Lisbon can be an odd choice for tourists. While its origins predate most of the other European capital cities (including London, Rome, and Paris), there is little in the way of historical sites and attractions. While it was once one of the largest cities in Europe and the starting point for many of the Portuguese expeditions during the Age of Discovery, almost no buildings or artifacts remain from that time. This is due to a series of earthquakes (eight in the 14th century, five in the 16th century, and three in the 17th century) that cost widespread destruction and damage. The Lisbon 1531 earthquake destroyed over 1,500 homes while three city streets simply disappeared in the 1597 earthquake. But in reality, Lisbon divides its history into two periods: before the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and after it.
The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755
Saturday, November 1, 1755, was the Feast of the All Saints in Catholic Lisbon. At a little before 10 am that morning, an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.5 to 9 on the Richter scale struck the city and opened huge 15 feet fissures in the city center. Survivors moved to the open docks for safety and watched as the sea receded, revealing long lost shipwrecks and debris. About 40 minutes after the earthquake, a tsunami swept over the harbor and into the damaged city, drowning thousands of survivors. To add insult to injury, tremors knocked over candles lit for All Saints’ Day, starting a fire that created a firestorm, incinerating or asphyxiating hundreds more. By the end of the day, the city lay in ruins and between 10,000 and 100,000 Lisbon inhabitants were dead.
While Portugal banded together and rebuilt Lisbon; as a result of this calamity, most of the city landmarks do not predate 1755. But while history geeks (like me!) will not have a lot of castles and cathedrals to explore, Lisbon more than makes up for lack of historical sites in being a vibrant city with great restaurants, nightlife, sunny weather, and wonderful neighborhoods to explore.
Lisbon for the Traveler Today
For tourists, Lisbon is a city less about sightseeing, and more about experiencing. For a long time, tourists overlooked Lisbon as a destination because of its lack of well-known attractions. Now, Lisbon has become popular because of its lack of attractions. Travelers wanting a change of pace, where they can spend time in the city without the pressure of visiting sites, waiting in queues, or dealing with tourist traps. While there are some sites tourists can visit, they pale in comparison to similar sites in other places in Europe. Where Lisbon excels is an exciting nightlife with excellent drinking locales, wine bars and countless corner tascas (taverns). Add to this affordable (some might call it cheap) liquor costs and no open-container laws, and it is easy to see why as a city, Lisbon often needs a little extra time in the morning to get rolling.
Not a booze hound? (well, join the club, me either). Lisbon offers a burgeoning restaurant scene, with fine dining and excellent neighborhood eateries to satisfy the most discerning palate. While the emphasis is on seafood, there are also excellent steak and vegetable menu options. Great food, accompanied by a great local transit, clean streets, low crime and most of all, inviting and friendly Portuguese, make Lisbon an excellent place to visit, as well as a great starting point to explore all of Portugal.
I have decided to “up my camera game” from smartphone pics to a full camera rig. This is the first trip where I’ve taken the time to review and edit pictures from our travels. While the same no-talent idiot is behind the camera, I believe these pictures are better simply because I can edit them for clarity and color. Please let me know in the comments what you think, and I don’t mind harsh criticism, just no cracks about my momma!