Lisbon Uncovered: Fascinating Facts About Lisbon

📅 11 July 2023 | Guides, Portugal | ⌛ 35 mins

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Welcome to the facts about Lisbon article, where history, culture, and charm coalesce in a vibrant tableau of life! In Lisbon, every cobblestone holds a story, every alleyway whispers secrets of the past, and every vista invites you to immerse yourself in the city’s captivating beauty. From its historic roots as a bustling port during the Age of Discovery to its contemporary prominence as a global hotspot for art, cuisine, and nightlife, Lisbon is a city that never ceases to intrigue.

In this blog post, we’ll journey through a fascinating collection of facts about Lisbon that make it a must-visit destination. From its distinct architecture to its world-renowned culinary treats, from its soulful Fado music to its awe-inspiring landmarks, let’s delve into the myriad wonders that make Lisbon a city like no other!

Lisbon is one of the Oldest Cities in Europe

For sure, there are some Lisbon history facts that will make you rethink history! First, Lisbon, is a capital city as old as time itself, is a living testament to the ebb and flow of civilizations. But how old is Lisbon, really? The history of Lisbon dates back more than 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, even predating other ancient metropolises like Rome and London. However, is Lisbon older than Rome? Well, we can not answer this!

Lisbon’s early history is rich and diverse, with the city initially inhabited by Iberian tribes before being settled by the Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. An interesting fact is that under Roman rule, the city was named “Felicitas Julia,” and the remnants of Roman occupation can still be seen today in Lisbon’s archaeological museum.

Alfama is the Oldest District in Lisbon

Alfama and Lisbon go hand-in-hand, so it is almost illegal to miss it! Fun fact about Lisbon is that Alfama district, is the oldest neighborhood. Its name originates from the Arabic term “Al-hamma,” meaning ‘hot baths’ or ‘fountains,’ reflecting the area’s Moorish past. This district, often referred to as the “Phoenix of Lisbon,” astoundingly survived the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake, preserving its ancient essence amidst the city’s modern pulse. Today, it is like a small village within the bustling city of Lisbon and stands as a testament to the city’s resilience.

The Moorish period, a rich chapter of Lisbon’s past has significantly shaped its present. As you wander the city, you’ll stumble upon traces of this era everywhere, some of them even carrying intriguing legends.

Alfama’s ancient walls also narrate the tale of Azulejos, the glazed, ceramic tiles that grace many of Lisbon’s buildings. Introduced by the Moors and reaching their aesthetic zenith in the 18th century, Azulejos have since become synonymous with Lisbon’s urban landscape, transforming the city into a living, breathing canvas of color and pattern.

As you explore, be sure to note the hidden symbols of the Moorish architectural influence. Horseshoe arches and intricately carved wooden ceilings are delightful reminders of Lisbon’s historical tapestry, subtly woven into the fabric of the city’s built environment.

The Legend of the Sé

It’s said that Martim Moniz, a valiant knight, witnessed the Moorish forces attempting to close the castle doors during the Christian Crusaders’ siege of Lisbon in 1147. In a heroic act of sacrifice, he threw himself into the doorway, keeping it open for the Christian soldiers, ultimately aiding in the city’s recapture. And that’s Lisbon facts!

Today, the Sé Cathedral, erected to commemorate this pivotal moment, honors Moniz with a dedicated statue.

How Lisbon Became the Capital of Portugal​

Did you know the story behind how Lisbon became the capital of Portugal? No. Well, here are some interesting fun facts about Lisbon and its climb up the ladder!

In the rich tapestry of Portuguese history, the journey towards Lisbon becoming the capital is an epic tale that weaves together the stories of previous Portuguese capitals like Guimarães and Coimbra. This narrative takes us back to the early days of Portugal’s formation and the struggle for independence against Muslim rule.

The story begins in the 9th century when the Iberian Peninsula was under the dominion of the Moors. In this era, Guimarães emerges as a significant stronghold. Led by the brave Count Vímara Peres, the region of Portus Cale, encompassing present-day northern Portugal, experienced a remarkable transformation. Vímara Peres chose Guimarães as his headquarters, a city nestled in the heart of Minho, and initiated the repopulation and defense of the area.

As Guimarães flourished, it became a symbol of resistance against Moorish invasions. Vímara Peres’s grandson, Afonso Henriques, would elevate Guimarães’ importance to unprecedented heights. Afonso Henriques, a legendary figure in Portuguese history, would go on to lead the fight for independence and declare himself the first King of Portugal in 1139.

