Discover the land of the Greatest Navigators

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Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Portugal had for centuries been the world's leaders of greatest explorers and adventurers during the Middle Ages. Located in the south-westernmost region of Europe, Portugal benefits by having a very long shoreline with many harbors and rivers flowing to the ocean and had been a great environment to raise generations of adventurous seamen.

One of the Great Portuguese Explorer in that age -- "The Age of Discoveries", probably was Vasco da Gama. In 1497-1498, Vasco da Gama made a voyage that forever changed the balance of trade around the world. He was the first to sail from Europe (Lisbon) to Asia (India) around the Cape of Good Hope on the southern trip of Africa. Later, he returned to Lisbon in 1499 with a cargo of spices that pad for his expedition's coast sixty time over, and upon his return, he was treated as a hero and was rewarded by the King (King Manuel I).


This is the Discoveries Monument which was built in 1960 in the honour of the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, who helped many Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. It has statues of the great Portuguese Explorers, including Vasco de Gama, and it has a map of Portugal's empire building around the world.



I love Portugal very much. For me, Portugal is not only a place to relax, revitalize and to have fun but it is also a place for people to discover the world's greatest history of the Age of Exploration. If you are interesting in Portuguese history, The Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiros dos Jeronimos) is really a place can not be missed.

The Jerónimos Monastery is situated in the Belém district of Lisbon. It was built by King Manuel "I" to celebrate Vasco da Gama's return from India. It says that it took 50 years to complete the construction of the monastery!! It is considered as a tribute to the ocean and it is now one of the most prominent monuments in Lisbon. Inside the monastery there are stone tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões (poet and recorder of the discoveries). 

I was impressed by the stunning architecture and the atmosphere of the monastery! Although I need to pay to see the cloisters of the monastery, but it is all worth it.


Within walking distance, I came to another monument - - The Belém Tower (Torre de Belem).

The Belém Tower is the most popular attraction of Lisbon. It is located on the banks of the river 'Tagus'. It was built in 1521 as a monument to the Portuguese discoveries and looks like a miniature castle. It is an example of Manueline architecture influenced by the periods of Gothic and Renaissance.

The Belém Tower is divided into two parts, the bastion and the five-story tower itself, which is located on the north side of the bastion. The whole ensemble looks like the bow of a caravel!! It is an interesting place to visit but I think it could be a lot more interesting if the staircase between each level was wider. I didn't like it when I climbed up the tower, because it was too tired and difficult for me to reach to each level of the tower through the narrow spiral staircase. (but........maybe the problem it wasn't the staircase, it was me who was too weak!!)


In Lisbon, you can get around easily by metro (which is quick and efficient), bus and taxi (which is easy and with the cost of $10 to $15 euro it will take you to many places in the city). Also, there is a Hop-on Hop-off City Bus Tour for tourists to explore Lisbon's main attractions. It is the most convenient way to get around in Lisbon. It takes you to more than ten tourist attractions, where people can hop on and off as many times as they want to throughout the day, including the city's most interesting and attractive sights, which are The Jerónimos Monastery, The Belém Tower and the Monument of the Discoveries. Moreover, there is a guided commentary provided along the route, which makes the journey more interesting and helps to discover Lisbon's remarkable history as touring the sights.


Behind me it is Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio). This magnificent plaza, facing the river, is known as the beginning of Lisbon's downtown and was once the main maritime entrance to Lisbon. From here, you can access to many tourist attractions by taking the sightseeing tram and bus which operate from Baixa district starting at Commerce Square.




Lisbon has three major neighborhoods: the Cidade Baixa (low district), the Bairro Alto (high district) and the Alfama (the oldest district). The Commerce Square sits in downtown Lisbon, the Cidade Baixa, a grid of small streets in the valley. Walk through the arch, it is "Rua de Augusta", the main Avenue in the Cidade Baixa.

CIDADE BAIXA (Low District)

Walk through the Triumphal Arch, I came to "Rua de Augusta", a lively pedestrian street with mosaic pavements, outdoor cafes, shops, and the street artist and peddler. I was attracted by the architecture, items, souvenirs, paintings, flowers, t-shirts, and anything else I saw on the street. I was told that this part of the city is still intact, many of the buildings are exactly the same as they originally were!! I love this street!!


