About Shankar C
Lives in New Jersey
Since Dec 2005
It's a fascinating world we live in. There is so much to see and learn. When I travel I try to go beyond the obvious and get a real feel of a place and people. Most important, it's the memories of people and their kindness - whether in a remote train station in Japan or in a remote Basque town in Spain - that provide me with a high level of joy and insipration.
Castles, Historic Sites
Historic Walking Areas
Sacred & Religious Sites, Architectural Buildings
Sacred & Religious Sites
Bars & Clubs
A visit to Alfama remains incomplete without a ride on Tram 28. Alfama serves as the perfect backdrop for riding Tram 28 which has been in operation since 1914. This vintage tram with its slow pace and rattling sound perfectly complements the medieval look and feel of Alfama. Perhaps it is also the most practical mode of transportation to maneuver through its narrow and winding streets. Equally important it provides a sense of immediacy and intimacy with surrounding sights and scenes from a touch and feel range. The Alfama portion of the tram ride stops at important sites such as the Castle of St. George, The Cathedral, and Church of St. Antonio as well as viewpoints such as Miraduoro das Portas do Sol and Miraduoro de Santa Luiza. To avoid a crowded tram, take an early morning ride to St. George Castle from either Rua do CONCEIÇÃO or from Graca and get off either at Portas Sol or Santa Luiza stop and then walk up to the castle.
Castelo de Sao George (St. George Castle) is one of oldest and most towering structures of Lisbon. Situated at the very top of Lisbon's highest hill, it had been built or reinforced by the Moors around the 11th century over structures/artifacts built by the Phoenicians and the Romans. The castle served as the Royal Palace after it was wrested from the Moors in 1142. Declared a National Monument in 1910, it has gone through various restorations. The Castle Museum Center serves as a permanent exhibit and displays objects and findings unearthed at the site from various cultural periods that contribute to our knowledge of the various facets of Lisbon's long history and tradition. An archaeological area displays structural objects from the 7th century B.C., the Islamic period and the earthquake ravaged Condes de Santiago Palace, originally constructed by the Moors. It's the view from the castle that is also one of its strongest attractions. From the ramparts of the inner courtyard one gets a stunning and sweeping view of Lisbon and the surrounding areas. The Tower of Ulysses houses a Camera Obscura Periscope (supposedly the only one in Portugal) that offers a sweeping 360 degree view of Lisbon in real time. You appreciate your view from the castle even more if you locate and read Sophia de Mello Breyner's evocative poem "Lisbon" inscribed on a panel in the viewing area.
After having seen the Castle, your next destination should be Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro das portas do sol, both in close proximity to each other. The terrace by the Church of Santa Luzia offers a stunning view of the Tagus River and house and church rooftops along with important landmarks such as the Church of Santo Estavao (St. Stephen) and the dome of the National Pantheon. Two historic tile panels grace the east wall of the church facing the terrace. One of the panels depicts the siege and re-conquest of St. George Castle from the Moors in 1147; the other depicts Terreiro do Paço (Palace Square) before it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. Embellished with gardens, bougainvillea and trellises’, Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a great oasis for enjoying the surrounding while getting a sense of Lisbon's past. After Miraduoro de Santa Luzia, stroll to Miradouro das portas do sol which also offers an equally stunning view of the panorama. A statue of Lisbon's patron saint St. Vincent is at the center of the plaza and the nearby Cafe Portas do sol is an excellent spot to relax over a drink or cup of coffee while enjoying the sight. From Portas do Sol viewpoint you could also walk over to the nearby Decorative Arts Museum to get a glimpse of 18th-19th century tapestries, porcelain and furniture of the Portuguese nobility.
This should be your next destination for lunch break. Set back from the street, this restaurant is not easy to locate. Grape vines serving as a canopy over a courtyard is the signature hallmark of the front section of this restaurant. Inside there are three serving areas with their walls adorned with pictures of Hollywood and other international celebrities of yesteryears. Popular among the locals, this place is worth having meal. Have your lunch in the courtyard. There could not be a better setting to enjoy food and view the flow of life and activities down below. The views of St. Miguel Church across the street and that of St Antonio's at a distance make this spot extra special. However, even before you get here through the winding roads, keep your eyes open for the gallery of baroque tiles on the facades of various buildings on Rua San Miguel, especially on the side walls of St. Michael (Miguel) Church that depicts Our Lady of the Rosary with baby Jesus above St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena.