The historic Battle of São Mamede in 1128, fought between Afonso Henriques and his own mother, Teresa of León, proved to be a turning point. Afonso emerged victorious, asserting his claim to the county and paving the way for the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal. While Guimarães played a vital role in these events, it would not retain its status as the capital.

Coimbra, a city of great cultural and academic significance, then took the reins as the capital. Coimbra became the residence of the Portuguese kings and served as the center of power and learning. Its renowned university, established in 1290, attracted scholars and intellectuals, further enhancing Coimbra’s prestige.

However, it was the magnetic pull of Lisbon that ultimately propelled it to the forefront of Portuguese history. Lisbon, strategically located on the banks of the Tagus River, possessed a natural harbor and close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. These factors, along with its burgeoning economic potential, led to the city’s ascendancy.

The 5-star Santiago de Alfama – Boutique Hotel is located in Lisbon’s historic center, just an 8-minute walk from the famed So Jorge Castle, and provides magnificent city views. This beautiful hotel is around 500 meters from Pombaline Downtown.

The on-site á la carte restaurant serves a wide cuisine, and the bar is a great spot to unwind after a day of visiting Lisbon. A continental breakfast is included in the room.

Under the reign of King Dinis, Lisbon was officially declared the capital in 1255. This decision solidified its role as the seat of power, administration, and trade. As Portugal’s maritime exploration unfolded, Lisbon’s significance skyrocketed. It became the launching point for numerous expeditions, including Vasco da Gama’s groundbreaking voyage to India.

Lisbon’s rise as the capital marked a new chapter in Portuguese history. It served as a beacon of progress, trade, and cultural exchange. The city’s architecture, such as the iconic Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery, showcased the grandeur and ambition of the Portuguese empire.

Today, Lisbon stands as a testament to its storied past and continues to captivate visitors with its blend of ancient heritage and modern vibrancy. The journey of Lisbon becoming the capital is not just a tale of political decisions, but a narrative steeped in the relentless spirit of the Portuguese people and their quest for independence, identity, and greatness.

The Hidden City of Lisbon​

It is not among the well-known facts about Lisbon, but there is a city beneath the streets of Lisbon.The hidden city of Lisbon, also known as the Galerias Romanas is one of the wonders of this captivating city. Located in the heart of the Baixa district, these galleries are a testament to the engineering prowess of the ancient Romans and their influence on the development of Lisbon.

Rediscovered in the 18th century during reconstruction work after the devastating earthquake of 1755, the Galerias Romanas showcase a network of underground passageways that once served as water supply and drainage systems in the ancient Roman city of Olisipo, now modern-day Lisbon.

Stretching beneath the streets of Baixa, the Roman Galleries feature a series of arches, corridors, and chambers. The construction techniques employed by the Romans are a testament to their ingenuity, with carefully crafted stone arches and intricate brickwork.

Fado Music Originated Back in Africa​

Fado, the soulful music of Portugal, has a captivating history rooted in themes of longing and fate. It emerged in the early 19th century in Lisbon’s neighborhoods, serving as an expression of the urban poor and marginalized communities. Influenced by African rhythms, Portuguese folk music, and Arabic melodies, Fado evolved into a genre characterized by mournful melodies accompanied by Portuguese and classical guitars.

In the mid-20th century, artists like Amália Rodrigues propelled Fado to international fame. Fun facts about Lisbon is that Fado was recognized as a cultural heritage by UNESCO, and continues to thrive in Lisbon’s Fado houses, enchanting audiences with its heartfelt performances.

Lisbon Was the Greatest Importer of Black Pepper​

During the Age of Discoveries, from the 15th to the 17th century, Lisbon emerged as the epicenter of a world expanding beyond known borders. This period was marked by the exploration of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and Lisbon was the bustling hub from which many of these expeditions embarked.

It was during this era that Portugal, under the patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator, led the world in maritime discoveries. Explorers like Vasco da Gama, who charted the sea route to India, and Ferdinand Magellan, the first to circumnavigate the globe, set sail from Lisbon’s ports. These voyages not only broadened geographical knowledge but also led to the establishment of trade routes and colonies, cementing Portugal’s position as a global power.

Lisbon reaped the riches of these explorations. Exotic goods from far-off lands – spices, silks, gold, and gems – flowed into its ports, transforming the city into a vibrant trading hub. Lisbon’s skyline changed dramatically, with grandiose buildings constructed to showcase the wealth and prosperity brought about by these new trade connections.

