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4 posts from November 2013


Lisbon’s Downtown

This post is by Linda (Washington and Lee)

One of the classes offered to CIEE and Erasmus students covers Lisbon’s birth, growth, and reconstruction after the earthquake in 1755. The course is aptly named: Lisbon: City and Architecture, wherein we delve into Lisbon’s history, from Roman times to present day—from Alis-Ubbo to Lissabona to Lisboa. After learning about Lisbon’s development in the classroom, it was only right to experience it first-hand.

For our class’s first visit, we took off on a little history-packed jaunt through Lisbon’s cobbled and tiled downtown. Our first stop required us to descend Rua de Alecrim to Largo Barão do Quintela where we saw the monument of writer Eça de Queirós. Largo Barão do Quintela itself is a wee garden situated not far from Rio Tejo. The statue in the garden is an homage of sorts to Eça de Queirós, who is recognized as one of the greatest Portuguese writers, among others such as Luis de Camões and Fernando Pessoa. The statue depicts a nude, but cloaked, woman leaning against de Queirós. The nude female figure, covered only by a cloak of fantasy, represents the undeniable truth found in art (ergo, her nakedness).


Just a hop, skip, and jump away from the jardim we were introduced to another figure—Luis de Camões, Portugal’s prized poet. His statue is found in what is rightfully named “Largo do Camões” or “Camões Square.” His statue, which is sculpted grandly and resolutely, is surrounded by smaller sculpted figures of different prominent intellectual people of the 16th century—mathematicians even. His monument is considered to be one of the most representative sculptures of the Romanticism movement.


Well within walking distance of his statue are breath-taking churches of the Late-Baroque period—Igreja do Loreto (above) and Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, both of which are highly adorned and contain a plethora of paintings disguised to resemble 3D sculptures. Rather than consisting of tiles and gilded wood (talha dourada) as was most typical, the churches are constructed out of stone and marble. Igreja do Loreto is known especially for it’s Lady of Conception at the altar, who is agreeing to birth the Son of God from not one but two angels on either of her sides. These churches not only house chilling design and aura, but they themselves are art forms on their own.


Afterward, we weaved our way down to the waters of Rio Tejo to get a better front- view of Praça do Comérçio, what was once Terreiro do Paço. From this vantage point, to our left we saw what was once the royal palace. In the center of the square is the statue of King Jose I, who reigned during the time of the 1755 earthquake. The sculpture depicts the horse treading on snakes, a symbol of power that is based on French culture.

We meandered our way up the transformed strip of shopping stores, something to which we students were probably all already accustomed, but this time, we gave heed to all the tiles and renovations we had previously missed. Our first class and formal visit to the downtown area was an insightful sampling of Lisbon’s many delights. We eagerly await our next opportunity to roam and learn together.  


The castle of São Jorge (part 3)

This post is by Kristina, an Erasmus student from Poland

On our last trip we visited the St. George's Castle (Castelo de S. Jorge) and Lisbon‘s Cathedral (Santa Maria Maior), both of which were built in the Romanesque style.

The St. George's Castle, built in the mid-11th century by the Moors, is located in Alfama, on top of a hill, for defence strategies. However, the Castle did not only serve for military purposes, there was also a city inside the limestone walls.


After having taken in the magnificent view over colourful Lisbon from the castle we had a guided tour of Lisbon through a Periscope, which was invented by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 16th century. The periscope is an optical system of lenses and mirrors, operated by only two ropes and two handles, which allows for the visitors to see the whole of Lisbon at the actual moment. That means that other then the river, all the monuments and houses we could also see Lisbon as a busy city full of movement of cars, people, boats and aircrafts. After that we went to the palace where we came to the realisation of a few architectural as well as cultural phenomena. First of all, there were Gothic arches (identifiable by the pointedness) in the main roof of the palace. However, there were signs of roman techniques to build walls as well. Second, the video of how the lodgings at the palace looked like when still inhabited, we saw that it was surprisingly humble and plain, with only a few cushions on which the women would seat and vases for cooking. It reminded us of Moroccan homes nowadays. This visit to the castle was of great significance for us, because it showed us once again the mixed styles of architecture from the Moorish period (11th-12th centuries), the Phoenician period and the Roman period.


After that, we went on to the Cathedral, which was built by King D. Afonso Henriques. The cathedral has a perfect latin cross plan, which means that the transept is fully developed. Originally, the cathedral was built in the Romanesque style, noticeable by the facade and the structure, however some areas, such as the Rose window and the chancel have been added to it in gothic style. Inside, we could see that there are three spaces that have been divided by arches that support the roof, which was not the case in the churches we had visited previously. Divided by the Gothic arches, there are eight chapels for different Saints and one for a crib of Machado de Castro in this cathedral of Saint Mary the Greater. It is noticeable that the chancel has been rebuilt in the 18th century. Prior to that, in the medieval times, the walls would have been painted.


All in all, it was very interesting and relevant for us to visit those two sites, because they are the oldest areas of Lisbon, where the mixture of cultures and architectures is demonstrated at its best.

