Lisboa (Lisbon) by the sea

The landscape of Lisbon is largely defined by its seaside location. For centuries, even millennia, inhabitants have made their living on the sea—searching for their food and new lands to exploit. The city is situated next to the Rio Tejo (Tagus River), which is not a river at all, but an estuary where fresh water from the Tagus River interacts with salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s much like San Francisco Bay, where water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers mix with water from the Pacific Ocean.

Here is a map of the region around Lisbon. The Rio Tejo is the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula. It begins east of Madrid and flows westward across much of Spain and all of Portugal until it reaches the sea just southwest of Lisbon. Because the mouth of the Tejo is an embayment of the sea, where fresh and salt water mix, it has brackish water and the rising and falling tides create ebbing and flowing currents. The tides are semi-diurnal and they range from 1.5–4 meters (4–13 feet) in elevation between low tide and high tide.


There are various similarities with San Francisco Bay. The Ponte 24 de Abril (April 24 Bridge, it runs north–south just inside the mouth of the Tejo) is painted an orange color that makes it look very much like the Golden Gate Bridge! Here is a photo of the bridge, looking north from the Monument to the Discoveries erected in 1960. That’s Vasco de Gama leading the way, to steer his boat out of the Tejo and to explore new worlds.


The next photo is a more complete view of the monument, which is an amazing work of art that celebrates Portugal’s moment of fame on the world stage. There is the queen praying for her explorer’s safe travels (and no doubt hoping for accompanying riches); a priest clawing his way upward to seek new souls in distant lands; and other men looking to find fame and fortune through voyages on the high seas. Their position on the bow of the boat, with sails full of forward-thrusting wind, emphasizes the hopes and dreams of this sea-faring nation.


Just south of the monument is the Torre de Belem (Belem Tower). It was erected in the 16th century to protect the mouth of the Tejo. Startlingly, it was in the middle of the bay when constructed—it’s now situated firmly on the western shore. In 1777, an earthquake changed the course of the Tejo and the area that was once on the west side of the tower is now land that is developed with a variety of infrastructure. But more on earthquakes in a subsequent post.


Like all major ports, with sights of interest to tourists, the Lisbon shoreline gets frequent cruise line visits. The photo below shows one large cruise ship docked alongside the old town area of Alfama, where narrow steep streets laid out in medina style by the occupying Moors (more than 1000 years ago) entice visitors to amble the make ze. An even larger cruise ship appeared the next day, dumping tourist hourdes upon the streets and making transit difficult for residents and solo tourists alike.


One of Lisbon’s most famous products is fado music, probably a response to both the call of the sea and the Moorish musical influence. Fado musicians sing of longing and sadness and lovesickness. Friends and relatives who were off at sea could evoke such longing, and sailors long away from their home could feel deep sadness for their loss of country and family. The chanting style of Arabic music may have influenced the wailing Fado sound. Many restaurants in the Alfama district have Fado artists who, although shunned in the past, are now enjoying a revival of both local and international fame. For example, SF Jazz every year includes fado artists (the most famous ones of course) in their yearly lineup. The sign below is for a restaurant with nightly fado music; the couple is a reproduction of a famous painting now housed in the Museum of Fado, opened in 1998 and an indication of fado’s resurgence.


There are many fun vehicles in Lisbon that are well adapted for the narrow cobble streets and that have many functions. Here’s an example: an ice cream truck located adjacent to a waterfront marina.


Final note: my now 3.5-year-old iPad is not working as well now as it did when I started this blog. I may be forced to upgrade but hope it will limp along for these 7 weeks of posting! For one thing, I can’t edit the size or quality of the photos—so they’ll just have to appear  “as is”.


2 comments on “Lisboa (Lisbon) by the sea

  1. Larry Alden says:

    I love Portugal. Have several Fado recordings in my music library. The wine is wonderful and I lament the difficulty in finding it here. One thing to note are the beautiful mosaics that adorn the plazas in the older parts of the cities (usually geometric designs). These can be seen also in Portuguese colonial locations such as Madeira and Macao.

    • Indeed! The decorative tiles are another important Moorish influence on Portuguese (and Spanish) art. They will no doubt appear in subsequent posts! We’ll toast you with our next glass of Portuguese wine.

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