During the Age of Discoveries, the price of black pepper was so high in Lisbon that it was often used as collateral or even set a Lisbon currency. This ‘black gold’ helped finance many of the voyages during this era.

Belem Tower’s Rhinoceros

Monuments from this period still dot Lisbon’s landscape. The Belém Tower, for instance, was erected as a fortress to guard the entrance to the city’s harbor and stands today as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was also, once a prison where spies and other prisoners were taken.

Little known fact is that The Belém Tower, features a rhinoceros carved into its facade. This is thought to represent the rhinoceros that King Manuel I sent to Pope Leo X as a gift.

Jeronimos Monastery’s Secret Recipe

We’re going strong with the fun facts about Lisbon and straight to the Jeronimos Monastery. Yet another testament to Lisbon’s wealth during the Age of Discoveries. Funded by a tax on eastern spices, it’s a stunning example of Manueline architecture, a unique Portuguese style characterized by ornate detailing and maritime motifs. Interestingly enough is that the monks of the Jeronimos monastery were the ones that invented the famous recipe for the Pastel de Natas, which is highly protected from the public. In fact, only 3 people in the whole world know about it!

The Age of Discoveries was indeed a golden age for Lisbon, a time when the city was a beacon of exploration and progress. It transformed Lisbon into a cosmopolitan city, a crossroads of cultures, and the vibrant, multifaceted city that it is today. This period’s influence continues to ripple through Lisbon’s heritage, echoing in its stunning monuments and its pivotal role in world history.

Cork & Lisbon History

The history of cork and Lisbon is a story of innovation and entrepreneurship. It begins in the cork oak forests of Alentejo, where cork bark was skillfully harvested by Portuguese farmers. As demand for cork products grew, Lisbon became a hub for manufacturing and trade, thanks to its port connections.

Cork’s exceptional qualities led to its widespread use in various sectors, from wine stoppers to fashion accessories and home décor. Today, Lisbon continues to embrace cork, showcasing the creativity and craftsmanship of artisans. This history highlights the city’s ability to adapt while preserving its cultural heritage.

Lisbon’s Azulejos

Lisbon, the vibrant capital of Portugal, is renowned for its stunning architecture adorned with vibrant, hand-painted ceramic tiles known as Azulejos. These beautiful tiles have become an iconic symbol of the city’s cultural heritage and architectural charm.

The tradition of using Azulejos dates back to the Moorish period when the Moors introduced this art form to the Iberian Peninsula. Over the centuries, the craft evolved and flourished in Portugal, particularly in Lisbon. Azulejos were used to decorate churches, palaces, homes, and even public spaces, transforming the city into an open-air museum of colorful tilework.

These intricately designed tiles often depict intricate patterns, scenes from history, religious motifs, and intricate geometric designs. The vibrant blue hues, along with other rich colors, create a mesmerizing visual experience as you wander through the streets of Lisbon.

One notable place where the art of Azulejos is celebrated is the National Azulejo Museum, located in Lisbon. This museum showcases a vast collection of historic and contemporary tiles, providing visitors with a comprehensive understanding of the art form’s evolution and significance.

The Largest Saltwater Aquarium in Europe

Lisbon’s Oceanarium, as the largest saltwater aquarium in Europe, offers an immersive experience that will delight marine enthusiasts and curious travelers alike. Step into a mesmerizing world beneath the surface as you explore the captivating secrets of this aquatic wonderland.

It covers an impressive area of 8,000 square meters. The Oceanarium stands as a testament to human ingenuity and our fascination with the underwater realm. Its centerpiece is a breathtaking central tank that holds a staggering 2.5 million liters of water. This colossal aquarium provides an up-close encounter with magnificent species like sharks, rays, and sunfish, leaving visitors in awe of their grace and power.

Since its inauguration in 1998, the Oceanarium has been at the forefront of aquarium design and technology. Its cutting-edge facilities and exhibits provide an immersive experience that engages the senses and captivates the imagination.

Here are some Lisbon Oceanarium facts! The Lisbon Oceanarium goes beyond entertainment, taking a proactive role in marine conservation. By promoting awareness and education about the importance of preserving our oceans, it inspires visitors to become stewards of marine life.

Europe’s Largest Bridges

Looking for some more Lisbon fun facts? Well, here, you have it! Lisbon is a city graced with not one but two iconic bridges that leave a lasting impression on visitors: the Vasco da Gama Bridge and the 25 de Abril Bridge. Both structures are engineering marvels that contribute to Lisbon’s skyline and connect different parts of the city.

