History of Lisbon

Mother Earth Travel > Portugal > Lisbon > History

If you take a long look at Lisbon, you realize that it is different to all others. Finding out why wouldn't be a waste of time. It would involve a voyage between the seven hills on which the city is built on, and centuries of history in districts such as Alfama, Castelo and Mouraria. Discovering Lisbon involves taking some time to notice the small details, the paving stones, the tiles on the floor, the iron on the verandas and the fountains found in the typical gardens. The history of Lisbon can be found in the views from the majestic castle, and on the brows of each and every hill. Lisbon is not only about the past, it is also about the here and now. Through its modern buisness districts, and the new avenues which are springing up all the time, Lisbon proves that it is a city in constant development.


It is documented that there has been a human presence in Lisbon for at least 300, 000 years, after remains were found recently in this area. It is thought that the early settlers hunted and fished for food, in a completely differnet ecosystem to the one in place nowadays. Excavations in the Serra de Monsanto found that the settlers already produced pottery, which they traded, and that they already began to farm the land.

Legend: When Ulises Founded Lisbon

Ulisses and his men saw a flash of lightning fall on the spot where Lisbon is now found, and start a monumentous fire. On closer inspection they found a fiery sphere, with the following inscription, 'On this foundation, lay the first stone of my city'. Ulisses then did as the inscription commanded, and named the city Ulissipo or Olissopo. It is from there, according to legend, that Lisbon got its name.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

This monastery was the biggest construction made in the era of the discoveries. Built during the reign of Manuel I, nicknamed the 'adventurer' owing to the riches he came by in India, it is a fine example of the 'Manueline'style of architecture, which highlighted the maritime theme. In those days, the banks of the river Tagus were nearer, and it was possible to watch the boats coming in to port, laiden with the spices that brought so much wealth to Portugal.

Lisbon during the great Discoveries

During those Maritime discoveries, Portugal used their riches to expand the city, much like many other cities in that time. A royal palace was built in the 'ribeira' and a new thoroughfare, 'Rua Nova' was created and quickly became the new commercial centre, now known as the 'Baixa'. The Praça do Rossio and the Terreiro do Passo, which became a meeting place for the locals were also constructed. The 'Casa de India' was founded, and it was here that all the business was taken care of and all along the bank of the river, beautiful homes were being built for the aristocrats of the time, e west, the magnificent 'Palacio Corte Real' was built the most famous one being the 'Casa dos Bicos', built by Afonso de Albuquerque's son.

A number of religious buildings were also constructed, examples being the Jerónimos Covent (1499) and the Mother of God (1509) convents. An urbunization plan was also being considered, this later became the district of Bairro Alto.

Manuel I continued the development of the city and the Rossio and the Torre de belem are built between 1515 and 1521. Between 1650 and 1755, the Palace of Necessidades was constructed and notably the majestic Aqueduct, built between 1713 and 1748, which brought many benfits to the City of Lisbon.