Today we dive into one of our all-time favorite cities. As you may have guessed from the title, this is about Lisbon. The capital of Portugal might live in the shadow of other cities on the Iberian peninsula, but its residents and visitors know well its charms, delights and attractions. Hopefully by the time you finish reading this article, so do you.
Lisbon is the largest city in Portugal and is home to 2.7 million people, which represents 27% of the entire country’s population. Basically, it means a quarter of the country’s population lives there. Lisbon stands on the river Tagus. This prime location supported the nation’s amazing seafaring history crafted over many centuries. It sits cradled by hills with picture-postcard panoramas cobbled alleys with domed cathedrals. It’s a magnificent city and it seduces visitors into wishing they could stay forever.
With those introductions out of the way, here are 10 things you didn’t know about Lisbon
1 – Lisbon is Europe’s second-oldest capital.
The oldest capital is Athens, the capital of Greece. Lisbon is next and generally accepted by experts to be 4 centuries older than Rome. With this kind of pedigree, you can expect quality food, art, architecture and all the things we love. The word Lisbon means “Enchanting port” in Phoenicians, which are strongly believed to be the first to settle there.
2 – Lisbon has never been officially confirmed as the capital of Portugal.
Most of the world’s capital cities have been confirmed or declared in official documents as you would expect. This is not the case for Lisbon. it gained its status de facto when king Alfonso III moved his court in 1255 to what had become Portugal’s largest and most important city. And people just went along with it. The lack of official status has certainly been made up for since, as Lisbon is now the capital of the district of Lisbon. This might sound confusing but it’s really a workaround to get the same benefits without officially confirming it as the capital.
3 – Lisbon is incorrectly named as the city of seven hills.
Most people know Rome as the city of seven hills, but Lisboetas call their city by the same name. However, this is technically inaccurate. It is thought that the nickname developed to make Lisbon sound as important as Rome. But the city is actually on 8 hills. Interestingly, Graca, the one omitted from the official list, is also the tallest.
4 – The city was devastated by an earthquake in 1755.
The Great Earthquake shook the ground at 10:00 am on 1 November 1755 for 8 mins. It was followed by a city engulfing tsunami and a devastating firestorm that lasted a week. They got hit by all three of them, one after the other. The city was decimated. The earthquake and its aftermath are the reasons why the ancient capital is dominated by the Pombaline architecture rather than a juxtaposition of everything from the middle ages onwards like the rest of Europe’s great cities.
5 – Lisbon is home to the world’s most expensive chapel.
There is an austere Jesuit church thought to be the earliest Jesuit church in Portugal and the Portuguese Empire. It was designed as an auditorium for preaching but it also contains a number of chapels. Most are built in the baroque style that dominated the early 17th century. But the chapel of Saint John the Baptist was built in the 18th century and is the most expensive chapel in the world.
The thing is, for some reason, everyone agrees that it’s the most expensive one, but there isn’t any clear indication of the price. Because it’s not only the raw material that makes up the price point. It was designed and constructed in Rome using the most expensive materials including gold, silver, ivory, lapis lazuli and agate. In 1747, after it had been blessed by the Pope, it was deconstructed and shipped to Lisbon. Yes! they shipped an entire church from one country to the other. It is regarded as a masterpiece of European Art. The chapel contains extraordinarily detailed mosaics.
6 – The city was a hotbed of spies in World War II.
Portugal remained neutral in the second world war. However, it was known as the capital of espionage. Spies from opposing sides descended on the city and misinformation was very much the name of the game. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was on duty for British Naval Intelligence in Lisbon. That is well known that the seaside town of Estoril, under half an hour away from the capital, was the major inspiration of the world’s secret agents. Estoril was a casino town where Europe’s richest refugees gathered, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Spanish royal family.
7 – The recipe for pasteis de Belem is known to only 5 men.
Custard tarts, or Pasteis de Nata, are extremely popular all over Portugal. But in Lisbon, they love a particular version of this pastry. They are so good they were once named in Guardian’s 15th most tasty delicacy in the world. The Lisbon version of the tart was originally made by monks. But in 1834 when their abbey was closed, a sugar refinery bought the recipe from them. The refinery owners opened the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem in 1837 and their descendants own the business to this day. The five men of the family are privy to the secret recipe. To protect it, they never travel on the same plane, take the same car or order the same dish at any restaurant. This is done in case something horrible happens, at least one of them survives along with the secret recipe.
8 – Lisbon was the 1st city to import Guinness.
The record shows that the first export out of Ireland of the world’s famous stout outside of the United Kingdom was made to Lisbon in 1811. This is a big departure on the beverages’ front for a country known for its Port and Vino Verde.
9 – Trams first ran in Lisbon’s street in 1873.
Lisbon’s trams were first imported from the USA. So don’t be surprised if you see similarities between the cars that run in San Francisco and those in Lisbon. The grooved rails are called “carris” in Portuguese and this is also the name of the public transport company that operates the trams. The trams were originally called Americanos. Today they are a huge favourite with visitors becoming as iconic as the city itself.
10 – Lisbon’s Vasco de Gama bridge is the longest bridge in Europe.
Standing Tagus river, the Vasco de Gama bridge carries 6 traffic lanes and connects the North back with the South bank. It was completed in 1998 and so named to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese explorer’s discovery of the sea route from Europe to India. It is a cable slave bridge and has a length of 7.6 miles (12.3 km)
Ready to visit Lisbon?
There is much we don’t know about Lisbon and Portugal, so it may be time to go out there and explore! Before travelling, make sure your EHIC is up to date. To apply for your EHIC, click here > We also strongly recommend you to buy travel insurance to be fully covered. You can compare prices here > Tenha uma boa viagem! Have a nice trip!