Lisbon for free

You future Lisbon explorer, whether you are a backpacker or not, you have to go on one of the free walking tours by panchotours. There are two to choose from, a tour through Alfama or a 2.5 hour guided walk through Bairo Alto/Chiado.  I went on the latter and was lucky enough to be in a tiny group  and have Alvaruo [pronounced: Auvaru], the owner of the Pancho Tours in Lisbon, as our guide. He made me understand Lisbon like nothing else I had seen or read in my previous 4 days of my stay – I experienced places I would not have discovered and heard facts I would not have remembered in such a story telling, engaging way. So, here my top 4 knowledge gems I gained through the tour.

Derelict Buildings

The centre reflects a wealthy past, but almost all building are run down and most top floor spaces seem unoccupied. How can this be, beautifully tiled houses with french balconies right in the middle of the centre? In fact only 20% of Lisbon’s inhabitants live in the city centre. Some flats even have been unoccupied for nearly 30 years². It’s said that this is caused by a law passed after the 1974 revolution³ which froze all rents making it not economically viable to maintain the property for rental. Of  course more recent economical developments haven’t helped that the state is not driving development. There may only be one advantage: there are plenty of interesting artist spaces – How else could the annual design exhibition be housed in an old court right in the centre of town for 1.5 months?

City of Tolerance

The above picture of São Domingos Square has ‘Lisbon, city of tolerance’ written in 32 different languages. It’s a reminder of the dark times, when in 1506 over 3500 Jewish people were killed on this square as result of a 100 day free pass for inquisition granted by a Christian priest, with the reasoning them to be responsible for the plague and suffering of the time – probably a sign of envy of more successful trading. Nowadays it’s the meeting point of ethic minority groups. If I hadn’t gone on the walking tour, I would not have come across this square tugged away by Rossio train station and not visited the overwhelming Sao Domingos church with its burned walls and red painted ceiling – in memory of the cruelty.

The 1755 earth quake

Symbolised through the convento do Carmo [6], the church in the above picture with the arches lacking a roof,  is the remains of a severe earth quake (the biggest earthquake of Europe recorded) which also caused greater destruction through fires and Tsunami. The coward king at the time did not set a foot back into the town after the destruction. Now, this king, King José, is represented on the commercial square by him facing away from town, looking towards Brazil.

Inherited Fado

Fado, a rather melancholic traditional music style. Apparently Fado is not formerly taught at any schools, but passed on through generations and families.

1. Rossio Square Meeting Point
2. Square of Tolerance & Igreja de Sao Domingos. A moving reminder of antisemitism.
3. A Ginjinja – a cherry firewater sometimes served in a chocolate cup
4. Casa do Alentejo – a 17th century Moorish palace now home to a restaurant
6. Convento do Carmo & Museu Arqueologico. Learn about the 1755 earth quake & sunami and its consequences for the city
7. Elevator de Santa Justa – a great view point for Lisbon’s grid streets, get in from the back for free
8. History and relevance of Fado
9. Luis de Camoes – author
10. Chaido – author
11. Fernando Pessoa – portrait of 72 different personalities
12. Best ice-cream in Lisboa
13. Praca do Comercio – learn about the relevance
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  1. Designing guided tours « Sustainable Tourism Monchique - December 29, 2011

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