During the three-and-a-half days I spent in Lisbon, I accomplished a lot.
I successfully navigated the metro and train systems; I hit up most of the major touristy sites (Belém, Sintra, and the Castelo São Jorge); I wandered and familiarized myself with the three famous downtown neighborhoods (Bairro Alto, the Chiado, and the Alfama); I went to the local favourite beach of Costa Caparica for half a day and got to know some Portuguese students; and I tried some typical Portuguese cuisine, like bacalao (cod, either boiled or cooked then mixed with potatoes and egg like hashbrowns), pastel de nata, and even the popular and intensely strong drink ginjinha (essentially a sour cherry liqueur, made from ginja or sour cherries and usually a hard alcohol like aguardiente).
On top of all that, I took it upon myself to wander the city on my own, without a map or an agenda. The results were quite fabulous.
First, I stumbled upon some churches.
I came upon the Igreja de São Roque during my first meander through Bairro Alto, the hip, eclectic downtown neighborhood of Lisbon where my home base, the fantastic Stay Inn Hostel, was located.
I found out later from my Rick Steves’ Portugal pages that it was the first Jesuit church built in Portugal, among the first Jesuit churches ever built in Europe. It was also one of the few buildings to survive the disastrous earthquake of 1755 with minimal damage.
Another aimless wander through the older Alfama neighborhood led me to the Sé (also known as the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint Mary Major, pictured above and below).
My decision to spend 4 euro to tour Sé’s cloisters was rewarded by both the beautiful sculptures in the various apses in the rear ambulatory:
…as well as the recent excavation project which has unearthed ruins from the Roman and Arabic periods, from as early as the 6th century:
Following my visit to the the Sé, I discovered there also happened to be two other churches on either side of a main street near my hostel; I thought a stop in them as well seemed like a good idea. I was once again pleased with my decision.
What astounded me most about these four particular Lisbon churches, the São Roque, the Sé, the Igreja Da Nossa Senhora Da Encarnaçao (above) and the Igreja do Loreto (below) was the dramatic and variegated usage of color. This tendency towards polychrome is most noticeable in the churches’ ceilings.
But, of course, there are other parts of Lisbon that exhibit such beautiful polychrome schemes. The buildings on the streets of Bairro Alto, for one, are especially charming and colorful.
And then of course the graffiti everywhere is also outstanding, a subject I enjoyed photographing immensely.
Also, I found this guy:
He bears an uncanny resemblance to this character I’ve seen on many of Granada’s walls:
And then there’s this particular graffiti-esque display: extremely perplexing, and somewhat disturbing.
But, colorful churches, streets, and graffiti aside, there is literally always a subject, site, building, or view worth photographing in the ever-so-photogenic and vibrant city of Lisbon.
I guess the point I’m trying to make with this post is that, in my opinion, while visiting the sites and doing the touristy things are for the most part very important and fulfilling while traveling, there is something to be said about going exploring on your own.
There is something so rewarding about stumbling upon a city’s hidden treasures. In the case of my overall perception of Lisbon, Portugal, these spontaneous discoveries made me love this city that much more.