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Lisbon, the City Older Than Both Rome and London.

Updated on May 13, 2020
Sandra Miliers profile image

Sandra was born in Toronto, came to Europe for university and ended up travelling and working the world. Portugal is one of her favourites.

One of my favorites.

Lisbon, the eternal city. Or at least if you ask the Portuguese. I went on vacation here in 2014 with my then partner, and just fell in love. Later, when the relationship finished, I was lucky to move there to live and work as a tourguide for two years. It is such a fascinating city, with everything from the new high-tech districts to the oldstyle Alfama. From the history of the city, to the beaches only a 15 minute train ride away.

Lisbon has something for everybody, and although it may be considered a "small" capital, it has a lot of heart and "personality". As I wrote before, it is a very cosmpolitan city today, a mix of everything that history has brought with it. And it's all been connected to the river, the Tagus, or "Tajo", as the portuguese would say.

Wiev of Lisbon from one of the hills. Own photo
Wiev of Lisbon from one of the hills. Own photo

Did you know Lisbon is older than Rome, London and Paris?

It is actually true, there were people living in the Lisbon area before the modern day "hubs" appeard.

The first people to arrive here, were the Phoenicians. They were a trading people coming with the boats looking for somewhere to dock when the atlantic ocean became to "unruly". I don't think they had any plans of settling in this area, there was basically nobody living here, and nothing to do. However, people ended up staying longer and longer, and all of a sudden people were living here year round, a society had formed. The phoenicians called this place "Allis Ubbo", meaning safe port.

As the Phoenincians were such a trading people, the greeks, vikings and celts and most of the trading societies also visited this area. Later, the Carthaginians arrived, and took over, and the Phoenician rule came to an end.

But one day everything was about to change. The roman empire arrived becoming the new rulers, and the condition now was, adapt or die. Or be thrown out of here. The romans started governing, building a Forum in what today is the citycenter, a circus, bathouses, and a fort upon the hill looking over the river Tagus. The roman empire stayed around in what they knew as Lusitania, all the way until the end of the empire, to later let their buildings fall apart with time.

The year 711, Tariq, normally living in Tanger in modern day Morocco, decided to cross the sound to conquer the iberian peninsula. The year 714, he reached Lisbon, renaming it Al-Ushbuna. The arabic took advantage of the old roman buildings, reused the materials to build their own houses.

The arabic thrived in this region. With time, Lisbon now turned itself into a moneymaking port and a large commercial center. It was a time when art flourished in the city, and muslims, christians and jews lived together more or less peacefully.

Sunset over the Tagus river.
Sunset over the Tagus river.

Change arrived.

But things were about to change again in the almost mid 1100's. In the very north of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, the newly self proclaimed king of "Portucale" was preparing to conquer Lisbon and the algarve from the muslim governors. 1147, Afonso came to Lisbon, started a war against the muslims, a war he later ended up winning. The christians (or catholics, if you prefer) now started to remodel the city after their needs and likes.

During the 12- and 1300's Portugal basically dedicated itself to fighting with its great enemies next door, the Spanish. I think at the end of the 1300's, it is like they got fed up with fighting, and just decided to look the other way. Literally. If you don't look inland towards Spain, where do you look?

Towards the atlantic ocean. Portugal now built bigger and bigger boats, sailing further and further developing the first ever colonial empire. Lisbon was now the center of attention, the city had a huge population developed by "regulars", merchants, and slaves. The city is said to smell out of cinnamon and flowers, and huge buildings were built to "house" all the foreign merchandise that came from all corners of the world. For nearly 200 years, Lisbon was the center of attention. Having grown into one of the star cities of europe, this was where you needed to be, to become rich. The city was overly populated but except from housing, there was not really any problem, as everbody was rich.

Praça do Comercio. Built where the boats would dock back in the 15- 1600's.
Praça do Comercio. Built where the boats would dock back in the 15- 1600's.

Earthquake. The fatal day.

But then came that fatal day, 1st of November 1755. Lisbon was struck by an earthquake, later, a tsunami which was followed by a fire and a massive ladslide. There was nothing that could help the city now. Everything was destroyed.

But as always, when the portuguese are down, they know how to get themselves up. By the guidance of Sebastian Carvalho e Melo, better known as Marques do Pombal, the city got the architecture that we see today. However, rebuilding an entire capital takes it's time, so when they were finally finished, the empire that once was one of the biggest on the globe, had basically dissapeard.

Marques do Pombal. The man who rebuilt the city.
Marques do Pombal. The man who rebuilt the city.

1800: Finishing and starting again.

The 1800's in not the best era to have lived in Portugal. The country lost many of their colonies, causing financial problems, but also, there was alot of mistrust towards the royals. In 1908, Portugal saw a regicide, where the king Carlos and the future heir, Luis Felipe were killed during a parade in the city center. In 1910, after a reuplic revolution, Portugal proclaimed itself a republic, and in 1926 Salazar started what was going to become modern europe's longest dictatorship, ending in 1974 with the carnation revolution.

After the carnation revolution, the "new" Portugal started to see light of day, and it was a country that had to again start all over. They decided to now put alot of effort towards tourism, bringing money in from abroad to "rebuild" the country. Slowly, with time, tourism has become one of the main sources of income, together with agriculture and wine production


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