While thinking about the places to write about in my latest blog, I was browsing through my albums with a coffee on a lazy Sunday afternoon and was flooded with memories looking at the beautiful photos of Lisbon. As I flipped through the album I could recollect the places very clearly and decided to write this blog about my weekend trip to Lisbon along with a day trip to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, Batalha Monastery, the medieval village of Obidos and the sea side town of Nazare.
I am generally a solo traveller but I chose to travel to Lisbon with a very close friend of mine and it was a wonderful experience to share the holiday excitement with someone who enjoys travelling as much as I do. It is said that happiness achieved through experiences are everlasting and I totally agree with it. We both remember this short weekend trip even after all these years and often talk about it.
We flew to Portugal’s coastal capital city of Lisbon on a TAP Portugal flight from London. We were lucky enough to land on a beautiful sunny day and the beauty of Lisbon is visible from air as the flight descends.
Lisbon is situated in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Tagus River. It is the westernmost capital city among the mainland European countries and is also the only one along the Atlantic coast.
We landed in Lisbon in the afternoon, took the Lisbon Metro from the airport and reached the city centre in about 25 minutes. Our hotel was a short walk from the Metro station.
To begin our sightseeing, we decided to start by visiting two of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city, Jeronimos Monastery and the Belem Tower. On a sunny July afternoon in the words of my friend, “Scorching sun, historic buildings, museums and an excellent guide cum photographer – what else do you need for a memorable vacation!”
So here I am sharing what we saw and experienced over that weekend in Lisbon along with some information about the sights.
The Jeronimos Monastery is a former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome near the Tagus river in the parish of Belem. The construction of the monastery and church started in January 1501 and was completed 100 years later.
The religious order of Hieronymite monks occupied the monastery during the reign of Manuel I, King of Portugal. The monks provided guidance to explorers and sailors who left the port to discover lands around the world. This happened till the religious orders were dissolved and the monastery was abandoned.
Jeronimos monastery is one of the finest examples of the Portuguese late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon. The two-storey cloisters are beautifully decorated with arches and the inside walls are carved with beautiful motifs.
Church of Santa Maria in the Monastery is a three-aisled church with five bays. The church has a hall church layout with the aisles and nave of equal heights.
The altars within the church dating from the 16th and the 17th centuries are also in the Manueline style. They are decorated with carved wood and one of them has an image of Saint Jerome.
Within the church, in the lower choir, are the stone tombs of Vasco Da Gama and of the great poet and chronicler of the Age of Discoveries, Luis de Camoes.
Jeronimos Monastery has been listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983.
Monument of the Discoveries
As we crossed the road after leaving the Jeronimos Monastery, the striking monument we saw on the northern bank of the Tagus River is the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, the Monument of the Discoveries. This monument stands as a tribute to the Portuguese Age of Discovery on the river front from where ships departed to explore the world during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The main statue on the monument is of Henry the Navigator who holds a carrack, and on either side of the monument there are 33 figures from the history of the Portuguese discoveries.
Monument to Christ the King
Standing beneath the Monument of the Discoveries and looking across towards the Southern Bank of the Tagus River, stands the monument to Christ the King (Cristo-Rei) with open arms. This resembles Christ the Redeemer statue atop the Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro. This monument was built after World War II as a thanksgiving memorial for Portugal being spared from the destruction of the war.
From here we continued walking along the River till we reached Belem Tower.
Belem Tower, officially known as the Tower of Saint Vincent, is a 16th-century fortification listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. Belem Tower was a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon which also served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers. It was built during the Portuguese Renaissance in Portuguese Manueline style and a combination of other architectural styles.
The structure has a bastion and a 30m four storey tower. The bastion terrace has cupolas and Moorish bartizan turrets. The interior casemate of the main bastion has niches for cannons. The ceiling of the casemate, the rooms of the tower and the cupolas are styled with Gothic rib vaulting.
On the southern portion of the cloister terrace is a figure of the Virgin and Child. This statue of the Virgin of Belem holds a child in her right arm and a bunch of grapes in her left hand.
The Bridges across Tagus River
Lisbon is connected to the other side of the Tagus by two famous bridges – the 25th April Bridge and the Vasco da Gama Bridge.
- The 25th April (25 de Abril) Bridge named after the date of the Carnation Revolution is the longest suspension bridge in Europe.
- The Vasco da Gama Bridge is the longest bridge in Europe.
