alfama is known for its narrow streets, traditional Fado houses, and the historic São Vicente de Fora Monastery.
  • Praça do Comércio: This grand waterfront square, also known as Terreiro do Paço, was the location of the royal palace until the 1755 earthquake. Today, it’s surrounded by restaurants and cultural attractions.
  • Lisbon Oceanarium: Located in the Parque das Nações, the oceanarium is one of the largest indoor aquariums in Europe.

Food

  • Bacalhau à Brás: Often referred to as the “faithful friend” of Portugal, cod (bacalhau) is the basis of this beloved Lisbon dish. It combines shredded salted cod with onions, thinly sliced potatoes, and eggs, all bound together and garnished with black olives and fresh parsley.
  • Pastéis de Nata: These iconic Portuguese custard tarts have a creamy, sweet filling encased in flaky pastry. Originating in Lisbon’s Belém district, they are best enjoyed with a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar.
  • Caldo Verde: This traditional Portuguese soup is a comforting blend of kale, potatoes, and chouriço sausage. Originating from the Minho province, it has become a staple in Lisbon’s culinary scene.
  • Sardinhas Assadas: Grilled sardines are synonymous with Lisbon’s summer, especially during the St. Anthony’s festival in June. These are typically served on a slice of bread with a side of salad and enjoyed outdoors.
  • Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato: Named after the 19th-century poet Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato, this simple but flavorful dish consists of clams cooked in white wine, garlic, cilantro, and lemon juice. 

Fun facts

  • Lisbon is known as the “City of Seven Hills,” similar to Rome.
  • The iconic yellow trams, Tram 28 in particular, have been traversing Lisbon’s streets since the 1930s, provides a nostalgic ride through the city’s historic neighborhoods.
  • Lisbon is the home of the world’s oldest bookshop, Bertrand, which opened its doors in 1732 and has been operating ever since, even earning a Guinness World Record.
  • The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is the longest bridge in Europe, stretching over 17 kilometers (about 10.5 miles), and was opened in March 1998 to alleviate traffic on the 25 de Abril Bridge.
  • Every year, Lisbon hosts the popular “Festival of Saint Anthony,” dedicated to the city’s patron saint of love and marriage, where locals celebrate with sardine festivals, parades, and traditional weddings throughout the month of June.