Lisbon’s Vasco da Gama Bridge is not just a remarkable feat of engineering but also a symbol of the city’s rich maritime history. Spanning the Tagus River, this iconic bridge holds fascinating facts that will intrigue travelers seeking to explore Lisbon’s architectural wonders.

Stretching across the Tagus River, the Vasco da Gama Bridge is an architectural marvel, boasting a total length of 17.2 kilometers. It is one of the longest bridges in Europe and an incredible sight to behold.

The Vasco da Gama Bridge was constructed in preparation for the 1998 World Exposition held in Lisbon. It took an impressive three years to complete, with construction commencing in 1995 and the bridge officially opening to the public in 1998.

On the other hand, the 25 de Abril Bridge, often compared to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge due to its striking resemblance, stands as another iconic symbol of Lisbon. A fun fact about the 25 de Abril Bridge is that it was built by the same company that built the San Francisco’s Bridge.

This suspension bridge spans the Tagus River, connecting the city to Almada. It bears a captivating red color, reminiscent of its American counterpart. Originally named Salazar Bridge, it was renamed after the 1974 Carnation Revolution that brought democracy to Portugal. The 25 de Abril Bridge features a double-deck design, with a roadway on the top and a railway line beneath. Its majestic towers and panoramic views make it a significant landmark and a popular subject for photographs.

The Seven Hills of Lisbon

Another interesting fact about Lisbon you should know is about its hills. The seven hills of Lisbon, also known as the “Sete Colinas,” are not just geographical features but hold a significant place in the history, culture, and identity of the city. These hills have shaped the urban landscape, provided breathtaking viewpoints, and contributed to the unique charm of Lisbon.

Each of the seven hills is home to iconic landmarks that have become symbols of Lisbon. From São Jorge Castle perched atop the highest hill to the Alfama district nestled on the slopes, the hills offer a rich tapestry of historical and cultural treasures.

The hills provide stunning panoramic views of Lisbon’s skyline, the Tagus River, and beyond. From viewpoints like Miradouro da Graça and Miradouro de Santa Luzia, visitors can witness the breathtaking beauty of the city, capturing its unique blend of historical and modern architecture.

The seven hills of Lisbon are the following: São Jorge Hill (Colina de São Jorge), Santo André Hill (Colina de Santo André), São Roque Hill (Colina de São Roque), Santa Catarina Hill (Colina de Santa Catarina), Chagas Hill (Colina das Chagas), Santana Hill (Colina de Santana) and Nossa Senhora do Monte Hill (Colina de Nossa Senhora do Monte).

Now that you know all of the hills in Lisbon, you can go and check them out!

The Symbol of Lisbon

One of the interesting facts about Lisbon is its symbol. While the symbol of Lisbon is often associated with the Portuguese Rooster, another prominent and intriguing symbol that can be observed throughout the city is the crow. Crows hold a special place in Lisbon’s cultural and historical fabric, representing a unique and mysterious aspect of the city’s identity.

Crows, known as “corvos” in Portuguese, have long been associated with Lisbon’s folklore and mythology. They have garnered a reputation as intelligent and adaptable creatures, often symbolizing wisdom, cunning, and guardianship. These dark-feathered birds have captured the imagination of locals and visitors alike, becoming an enigmatic presence in Lisbon’s streets, parks, and stories.

One of the most renowned legends associated with crows in Lisbon is the story of São Vicente, the city’s patron saint. According to popular belief, when Saint Vincent’s remains were brought to Lisbon, two crows followed the ship carrying his body and guided it safely to the shore. Since then, crows have been considered as protective spirits of the city, watching over Lisbon and its inhabitants.

Crows can often be spotted perched on statues, rooftops, and trees throughout Lisbon, adding an air of mystery and intrigue to the urban landscape. Their presence is particularly noticeable in certain neighborhoods like Mouraria and Alfama, where narrow streets and historical architecture create an atmospheric backdrop.

The Street Art of Lisbon

Lisbon, the vibrant capital of Portugal, has become renowned for its captivating street art scene. From colorful murals to thought-provoking graffiti, the city is a living canvas that showcases artistic expression at every turn. What makes Lisbon even more unique is that the municipality not only tolerates but encourages street art, allowing artists to freely express themselves throughout the city.