Trams of Lisbon
The distinctive yellow trams are one of the key icons of Lisbon. Trams are a traditional form of public transport in Lisbon. They were introduced in 1901 with electric trams originally imported from the US. Lisbon tramway system still uses the small four-wheel carriages designed in the early twentieth century. Their small size is most suitable to traverse the steep hills and narrow streets of the city.
Within the city centre, Rua Augusta Arch is a stone arch built to commemorate the reconstruction of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. It is decorated with statues of various historical figures and has six columns.
Pavements of Lisbon
One of the striking things in Lisbon are the designs on the pavements. Most of Lisbon’s pavements are laid out with a variety of designs. Beautiful patterns can be seen everywhere and this extends to the open squares too. The famous wave design known as ‘the wide sea’ can be seen in Lisbon’s famous Rossio Square.
Modern Architecture of Lisbon
Modern Lisbon now has many buildings with modern architecture and art forms. One such building is the Gare do Oriente train station which is one of the big Portuguese transport hubs. The building is covered in a lattice structure made of glass and metal.
Day Trip to Fatima, Batalha, Nazare and Obidos
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima is a group of Catholic buildings in the civil parish of Fatima. The sanctuary consists of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in the centre of the huge complex. The Chapel of the Lausperene is situated at the left colonnade end of the basilica.
Our Lady of Fatima is a Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary based on the Marian apparitions reported in 1917 by three shepherd children, Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto in Fatima. A small chapel, the Chapel of the Apparitions was constructed in the 1920s in the exact location where three children said they had received the apparitions. The centre is marked by a marble pillar and an image of the Virgin Mary.
Across from the main sanctuary is a modern building which is the Basilica of the Holy Trinity and is used for bigger religious services and pilgrimages.
The Monastery of Batalha is a Dominican convent in the municipality of Batalha. This was originally known as the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory. The monastery was built to fulfil a promise of King John I of Portugal, to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.
The monastery and church architecture is a great combination of Gothic style and the Manueline style. The church is huge from inside but quite narrow compared to its height. The Batalha convent was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1983.
The name Nazare is the Portuguese version of Nazareth. It is a picturesque seaside village located on the Atlantic coast with long sandy beaches and is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Portugal. Nazare is famous for its ten day Our Lady Of Nazare Festival which is celebrated with processions, folk dancing, fireworks and fairs during the month of September.
Nazare is also a world famous surfing destination because of the very high breaking waves. Due the height of the waves many world surfing records have been set here.
While walking down the streets of Nazare, it is hard to miss the local women wearing embroidered aprons and seven colourful flannel skirts. This is a great place to enjoy sea food and a glass or two of Portuguese wine at one of the sea facing restaurants.
Located on the Atlantic coast, encircled by a fortified wall on a hilltop is the medieval town of Obidos. The entire town of Obidos, including its streets, squares and walls are very well preserved medieval architecture. The town and the castle are popular tourist sights. The castle houses the luxury Pousada hotel. For book lovers, the town of Obidos has many bookstores and one of them is inside a church.
The entrance to the town is through the city gate where you can see the classic blue azulejo art form. An azulejo is a type of earthenware tile, decorated with figures and glazed.
During July every year Obidos castle hosts a traditional ‘Medieval Market’ for two weeks and this is a great time to experience of spirit of medieval Europe with parades, medieval shows and various stalls selling food and drinks. We experienced this festivity and also tasted Ginjinha, a cherry flavoured liqueur made using ginja berries served in edible chocolate cups.
Portugal produces around 70% of the world’s cork, so souvenirs made with cork is one of the most bought items from Portugal. I was somewhat stuck with the idea of the Barcelos Rooster and even convinced my friend to get one of these. The Barcelos or Portuguese Rooster is considered an embodiment of the Portuguese love of life. This is also an unofficial symbol of Portugal and can be seen everywhere in many forms, sizes and materials.
- Lisbon Airport to the city centre is around 25 mins on the Lisbon Metro.
- Lisbon Metro is the fastest way to get around the city.
- A tram ride is a must even if just for the experience.
- We were there for a short weekend. If you have time, you must visit picturesque Sintra and the Pena Palace.
- The day trips can be booked before you visit or from local travel agents once you are in Lisbon.
- You can visit the beaches of Estoril and Cascais by train from Lisbon.
- Lisbon is in the same time zone as the UK, so no concern of a jet lag.
- During summer the sun can be very strong and bright, so hats, sunglasses and sunscreens are essential.
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