The Castle of São Jorge (part 2)

[This post is by Shamira, Amherst]

On Tuesday, October 15th, our Art History class, Lisbon City and Architecture, took an insightful trip to the Castle of St. George (Castelo de São Jorge) and the Lisbon Cathedral (Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa / Sé de Lisboa). Since the 8th century, Lisbon had been conquered by the Moors and remained under Islamic rule up till 1147, when King Dom Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, led an army to reclaim the city. In order to mark their victory and destroy the symbols of Islamic power, King D. Afonso Henriques claimed and renamed the originally Moorish castle, built in the mid-11th century, as the Castle of St. George. He also ordered that the main mosque be torn down and the Lisbon cathedral be built upon the same site. Both landmarks are representative of a crucial era of Lisbon’s rich history and now proudly stand as characteristic centerpieces of Lisbon’s downtown.


The majestic Castle of St. George sits atop the hill of Castelo, which makes it ideal as a defensive, or simply scenic, location. Upon our arrival through the gates, we were greeted by a breathtaking view of the city, which includes the main commercial square (Praça do Comercio), the Tagus River and the 25th of April Bridge. For an even more detailed look, we got a 360-degree view of the surroundings from a periscope at the Tower of Ulysses that can be adjusted to see as far as the Vasco da Gama Bridge, the statue of Christ-King (Cristo-Rei) and the Edward VII Park. Beyond its main purpose as a defensive structure, the massive limestone edifice also housed the city within its walls during the Moorish era. Several traces of these residences have been found through archaeological excavations and are now preserved in an on-site museum of artifacts. To give an even better sense of the past lifestyle within the castle, the museum provides a virtual video simulation of the houses and courtyard. It also displays models of the palace and mosque, which showcase the horseshoe arches characteristic of Moorish architecture. Even though the castle still stands today as a spectacular monument, it was a wonderful experience to be able to appreciate it the way it was centuries ago.


The next part of our trip to the Lisbon cathedral was equally fascinating, but in a very different sense. Though its construction began in 1147, the cathedral showcases a vast combination of styles due to consistent reconstruction. At first glance, what stood before us was a magnificent Romanesque structure with large blocks of stone and buttresses to sustain the high walls. However, this was combined with some features of Gothic architecture, such as the rose windows (although added later) and twin arches. Upon stepping through the layered round-headed arches of the main door – another Romanesque feature – we observe a perfect Latin cross plan on the interior, with three aisles divided by large arches, a transept and a main chapel surrounded by an ambulatory of nine smaller apse chapels. The apse chapels, along with the stained glass windows, were added in the 14th century as a product of Gothic influence. Within the chancel, there are even some decorative Baroque features from the 18th century due to restoration after the 1755 earthquake. Following this, we proceeded to the unusual cloister in the back, which has three galleries instead of the typical four and it is not a square as most cloisters are. Furthermore, the cloister exhibits an excavation site that shows layers of past construction across the Roman, Islamic and even early Christian eras. It is truly amazing how well-preserved these structures are and I am sure I speak for our entire class when I say that I am grateful for the chance to observe an entire timeline of periods within a single architectural masterpiece.

The Castle of São Jorge

The following post was writen by Piotr and Tymoteusz, two Erasmus students from Poland taking our course on the History of Lisbon. The film included is theirs as well.

ASC_Pan 04 Projecto plano Site

The castle was built in the mid-11th century during Moorish times. In this area we can see also archaeological excavations, which show three significant periods of the history of Lisbon: The first known settlements dating back to the 7th century bC, the remnants of the Moorish era residential area, from the time of the castle's construction, and the ruins of the last palatine residence in the former Alcáçova, which was partially destroyed by the great earthquake.

On 25 October, 1147 D. Afonso Henriques (first king of Portugal) conquered Lisbon. This began a "golden age" for the castle, which was modified and enlarged to accommodate the king and his retinue. King D. Dinis renovated and transformed the Moorish alcáçova into the Royal Palace of the Alcáçova circa 1300. The castle’s palace lost its importance after the construction of the Ribeira Palace along the Tagus River. The great earthquake in 1755 severely damaged the castle. After that it housed a soldier’s hospital and the charitable institution Casa Pia, dedicated to the education of poor children.

During the 20th century the Castle was transformed into a tourist attraction. The Tower of Ulysses holds a working periscope with which we can see a 360 degree view of Lisbon. This is a symbolic place, because the tower was used to keep the most important documents of the Portuguese kingdom, between the 14th and 18th centuries.

The architecture of the medieval castle is very interesting. There you can find many towers and small windows typical of the Romanesque style. Typical for Moorish military architecture is the Tower of Saint Lawrence, which was connected to a sheltered passageway leading outside. This was often used during sieges.

Islamic heritage is present in the castle’s museum. Archaeological excavations have exposed mosaics, plates and military items. The objects date from the 8th to 13th century.

The national flag still proudly waves over Lisbon and the castle, which over the centuries has been a symbol of power.

[Check out Piotr and Tymoteusz's film here:]