The city center is Lisbon is alive and thriving! Read all about it!
The Heart of Lisbon is the Baixa (or the downtown) which stretches from the riverfront commercial square up to the main avenue (Avenida da Liberdade). The area is often referred to as the Pombaline Baixa, taking this name from its benefactor the 1st Marques of Pombal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo. He was a key figure in Portugal during the Portuguese Enlightenment. In the aftermath of the great earthquake disaster 1755, it was Pombal who took the lead in the rebuilding of the city. Pombal imposed strict conditions and guidelines for the reconstruction, it is one of the first and finest examples of urban planning in Europe. The reconstruction was also one of the first examples of earthquake-resistant construction, including the use of wood latices framework aimed at distributing the forces of the earthquake. The grid like structure of streets and squares is characteristic by the striking uniform neoclassical architecture. To this day it remains one of the great examples of European architectural achievement.
The Baixa is an impressive district the uniform streets are full of life and activity. In the Baixa you will find elegant pedestrianized streets, Art Deco shop fronts, enchanting squares full of cafe’s and restaurants, many patisseries full of famous Portuguese cakes and tarts, street performers and practicing Fado singers, all the while the old tramcars rumble their way around at a leisurely pace with their distinct sounds of the tram bells. the area really is a bustling and lively part of the city.
The popular name for Pedro IV square, is located in the Pombaline Baixa and has been one of Lisbon’s main squares since the middle ages and has been the arena for popular revolts, celebrations, bull fights and even executions. Today Rossio square has taken on the more relaxed role of being a meeting point for Lisbon locals and tourists alike. Some cafe’s and shops date back to the 18th century including the famous Café Nicola which was a meeting place for the well known Portuguese poet Manuel du Boacage. Here you will also find the National Theatre of Maria II and the Public Gardens to the north of the square.
The Santa Justa Elevator
One of Lisbon’s famous landmarks is this impressive Neo-Gothic style iron elevator, designed by Portugal born French architect Raul de Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustav Eiffel the architect of Paris’ famous Eiffel tower. The elevator was built to connect the downtown Baixa with the Rua de Carmo and the elevated areas of Chiado and the Bairro Alto. Lisbon’s hills has always presented a problem for accessibility a series of lifts where built to raise people and cargo from one level of the city to another. The Santa Justa is the only remaining vertical lift, two funicular lifts are still in operation as well . On the top floor of the elevator is a lookout with fabulous panoramic views of the city, over Rossio square and the Castle.
The Comercio Square
The comercio square is a monumental vast riverside square also known as Terreiro do Paço (the palace square) It is where the city’s Palace was situated until it was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755 The architecture is impressive and imposing, the large rectangular square was designed with memories of the destroyed palace in mind. As with the other buildings in Baixa the project was overseen by the Marques de Pombal At the opening onto the main street in Baixa the Rua Augusta is the grand triumphal arch, called the Arco de Rua Augusta. The arch features statues of some of the most famous names in Portugal’s history including Nuno Álveres Perriera, Vasco de Gama and the Marques de Pombal himself. In the centre of the square is a large statue of King José I, around the square what was once the main government office’s has been taken over by restaurants and café’s with large outdoor seating areas. Here you will find the famous Café Martinho da Arcada which dates back to 1782, famous for being a favorite of some of Portugal’s famous literary figures. In the Comercio square you will also find the museum ‘The Lisbon Story Centre’ dedicated to the history of the city and there is also a ’Museum of Beer’.
The Baixa is a great place to stay while in Lisbon. Not only is the Baixa full of life, culture, cafes, restaurants and all amenities, it is also a great starting point for sightseeing and city touring. From here you can easily get to all the main attractions of Lisbon. The most romantic form of transport for the area is the tramcars that will lift you up to the castle and the hilly neighbourhoods of Alfama and Graça where you will find the winding narrow streets full of history and folklore. The tramcars will also take you all the way out to Belém where you will find the famous Monastery, the Palace and of course the famous Pastéis de Belem café where you can sample the original famous Portuguese custard tarts.
Transport to & from Baixa
From Baixa you catch the train out of the city for day trips out to the coast or to the famous village of Sintra. From the Cais de Sodré you can take a boat out to the south side of the river Tejo to the Cristo-Rei (the large statue of Christ) that was inspired by the Christ Redeemer in Rio, and built during the dictatorship of Salazr to signify gratitude the Portuguese were spared the horrific effects of World War II.