It’s our final day in Lisbon. We’ve hauled our luggage to the Casa de Sodre Railway Station and literally stuffed our bags into the last four medium sized vacant station lockers for the day so that we can go off exploring.
We are all walking through and up the steep winding streets of Lisbon heading to St Jorge’s Castle to have a wander and appreciate the view over the capital city of Lisbon one final time and then we can work out what everyone wants to do after that.
First stop: Castelo de S. Jorge or St Jorge’s Castle
This expansive castle-fort setting is swarming with tourists but it’s large enough to share with everyone and walk around without too much bumping into other people (except for the massive queue for the female toilets – who only installs three female toilets at such a busy attraction?). Anyway, the castle is located right in the heart of Lisbon and boasts one of the most impressive views across the capital. Hence it attracts many visitors though its gates. But compared to what we saw in Sintra, it just doesn’t have that sparkle that the Palace had.
The castle has been the seat of Portuguese power for over 400 years. The most recent extensive restoration works were carried out in the 1920s, but you still get a sense of the grandness and allure from centuries past.
The battlements provide amazing views of Baixa district and across to the River Tagus. It’s a tough 20-minute walk up to the castle from Rossio metro train station – I can’t imagine doing it in the middle of summer’s heat – but once there the shade of the pine trees is lovely respite. There’s the quaint number 28 tram that stops nearby with a shorter walk to the castle, but each time we contemplate hopping on a tram they’re full. Walk it was.
The castle is built on an 11th Century layout and was formed as part of the defensive strategy of the introduction of Christianity into Portugal with the second crusade. Before 1147 Lisbon was an important Moorish trading port with strong ties to North Africa.
Alfonso Henriques was the man who answered the Pope’s call to “free the holy lands” as part of the second crusade and along with his army drove the Moors out of Lisbon and the surrounding areas. It is romantically known as the Liberation of Lisbon but in reality the army that gave freedom was made up of a drunks and thieves and commenced to ransack the city. Alfonso claimed the Portuguese crown and built this castle after sensing a counter attack from the Moors.
Over time and kings the castle walls, cellars and well were upgraded to withstand long sieges and defensive fortification improved.
But nevertheless with all this amazingly rich history right before us, the girls were hoping to opt out of visiting this castle (they are not). We walk up the steep slope to the entrance and enjoy a leisurely wander around. It cost 30 euros for our family to enter the castle. The view is amazing especially under the coolness of the fully mature pine trees planted around the grounds. We climb the steps up to the second and third levels of the external walls of the castle to take advantage of other amazing viewpoints too. The best view for me however, is located a little further down three flights of steps so that once we stood on the small rounded landing we are directly in line with the residential homes. It’s an amazing opportunity to have a look into the average life of the Portuguese and how they live.
Their actual homes are built on the steep slope and the roof touches the castle walls at certain places. It was an insight into Portuguese life – peering into their backyards with the limited space, no grassed area, but a magnificent outlook. It made me desire being adopted into a Portuguese family and to live part of my life being European even though I do love being Australian. Can I do both?
We stop off at a café within the castle grounds and order our last taste of the delicious Portuguese tarts, Nata’s and a coffee. We watch the many peacocks wander around the café and perch themselves high up in the pine trees overhead. It’s time to move on, and head back down the hill and we part ways for a bit. Us and them time in Lisbon. Steve and I quietly shuffle off like excited kids let loose in Lisbon (lol) while the girls happily wave us goodbye.
Second stop: Convento da Ordem do Carmo or Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The ruins of the gothic Carmo Convent, a former Roman Cathoic convent, is an evocative reminder of the devastation of the 1755 earthquake that flattened the city of Lisbon.
Carmo Convent is a stunning place to visit and highly recommended. The Carmo Archaeological Museum (MAC) is situated on the historic ruins of the old Church of Santa Maria do Carmo that was founded in 1389. Yes 1389! It was known as one of the most beautiful Gothic temples in Lisbon until the 1755 earthquake which damaged the building and destroyed most of the artistic and religious contents.
Its reconstruction commenced in 1756 but stopped in 1834 when religious orders were abolished throughout Portugal. The Carmo Archaeological Museum was installed in 1864 for the storage and display of important sculptures from old ruins and monastic houses that were closed in 1834 as well as items which were part of the temple and found among the rubble. The museum presents an amazing collection of artefacts including two complete mummified remains and another in a mummy’s wooden coffin. The group of Gothic tombs include one of Fernão Sanches (an illegitimate son of King Dinis I) from early 14th century, decorated with scenes of boar hunting, as well as the magnificent tomb of King Ferdinand I (reign 1367-1383) that was transferred to the museum from the Franciscan Convent of Santarém. Other notable exhibits include a statue of a 12th-century king (perhaps Afonso Henriques), Moorish azulejos tiles and objects from the Roman and Visigoth periods. It’s an amazing museum, well set out and organised and a pleasure to walk through.
The stone work on the tombs is detailed and you can get up close to it to fully appreciate the craftsmanship.
During the events of the Carnation Revolution the convent was encircled by military rebels, who opposed the Estado Novo regime and the convent later became the headquarters of the Republican Guard.
Walking in through the little side entrance door after purchasing tickets (4 euros each), we are instantly gobsmacked (I’m using that word a lot I know) by the beauty of the ruined Gothic temple presented right before us – its white naked pillars and arched frames stretch up into the sky and vividly stand out against the bluest of skies. We walk through the entire complex, taking time to sit on the entrance steps and just take in this fine place of ruins and day dream a bit before heading back down the Lisbon slopes to the information stand at Rossio Square to start our train journey to the airport.