Downtown Lisbon is an 18th-century district, completely rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake which had destroyed most of it. It was Europe’s worst-recorded earthquake but it also led to the continent’s first neoclassical urban planning with the world’s first large-scale earthquake-proof construction.
Its grid was given precise geometric specifications and each street was named after different trades (shoes, gilding, saddlery, gold, and silver).
In the 20th century, most of the buildings were taken over by banks and offices, deserting the area of residents, and with the city expanding up the Avenidas Novas, many are now abandoned or under complicated renovations. Still, the neighborhood oozes atmosphere with stuck-in-a-time-warp shops, Art Nouveau signs, old men yelling out lottery ticket numbers to sell, African immigrants hanging by Rossio, young skate-boarders in Praça da Figueira, flower vendors, street performers, shoe shiners, and glimpses of the waterfront…
Some of the streets are pedestrianized and connect a number of monumental neoclassical squares, from Rossio and its cafés to the waterfront Praça do Comércio overlooked by a triumphal arch, to the attractive Praça do Município.
At the moment there are ambitious renovation plans for the entire district, the biggest since the 18th-century reconstruction, in an effort to have it recognized as a World Heritage Site.
Top 5 Attractions
One of Europe’s biggest squares, where you may relax at any time of the day at one of the many outdoor cafés, and where you may stay for the sunset views from the “Cais das Colunas” pier.
Rua Augusta’s Triumphal Arch
A triumphal arch that welcomes those arriving in Lisbon by boat, with a terrace offering beautiful views of the waterfront and over all of downtown.
Santa Justa’s Lift
A monumental neo-gothic wrought-iron elevator, designed by one of Gustave Eiffel’s disciples, offering a panoramic view of Lisbon.
Conserveira de Lisboa
In business for over 80 years, this shop offers all kinds of Portuguese canned fish, now considered true gourmet delicacies, much appreciated by locals and tourists, also for their charming packages.
Take a look at the cobbled designs, at the Dona Maria II National Theater, the Azevedo Rua hat shop, the monumental fountains, and at life going by this historic square, and take a coffee break at the classic Café Nicola.
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