Portugal – Lisbon, Castles and Churches

Our excellent apartment was in the Bairro Alto region of the city, an elevated district high above the River Tagus and the commercial centre of Baixa, an area that required a lot of hill climbing, strong knees, deep lungs and steep steps to negotiate.

Today we were planning to explore more of the city and our first stop was the Castelo de São Jorge

The Patron Saint of Portugal is Saint Anthony of Padua (I have come across him before) and the Patron Saint of Lisbon is Saint Vincent and Saint George is somewhere down the Catholic Church pecking order as the  Guardian Angel of Portugal.

The castle is in Alfama district and this is separated from Baixa district by a sort of deep and rather inconvenient gorge which requires going down a lot of steps on one side to get to the bottom and then going up a lot of steps on the other side to get to the top.  We could have used the funicular tram but at €3.20 I considered this unnecessary expenditure  for a five hundred yard journey so instead of whirring and wizzing to the top we walked and wheezed instead.

Amalfa is the historic heart of Lisbon, occupied by the Moors during the occupation of Iberia and once they had gone subsequently chosen by the Christians as the site for their defensive medieval castle to stop them coming back.  The district was badly damaged by the 1755 earthquake and sadly no original buildings survived but it has retained its compact and rather  quirky original  layout with tightly packed streets and alleyways and hidden secret corners to explore.

It has to be said that the area is rather run down with several dilapidated houses screaming out for  attention and a bit of love and affection, abandoned cars and graffiti scarred walls  but this only adds to the charm of this part of Lisbon. Here are cobbled streets minus a few cobbles, decorated with terracotta plant pots and effusive flowers, gaily coloured doors and shutters and flapping washing lines stretching out and dripping indiscriminately upon rich and poor across the lanes below.

Eventually we reached the castle entrance and immediately ran into a line of people queuing to pay.  This time we decided to risk it and to our surprise the line moved quickly and we were soon inside.  It isn’t a very authentic castle, it was destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake and restored in the 1930s under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar.  Often described as a benevolent dictator he was responsible for a lot of historical restorations and there is nothing wrong with that in my book.

In 2006 in a  public opinion television show Salazar was judged the “Greatest Portuguese Ever” with 41% of the vote.  I find that interesting, he was sort of a right wing fascist but not quite and in similar votes in Spain and Germany viewers were forbidden for voting for Franco and Hitler.

I don’t know much about Salazar except to his credit he denounced Hitler and the Nazis and kept Portugal in the Western European Time Zone but the fact that a nation would vote a dictator who suppressed the democratic process for over forty years perhaps explains human nature and maybe why people in the UK keep voting for a succession of despicable Tory governments.

Maybe people  just like the feel of a jack boot on the back of their neck.

There were some excellent views over the city from the castle walls and we stayed for an hour or so before leaving, stopping for an excellent lunch in an authentic restaurant (on a table next to some especially noisy and boisterous Germans) and then made our way back down to the Tagus.

I spotted this man on the way down. Working from home perhaps?

I don’t remember very much about the Cathedral, it isn’t a very impressive building from the outside and these days I am moving closer to Kim’s views on Cathedrals that pretty much they are all the same on the inside.  I took some photographs as I always do and wondered why because I am certain never to look at them or use them for anything.

I preferred the Igreja de São Domingos, a National Monument in the centre of the city and maybe the unluckiest church ever.  Damaged by an earthquake in 1531 and completely destroyed by the big one in 1755, it was rebuilt and completed in 1807 but destroyed again by a terrible fire in 1959.

Instead of the altar I took a picture of this fire damaged corner…

The church was restored and reopened in 1994 but the restoration didn’t attempt to repair the internal fire damage and that, in my opinion, left it in an authentic state.  I liked it and we spent half an hour so examining the interior.

When we emerged from the gloomy interior something quite odd had happened to the weather, the sky was suddenly grey and it was pouring with rain, we purchased an umbrella from an enterprising street seller who had seized the opportunity, found a bar in which to shelter and after the storm made our way back to the apartment.

Later that evening we dined in our favourite restaurant (so good it was fourth night in a row) and then prepared to move on the following day to the coastal city of Setúbal.

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26 responses to “Portugal – Lisbon, Castles and Churches

  1. Some wonderful doors!

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  2. I’ve enjoyed exploring Lisbon with you. And I’ll be interested in exploring Setúbal with you too, since Jo has done several posts from this city lately.

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  3. I can sympathise with the wheezing up and down hills, Andrew. Unless you’re at Belem there’s a whole lot of that in Lisbon, but it has a lot going for it. It’s years since we were up at the Castelo and I don’t remember much other than tree roots and a view to the Tagus. Good enough, hey? I wasn’t fond of the dark church you describe but I did rather like the renovated ruins of the Carmo. Looking forward to Setubal.

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  4. Good photos but your post has some inaccuracies. Saint Anthony is not Portugal’s Patron Saint. Lisbon’s official patron saint is St Vincent but we celebrate St Anthony, born in Lisbon, as also the patron saint. For Portugal, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (the Virgin Mary). Alfama was not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and that is the reason the streets are, unlike Baixa, a bit of a maze. The castle was conquered by the Christians in 1147 from the moors. There was already previous fortifications at the site since 1st century BC.

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  5. Beautifully written and photographed, Andrew. That last photo is really good

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  6. Thanks for another lovely view of Lisbon Andrew. We walked up to the castle but decided that the views were good enough from outside so didn’t bother going in. Doesn’t sound like we missed much. I don’t remember too much huffing and puffing going up there, but I was fitter and younger then (and lived in hilly Ludlow), but I do remember how slippery those cobbled streets are in the rain.

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  7. enjoyed your commentary.

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  8. Thanks for the share, interesting read and some very cool photos. Followed.

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  9. You mean you missed out on the “fun” in “”funicular” coz of a 3.20 euro fee?? Wow. Speechless.

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