Europe · Travel

Lisbon, Portugal – Initial Thoughts and the Baixa District

As it turns out, blogging while traveling is a lot harder than I thought. ūüėÖ ¬†We are about to head to the third country of this trip, and I still have not written anything on Lisbon. ¬†For some reason I am having a hard time writing up a post about it. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED Lisbon, but my thoughts seem to be completely discombobulated and I just don’t know where to begin. ¬†My apologies if I end up rambling on too much here…

We hopped on a train heading to Lisbon after spending two lovely days in Porto. ¬†It was a leisurely 3-hour ride that ended at Lisbon’s¬†Santa Apol√≥nia station. ¬†Then we took the metro to the Baixa-Chiado station to get to our flat. ¬†Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal. ¬†It lies on the north bank of River Tagus before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. ¬†In some ways Lisbon is similar to Porto. ¬†Both cities are near the Atlantic coast and are built on the banks of large rivers (Duoro and Tagus). ¬†Porto is small and compact and you can pretty much walk everywhere. ¬†And while Lisbon is much larger and more spread out, the steep hills are just as brutal, if not even more daunting. ¬†In fact, Lisbon is also known as the City of Seven Hills.

The city is made up by 5 districts: ¬†Baixa, Chiado,¬†Bairro Alto, Alfama and Belem. ¬†We spent most of our time in Baixa, the city center, as that’s where our flat was located. ¬†The Baixa district stretches from¬†Pra√ßa Rossio (Rossio Square) to the north, all the way down to the riverfront of River Tagus at¬†Pra√ßa do Com√©rcio (Commerce Square). ¬†Our flat was located right next to¬†Pra√ßa da Figueira which meant that we could walk pretty much everywhere we need to go. ¬†And the train/metro/tram stations are all close by which also made it easy when we took a couple of day trips out of the city. ¬†The only downside of staying in the center of everything was unfortunately that it got pretty noisy with all the drunken people leaving the restaurants and bars in the area late at night.

One thing that separates Baixa from the other districts is its many elegantly designed architectures and a grid layout.  Baixa was the part of the city that was rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1755, which almost destroyed the entire area.  A reconstruction project headed by the prime minister at the time, the Marquis of Pombal, after the earthquake gave new life to Lisbon and made Baixa what it is today.

Pra√ßa do Com√©rcio, the Commerce Square, is the largest and the most famous square in Lisbon today, and it’s a representation of the pombaline reconstruction. ¬†The original square was where the royal palace resided. ¬†After it was completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, the¬†Marquis of Pombal redesigned a large square in a¬†‘U’ shape, with opening facing River Tagus.

The opening of the square leads directly to the river, and a busy port adjacent to it where we saw huge cruise ships coming in to dock every day.

In the center of the square is the equestrian statue of King Dom José I, who was the reigning king during the earthquake and the reconstruction.

The north end of the square is the beautiful white marble Rua Augusta Arch that opens onto, wait for it, Rua Augusta (Augusta Street).  There are several statues of historical figures on the arch, including that of the Marquis of Pombal, to commemorate his rebuilding efforts and achievements.  Augusta Street is a pedestrian-only street that connects the Commerce Square from the riverfront to the Rossio Square at the northern end of the Baixa district.

With all of our time spent in Baixa and with its many beautiful squares and buildings, our favorite spot in the city in fact has neither historical nor cultural significance. ¬†Green and open space is hard to come by in Lisbon’s city center. ¬†Therefore we were so thrilled to have found this little piece of haven¬†park not too far from the Commerce Square where we spent a lot of hours for the kiddos’ outdoor recess playing soccer, football and/or frisbee. ¬†It even came in handy one day as our ‘classroom’ when the Wi-Fi went out in our apartment!

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