One of the best areas to immerse yourself in Lisbon’s street art is the neighborhood of Bairro Alto. Known for its bohemian atmosphere, Bairro Alto’s narrow streets and facades are adorned with captivating murals and intricate designs. The neighborhood’s energy and artistic spirit make it an ideal starting point for exploring Lisbon’s street art scene. In addition to Bairro Alto and Marvila, street art can be found in various other areas of Lisbon, including the historical district of Alfama and the creative hub of LX Factory.

Another neighborhood worth exploring is Marvila, a former industrial area that has been transformed into a hub for creativity. Marvila is home to numerous street art initiatives, such as “Galeria de Arte Urbana” (Urban Art Gallery), where local and international artists have been invited to paint large-scale murals on the neighborhood’s buildings. This ongoing project has turned Marvila into an open-air gallery, showcasing the diversity and talent of Lisbon’s street art community.

Fun facts about Lisbon’s municipality is that it actively supports and encourages street art, recognizing its cultural and social value. The city views street art as a means of revitalizing neighborhoods, fostering creativity, and engaging with the local community. Rather than removing or covering up street art, the municipality embraces it as an integral part of the city’s identity.

Lisbon’s Metro Stations

Fun facts about Lisbon’s metro system not only provides convenient transportation but also showcases unique and fascinating features at its various stations.

The Restauradores metro station, located in the heart of Lisbon, holds the distinction of being the oldest metro station in the city. It opened in December 1959, marking the beginning of Lisbon’s metro network.

The Oriente Station, designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, stands out with its striking modern architecture. Inspired by maritime themes, the station’s design resembles the hull of a ship or the wings of a bird, capturing the essence of Lisbon’s seafaring history. Another example of metro stations showcasing different designs and elements are the Cidade Universitária metro station is dedicated to education, featuring illustrations of famous scholars and thinkers, while the Baixa-Chiado metro station showcases archaeological artifacts discovered during its construction.

Bairro Alto: One of Lisbon’s historic neighborhoods, Bairro Alto wakes up as the sun goes down. The narrow cobblestone streets come alive with a mix of locals and tourists reveling in the plethora of bars and pubs.

Fun Fact: This district’s bohemian atmosphere has been a hub for writers and artists for centuries. So, you’re quite literally walking in the footsteps of creative geniuses.

Cais do Sodré: Once a seedy district, Cais do Sodré has reinvented itself as one of Lisbon’s hottest nightlife spots. Pink Street, so-called because of its pink-painted road, is the heartbeat of this area, lined with bars and clubs.

Tip: Don’t miss Pensão Amor, a former brothel turned eclectic bar that retains its original, quirky charm.

Lux Frágil: This is Lisbon’s most iconic club and a mandatory stop on any night owl’s itinerary. With an impressive lineup of DJs and a rooftop terrace, Lux Frágil is often touted as one of the best nightclubs in Europe.

Pro-tip: Arrive early as the line can get extremely long, and dress to impress if you want to make it past the discerning doormen.

Lisbon’s Festivals

Fun facts about Lisbon is that it is home to many festivals throughout the year. The first festival worth mentioning is the King’s Day, which is a national holiday in Portugal when people exchange gifts on the 6th of January.

In February, is celebrated the Carnaval de Lisboa, where Lisbon is full of color and samba parades, somewhat similar to Brazil’s famous festival. During March, you can check out the Monstra Animation Film Festival. Whilst in April, you can be part of the Dia de Liberdade, also known as Freedom Day, this public holiday on April 25 celebrates the 1974 revolution that ended the dictatorship in Portugal.

In May, you can check out the Indie Lisboa film festival or the Lisbon Fish & Flavors food festival. June is for the Santos Populares culture festival, which celebrates the saints of Portugal. During June, you can also join the ARCOlisboa art festival and have some fun.

July is all about the party, when the Super Bock Super Rock and NOS Alive music festivals occur. These are one of Europe’s most popular music festivals, featuring many international artists, usually takes place in July. In August, the Jazz em Agosto music festival takes place.

The music festivals end in September with the Lisb-On music festival that goes on for three days and offers a wide range of electronic music.

Then, in October we get the DocLisboa film festival focusing on documentary movies and the Web Summit in November, which is a technology festival hosting one of the biggest tech conferences. Last, but not least, is the Natal em Lisboa, which is the pure celebration of Christmas in Lisbon.

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I hope that you have found this post about fun facts about Lisbon useful. Do you plan to visit any of the suggested places this Christmas season?

Which one is first on your list?