At the end of Rua de Augusta, it is Rossio, also known as Praça Dom Pedro IV, and it is the Lisbon's main square. The statue at the back in the picture is a statue of Dom Pedro IV, and the four female figures at the foot of the statue represent Justice, Wisdom, Strength and Moderation, qualities attributed to Dom Pedro himself. In Rossio, the most important building is the National Theater (the building at the back in the picture). At its right sits the former site of the Palace of the Inquisition.

This whole neighborhood, Cidade Baixa, was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, however, it was rebuilt by Marquês do Pombal after the earthquake. I was amazed that many of the buildings I saw were intact, they are the same as they originally were!!



ALFAMA (The Oldest District)

Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon, spreading on the slope between the Castle of Lisbon and the Tejo river. Its name comes from the Arabic Al-hamma, meaning fountains or baths. It contains many important historical attractions, with many bars and restaurants.

In this fantastic old neighborhood of Alfama, there is St. Jorge's Castle. Located up the hill, with a great view over the city and the river. I got there by walking from downtown, going through the slopes of Alfama.


The Castle of Saint George (Castelo de São Jorge) was constructed over the Roman ruins in 1147 and was the royal residence from the 14th to the late 15th century. The castle was declared as a National Monument in 1910, with rebuilding work starting in 1940. Today the castle offers spectacular views of Lisbon and the sea.




The Oceanarium is the largest aquarium in Europe and one of the largest in the world! It is an excellent place to observe marine life, it contains more than 25,000 species from all over the world, it has different tanks that show specific ocean habitats, including the Antarctic Coast, North Atlantic, Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and there is also rotating exhibits of varying interests!! I'm sure I will visit it again if I go to Lisbon!!

From the Oceanarium, we took a cable car to the futuristic Vasco da Gama Tower. The Tower is named after one of Portugal's greatest explorers and was opened in 1998, on the 500th anniversary of his voyage to India. Its shape evokes a nautical sail, and standing at 145m high, it is Lisbon's tallest building.

At the top of the tower there is a viewing platform that offers a beautiful view over Lisbon, the river, and Vasco da Gama Bridge.


The Statue of Cristo Rei is located across the River Tagus from Lisbon. It was built by citizens of Lisbon in 1959 as a thanks to God, because Portugal did not join the fight in World War II. The statue portrays Jesus Christ inviting all of mankind to come to him through love. Overall, the monument represents the love and acceptance of Christ by the Portuguese, and the four arches supporting the statue symbolize the four points of the compass to remind the people of the universal sovereignty of Christ.

Although the Statue of Cristo Rei in Lisbon looks very similar to the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (but smaller), however I think each statue has its own uniqueness and beauty which can not be compared with each other.


This is the Ponte 25 de Abril which can be view from the Statue of Cristo Rei. It was designed by the same architect of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.







After a few days exploring Lisbon by ourselves, we (I and my parents) joined a Day Tour to Sintra. The tour took us to the westernmost point of both mainland Europe and Portugal, Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca), Serra de Sintra, Peninha Chapel and Cascais.

This is the geographical coordinates of the Cabo da Roca:
Latitude - 38' 47' North
Longitude - 9' 30' West
Altitude - 140 m above sea level


Fátima Sanctuary is one of the most important shrines of the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This sanctuary attracts millions of pilgrims and tourists from all over the world each year. This place is famous because of the successive apparitions of Virgin Mary (Our Lady of the Rosary) to three shepherd children, Lúcia and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, in 1917. The last apparition, on October 13th 1917, more than 70,000 people (included believers and non believers) confirmed to have witnessed Virgin Mary in the Cova, Iria, that day.

1st Apparition: May 13th 1917
2nd Apparition: June 13th 1917
3rd Apparition: July 13th 1917
4th Apparition: August 19th 1917
5th Apparition: September 13th 1917
6th Apparition: October 13th 1917


Aljustrel is a small village where the three little shepherds (Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco) were born and raised.









Lisbon Zoo (Jardim Zoologico de Lisboa) aims to have one of the best collections of animals in the world, including reptiles (alligators, crocodiles, Komodo dragons and snakes), birds (hornbills, toucans, turacoes, macaws, pheasants, pigeons and birds of prey, among others), giraffes, chimpanzees, hippos, tigers, polar bears, both Asian and African elephants, as well as other less familiar little creatures. In the zoo, there are regular shows featuring dolphins and sea lions, which is really a nice place to visit!

Thanks for reading my post. I wish you to have a great time in Portugal! This westernmost region of Europe is simply the perfect holiday choice!

To view more photos of Portugal, please visit the link below:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ristinw/sets/72157600243908792/
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