Lisbon is the largest city in Portugal and it is the chosen destination by thousands and thousands of tourists every year, from all over the world. However, some details remain secret. In this article, you will discover historical facts, fantastic myths and quirky details on Portugal’s capital.
The destruction and rebirth of Lisbon - 1755
It was the most destructive earthquake in Portugal and one of the most deadly earthquakes in history. Specialists estimate that the 1755 earthquake hit magnitudes between 8.7 and 9 on the Richter scale, leading to the almost complete destruction of Lisbon.
On the morning of November 1st, 1755 the earth shook for several minutes, knocking down buildings and spreading its wreckage everywhere. Minutes later the river grew through the city streets, invading downtown. As the waves receded, the fires burned what was left. For three days the quakes and fires did not stop. After the horror had passed, the king ordered Marquês de Pombal to rebuild downtown and he was the one responsible for Lisbon’s current street layout.
Still celebrated today: the Patron Saint of Lisbon - Saint Anthony
Baptized as Fernando de Bulhões, St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, between 1191 and 1195, near the Lisbon Cathedral. In the house where he was born and raised is today the Church of Saint Anthony.
Due to his death on June 13, 1231 in Padua, Italy, this day became St. Anthony's Day. For 82 years, neighborhoods of Lisbon officially parade in the capital to show their best, from the costumes to the songs, and to prove the union of the community spirit around the celebration of Saint Anthony. The absolut perfect festivity to see a colourful joyful crowd filling the streets of our capital and enjoy some delicious Portuguese sardines.
City of the 7 Hills! Or is it?
The Seven Hills - São Jorge, São Vicente, São Roque, Santo André, Santa Catarina, Chagas and Sant'Ana - are visible on arrival in Lisbon by the Tagus. But is one being forgotten? The hill of Graça, the highest in the city, only covered by the Castle of St. George.
Legend has it that in ancient times there was a kingdom called Ophiusa, which was ruled by gigantic serpents. Its queen half-woman and half-serpent.
It is said that on one fine day, the hero Ulysses and his companions anchored in this port, on the Tagus border. The queen immediately fell in love with Ulysses and intended to keep him in the kingdom and marry him. Ulysses pretended to respond to his love so that he and his could arrange supplies for the journey. But as soon as they had gathered all the material necessary, Ulysses deceived the queen and fled towards the high sea.
Enraged and deceived, the queen launches herself in a desperate attempt to reach out to her beloved, wounding up to the sea, thus leaving to us until this day the proofs of her effort and unrequited love: The Hills of Lisbon.
Almost 3 million “Alfacinhas”!
It is quite common for people of other cities in Portugal to refer to the inhabitants of Lisbon as Alfacinhas, which directly translates to: little lettuces. Yes, that cute and nonsense of a nickname but it might have some meaning to it.
Some explain that in the hills of primitive Lisbon, lettuce was already being grown and used for cooking, perfumery and medicine. 'Alface' (lettuce) comes from Arabic, which also indicates that the cultivation of the plant began during Muslim occupation. Others state that during a siege, the inhabitants of the capital had nearly only lettuces of their gardens to survive on.
Truth is that from renowned Portuguese writers, such as Almeida Garrett and Miguel Torga, to the common folk, “alfacinha” became a very common endearing way of naming Lisbon’s inhabitants.
“Pastéis de Nata”, we all love to eat them! But how was this delicacy invented?
After the Liberal Revolution in 1820, all the monasteries of Portugal were closed in 1834, expelling the clergy and the workers. Therefore, in 1837 in Belem, the monks of the Jeronimos Monastery tried to make ends meet. They started selling cream pastes in a small pastry next to the monastery.
At that time, Lisbon and Belem were two different cities linked by steamboats. The presence of the Monastery and the Tower of Belem attracted many tourists who were amazed by the beauty and good taste of the pastries.
The pastry cooks were the ones to know the secret, and they made an oath of silence to safeguard this famous gastronomic recipe. Even today, these pastry chefs always manufacture these delicious pastries in the artisanal way, maintaining the original recipe at use in 1837.
However, nowadays any coffee or pastry in Portugal offers you Pastéis de Nata, but the origin comes from Belem, so much that the founding house kept the name "Pastéis de Belém".
Lisbon Ferry - the connection between the riverbanks
Not your common Ferry, the ferry services of Lisbon cross the Tagus River and are an essential component of the capital’s public transport network. Precisely. There are 3 routes and these boats are daily used by Lisbon inhabitants to shift between their homes and workplaces.
The ferry routes provide an inexpensive means of travel from the commuter districts south of Lisbon, thus avoiding the almost endless traffic lines during rush hour at the 25th of April Bridge.
Ironically so, before the 25th of April Bridge was ever designed and built, the Tagus was a fast track in permanent traffic jam. The river was since always and until the mid-1970s navigated by hundreds of boats, perfected throughout the centuries, leading to today’s ferry-boats.