Big City Tales

Launching Dreams in Lisbon and Beyond | March 23, 2018

Long before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal made a name for himself leading numerous exploration and trade missions along the coastline of Western Africa, the islands of the Atlantic Ocean, and regions further afar. The prince’s maritime ventures initiated the era known as the Age of Discoveries wherein European empires sought to extend their land holdings and cultural influence on a global scale. Henry the Navigator inspired legions of future Portuguese mariners such as Vasco da Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabral and Ferdinand Magellan who were interested in launching their own dreams in Lisbon and beyond.

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Monument to the Discoveries

Built in honour of Prince Henry and other famed maritime explorers, the Monument to the Discoveries features a total of 30 statues. The monument also pays homage to individuals who supported the overseas voyages such as navigators, writers, missionaries, mathematicians, cartographers and other professions prominent at the time.

At the foot of the monument is a massive wind rose, a tool used to show the direction and speed of prevailing regional winds. In the centre of the wind rose is a world map that identifies the dates, ships, and locations of the most important Portuguese explorations.

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Belem Tower

While Portuguese explorers were out on the high seas seeking new frontiers, there was also a concerted effort to protect the country’s ports. The Belem Tower was thus built in the 16th century to serve as a fortress guarding the seaport entrance into Lisbon via the Tagus River. Despite its purpose as a defensive stronghold, the tower is elaborately decorated with various maritime and religious motifs carved in limestone that show off the incredible wealth amassed by the Portuguese during the Age of Discoveries. The tower also included a basement prison, and an armory and private residences with balconies on the upper floors.

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Commerce Square

Also known as Palace Yard because of its location on the site of the old Royal Ribeira Palace that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, Commerce Square was intended to commemorate the rebuilding of Lisbon. It was also meant to send a message to the world that Lisbon was a city to be reckoned with; it was thus designed to rival the great European squares of the day. Along with its prime position along the Tagus River, the square features an equestrian statue of King Jose I and a triumphal arch called the Rua Augusta Arch that is topped with statues of Glory, Ingenuity and Valor.

Old City Charm / New World Delight

Not unlike other historical European capitals, Lisbon serves up healthy doses of old city charm intermixed with new world delights, with the added bonus of a warm, Mediterranean climate. Sun, blue skies and sparkling water definitely add to the splendor of this seaside destination.

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