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The Beautiful Downtown of Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal. Lisbon (Portuguese, Lisboa) is situated on the north bank of the estuary of the Tagus (Tejo) River, which narrows before reaching the Atlantic Ocean and forms a fine natural harbor.

The city itself can be compared in shape to an amphitheater, formed by terraces on the slopes of the hills above the Tagus. The hills form the western limits of the Estremaduran plateau. Lisbon's climate is usually mild—drier than Paris, not so dry as Rome. The mean annual temperature is 60° F (15° C), and the average annual rainfall is 29.5 inches (749 mm).

The city is not only the governmental but the commercial center of the country. Its main commercial significance is as a seaport. A large number of the exports and imports of Portugal and Spain pass through its harbor. The exports are mainly agricultural products from the interior and canned fish, chiefly sardines. Cotton, coal, and grain are important imports. The harbor is used by naval as well as merchant ships.

Lisbon also serves as a point of transshipment. It is connected by rail and highway with the interior of the country and with the rest of Europe. The airport at Portela de Sacavém, 6.5 miles (10.5 km) outside the city, has direct flights to most of Europe, North and South America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Local industry consists of the manufacture of textiles, soap, and pottery, as well as the various maritime trades. The tourist trade from other parts of Europe and from North America is also an important source of income.

Description of the City

Lisbon has four principal districts. It grew westward from the old and picturesque Alfama, which dates from Roman times and also shows Moorish influence. Next is the Cidade Baixa (Lower City), with the Bairro Alto (Upper District) to the northwest. Farthest west is the Alcântara district, named for the Alcântara River.

Crowning the heights of Alfama is a Moorish castle, now called São Jorge (St. George) to honor the English for the alliance of 1386. The cathedral (Sé) is also in this district. A combination of Gothic and Romanesque in style, it was built in 1147 on the site of a Moorish mosque and rebuilt after earthquakes in 1344 and 1755.

The late Renaissance monastery of São Vicente contains the remains of Portugal's kings. The present-day Alfama is famous for its numerous cafés, where, in an archaic setting, singers continue the ancient tradition of the fado, Portugal's sad form of popular song. On the edge of the district is the Mouraria, the ancient Moorish quarter.

The modern center of Lisbon is the Cidade Baixa, largely rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755. The streets, which were laid out according to the plans of the Marquis de Pombal, are broad, geometrical, and broken by numerous squares. The main square is the Praça do Comércio, popularly known as Black Horse Square, which is situated on the waterfront. It contains an equestrian statue of King Joseph I (reigned 1750–1777) and is surrounded on three sides by government buildings.

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Other notable squares include the Praça dos Restauradores, dominated by an obelisk in honor of the heroes who secured Portugal's independence from Spain in 1640, and the Praça de Dom Pedro IV, commonly called the Rossio.

Lisbon has expanded northward, and it is in the northwestern district, the Bairro Alto, that the city's most modern construction can be seen. The streets in this district are modeled on the Avenida da Liberdade, the city's most prominent avenue, which runs north from the Praça dos Restauradores.

The commercial docks lie to the west of Cidade Baixa in the district of Alcântara. Beyond that is the suburb of Belém, which contains many buildings of note. These include the Tower of Belém at the port entrance and the 15th century Hieronymite church, both built to commemorate the opening of the sea route to Asia.

Two famous palaces are the Ajuda, the former royal residence, which has a fine library of medieval documents, and the Belém, where the president of the republic lives. A remarkable aqueduct, the Aguas Livres, completed in 1748, carries water into the city over the Alcântara Valley.

Although the university founded by King Denis in 1290 was moved to Coimbra in 1537, another was established in Lisbon in 1911, and a technical school was attached to it in 1930. The Escola Politécnica was founded in 1837 after the abolition of the Colégio dos Nobres (School for Nobles).

Lisbon has numerous museums, including the famous Museu dos Coches, which has an unusually extensive collection of coaches and carriages. There are museums of art, archaeology, and ethnology and two municipal museums.

In 1966 the Ponte Suspensa across the estuary of the Tagus from Lisbon to Almada was opened. It was Europe's longest suspension bridge and has facilitated communication between the capital and the southern part of Portugal. It has been partly responsible for the growth of the province of Algarve as a tourist resort.

Built to carry both automobiles and trains, the bridge connects with a new network of urban freeways in Lisbon proper. Close to the bridge terminus in Almada, a large statue of Christ looks down upon Lisbon harbor.

In the environs of Lisbon there are many beautiful sites, such as the resorts of Estoril and Cascais on the Atlantic coast northwest of the city and the 18th century palace of Queluz in suburban Sintra.

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