One of the city’s oldest structures, Se de Lisboa or the Lisbon Cathedral was built in 1150 after Christian crusaders led by King Afonso Henriques had captured the city from the Moors. It was built on the site of an Arab mosque and an English crusader named Gilbert of Hastings was placed as the first bishop due to his assistance in fighting the Moors during the crusades. It has been the see of Lisbon archdiocese ever since. Because of major earthquakes in 1344 and 1755, the successive reconstruction of the cathedral led to an eclectic mix of Roman, Gothic and Neoclassical styles. Romanesque columns coexist with Gothic tombs and Rococo styles in the main chapel. In the Baroque sacristy, built during the 1600s, you can visit the cathedral's treasures of numerous sacred objects and the St. Vicent (São Vicente) relics, Lisbon's patron saint. A neoclassical chapel contains King Afonso’s tomb. One can also locate the spot where St. Anthony was baptized as Fernando Martins de Bulhoes in the Se in 1195. A recently excavated courtyard reveals the site’s Roman and Visigoth remains, as well as a portion of the former mosque wall.
This church is built on the site where Saint Anthony (later canonized as St. Anthony of Padua) was born. A statute of the Saint stands in front of the Church. As is the case with its bigger neighbor, the Cathedral, the architecture of Santo Antonio reflects a combination of various styles from baroque to neoclassical, largely necessitated by damages from repeated earthquakes. Inside, a tile panel commemorates the visit of Pope Jon Paul in 1982 when he came to inaugurate the statue of Saint Anthony and prayed at the spot where the saint was born. A small underground chapel marks the exact location where Saint Anthony was born in 1195. A small museum displays images and manuscripts about his life. On Saint Anthony's Day in June, mass weddings take place here and in the city's cathedral in the Saint’s honor as he had been well known as a match-maker. It is a tradition for newly married couples to visit here and leave flowers, asking Saint Anthony to bless their marriage.
After visiting Lisbon Cathedral St. Anthony's Church and the Roman Theatre, you should head out to nearby Pois Cafe for a coffee break. Many Lisboetas claim they prefer this place over other more well-known establishments like Café A Brasileira. I can see why I would tend to agree with them. This place has a certain cozy and homey feeling that you may not get in other eateries. A variety of fresh salads, pastries, and soups in an open space with Moorish styled arched ceilings heighten your culinary experience. One can easily linger a good chunk of an entire afternoon at this relaxing place lounging, chatting, reading, reflecting or watching the world go by.
It’s fitting that the museum is based in Alfama where Fado emerged as a distinct music genre in the taverns and bars in working class neighborhoods. The Museum traces the evolution of Fado – designated by UNESCO as world’s intangible cultural heritage in 2011 - with various combinations of audiovisual presentations, multilingual information panels, and musical archives. Very interesting is its portrayal of biographies of well-known Fado personalities such as Amalia Rodrigues and Mariza as well as its description of the evolution of the 12 string pear shaped Portuguese guitar. It also displays how Fado influenced the works of a whole genre of Portuguese artists for over a century beginning with works of Jose Malhoa in 1910 and continuing through the works of João Vieira completed as recently as 2005. Fado’s impact as a social force in the trade union movement and social protests is also fascinating to learn about. A visit to the museum is a must if you’re truly interested to getting a solid perspective of Fado's role in shaping and enriching Portugal’s cultural identity.
The museum visit should be followed by your dinner at Bico do Sapato which is about a 10 minute walk from the museum, very close to the Santa Apolónia train (subway) station on the waterfront. Part-owned by film personalities John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve, this restaurant is one of the hippest places in town with its artful yet minimalist décor along with excellent gourmet cuisine. The food here is both Portuguese and International with some of the best sushi, tempura, and kushiyaki dishes in Lisbon. The wine list is extensive and well complements the variety of dishes. Bica do Sapato is divided into three spaces, each with its own ambiance and menu: the cafeteria, the restaurant (both offering Mediterranean food), and the top floor where Japanese cuisine is served. There is also an open air terrace where one can dine in even closer proximity to the water. While the restaurant's association with celebrities has made it into a hip place to dine, the quality of food and the atmosphere have also been large drawing factors.
An ideal trip to Alfama should and must end with a visit to one of its Fado houses. Fado, Portugal's most unique music genre of mournful songs, was added to UNESCO’s list of World’s Intangible Cultural Heritages in 2011. Clube do Fado is one of the most professional and internationally known fado clubs in Lisbon. Led by Mario Pacheco, the well-known Fado guitarist, the club has a large following among foreign visitors. Pacheco has also released various albums of his music performed with accomplished singers such as Mariza, Rodrigo Costa Félix, Camane and Ana Sofia Varela. The atmosphere of the club is very appealing with stone columns, arches, and a Moorish well. You could combine your visit with both dinner and fado performance or you could decide to opt for a drink and show and forego the dinner, especially if you show up after having dinner at Bico do Sopato or elsewhere. Enjoy the show as singers rotate and the music gradually intensifies as the night wears on.