The bus over from Porto Covo took a good two hours, but was pretty convenient and had good speed, free wifi (Rede Expressos). It drops you in Lisbon Sete Rios station or the zoo to make it simple. There are good public transport links from there. The weather was no longer stellar and hence I decided on a bit of culture by joining the free tour in Lisbon’s city center – usually a good, alternative view on the city.
We met 3pm at Largo do Chiado – not far from my favorite district, the bohemian Bairro Alto. While learning a ton about Lisbon & Portugal, we moved through the center, the castle and finally into the medieval district with lots of more traditional housing akin to time pre-earth quake (though mostly rebuilt). The guide was pretty detailed at times, but overall a very interesting afternoon that we concluded with a shot of Ginja liquor – tasty! I put a few bullets below with some interesting facts I picked up.
A few facts about Lisbon … (more on wiki if you like)
- Oldest city in Europe: While not quite the oldest continually inhabited city in the world (as the guide claimed), it is the oldest in Europe. The oldest globally is Damascus (or whats left of it).
- Oldest established borders since 1249 making it the country with the longest defined borders.
- 10 countries speak Portuguese: I was somewhat surprised to hear that so many countries speak Portuguese – be it some are very small. They are Brasil (207m people), Angola (29m), Mozambique (27m), Portugal (11m), Guinea-Bissau (2m), East Timor (1m), Equatorial Guinea (<1m), Macao (<1m), Cape Verde (<1m), Sao Tome and Principe (<1m). The countries span the entire globe of what used to be the first global superpower.
- Arabic influences: The moors (more specifically, their occupation) left marks not only in Spanish lingua, but also i Portugues with c8% of the vocabulary coming from Arabic rather than latin. For example, the algarve region simply denotes ‘west’ in arabic [pronounced ‘gharb’] – so al-gharb = the west.
- Vasco da Gama: Reached India in 1498 as the first European and still most famous Portuguese. His achievements were fundamental to make Portugal the first truely global empire. On my travels I have come across the Portuguese in many places uch as Macao and most recently in Bahrain (trading post & fortress). Nagasaki is another unsuspecting example of their influence – while the fishing village existed before, it was the trading the P. initiated that made it bigger.
- Carnation revolution: Portugal was one of the longest lasting authoritarian dictatorships in the world. In 1974 it ended in a revolution with almost no shots leading the country into demoscracy and ending the disliked colonial wars for which many Portuguese men & youth were conscripted.
- Lisbon earthquake in 1755: At 8,5-9 magnitude one of the most potent earthquakes ever recorded (top spot goes to Chile in 1960 at 9,4-9,6). I devasted Lisbon, but also many countries around. 15% of Portuguese population died & two thirds a of Lisbon’s inhabitants. The king, afraid it could happen again, lived in a tent for the coming 20 years. At the time it was considered divine intervention as it happened on All Saints day (1 Nov) where not only many people gathered in churches, but also lit candles – all of which made things worse. After the earthquake – the city was hit by a huge Tsunami wiping out those the seeked refuge near the water. It did, however, also inspire new techonology and ways to constuct a city (such as the Baixa district). Given large quakes happen every 250-300y, the next one is due soon.
- Igreja de São Domingos: I only visited one church in Portugal (well, exclude those that are part of castles). It is right in the center of Lisbon and has now burnt 20 times. Appearantly, it was cursed to keep burning by a Jewish family following the Lisbon massacre outside the church (1506) killing thousands of Jews. The family relocated to Amsterdam and built the largest synagoge there (‘Portuguese synagogue’)
- Orange = Portugal: In some langauges like Persian, Portugal refers to the country as well as the orange fruit. It was brought to Europe by, you guessed it, the P.
- Codfish central: Lisbon & Portugal love theior codfish or Bacalhau as they call it. It usually comes in salted & dried form and features high & often in local cuisine.
- Ginya liquor: A liquor made from sour cherries. Really tasty, so don’t miss to try one as you visit Lisbon.