Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood of Lisbon
Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood of Lisbon

Lisbon: A timeless destination of culture and creativity

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is a city that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. It is a smaller capital compared to other major ones around Europe, which gives it a more intimate feel.

Lisbon is also blessed with a coastline that is just a short distance away from the city centre, which makes it a unique destination for those who want to live in a bustling city yet be close to the sea.

I have lived in Lisbon for over eight years now, and each time I walk along the coast, I can’t help but think about all the great explorers of the past, setting out on their voyages to unknown lands and uncharted territories.

Lisbon’s coastline is a place of great natural beauty, with rugged rocks, sandy beaches, and refreshing waters, yet it was also the starting point of many voyages that defined the Age of Discovery and the expansion of the known world.

The Belém Tower
The Belém Tower

From calm and relaxing waters to beaches with large waves which are great for surfing, the sound of the crashing waves is a constant reminder of the power of the sea, and the bravery and skill required to navigate it. Whether you prefer to walk along the beach, swim in the sea, or simply sit and watch the waves, the coast of Lisbon is a natural wonder that never fails to impress me.

Another reason Lisbon is so unique and charming is its colourful buildings. I never realised how colourful Lisbon is until I started travelling outside of Portugal. Walking through the city, I am always confronted with an array of hues, from soft pastels to bright, bold colours. These buildings give Lisbon a distinct character and make it a joy to explore its rich history that spans hundreds of years.

From Phoenicians to ancient Greeks, Romans, and Islamic Moors, the city embodies a unique blend of history and modernity, with a cultural heritage that reflects the influences of various civilisations over the centuries. The profits made from Portuguese explorers traveling to distant lands in search of valuable goods, such as gold and spices, helped to fund the construction of various monuments and buildings in Lisbon, many of which remain iconic symbols of the city to this day.

Two significant examples are the Jerónimos Monastery, which was built to celebrate Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India, and the Belém Tower, a defensive fortification that protected the city’s port.

There are lots of other monuments and landmarks that beautifully blend in with the cityscape, from the São Jorge Castle to Lisbon’s Cathedral, to the Santa Justa Lift – which was designed by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel. Around every corner, I am always discovering something new, from tiny churches to lonely statues, to long lost fountains, especially in Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon.

Lisbon’s coastline (Guincho Beach)
Lisbon’s coastline (Guincho Beach)

Growing up, I was fascinated by the literature of the Lost Generation, particularly the works of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald set in the vibrant café culture of Paris. I would lose myself in their stories of wandering the streets of the city, sipping coffee in bohemian cafes, and engaging in lively conversations with other writers and artists.

Whenever I wander through Alfama, I always feel as though I have stepped back in time and been transported to a place that captures the same artistic energy that so fascinated me in all those stories. The historic neighbourhood is characterised by its narrow, winding streets, colourful buildings, and picturesque alleys.

Befittingly, one of my favourite films growing up was ‘Midnight in Paris’, a film about an aspiring writer in modern times who is magically transported back to 1920s Paris, where he meets and hangs out with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and other great artists of the time.

Walking through any of the old neighbourhoods in Lisbon, I can’t help but feel a connection to the character’s sense of wonder and discovery in the film, as he explores a world that is both familiar and foreign. Any trip to Lisbon offers a similar journey of discovery and a chance to explore a place that is steeped in history, culture, and art.

Amidst the turmoil of World War II, Lisbon was also a hub for spies and intrigue. Ian Fleming, the renowned author of the James Bond novels, was a naval officer serving in Portugal at the time. With Portugal staying neutral during the war, spies from all over the world passed through Lisbon, and it was during this time that Fleming met Duško Popov, a Serbian double agent who worked for MI6 and passed disinformation to Germany.

During this time, everyone was being watched, and every interaction was a potential threat or opportunity, and it is widely believed that Popov was the main inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond character.

Overall, Lisbon is a place where the past and present come together to create something unique and timeless. Just as Hemingway’s novels transport us to a bygone era of artistic and cultural extravagance, Lisbon reminds me of the beauty of power and creativity.

Furthermore, the capital has ambitious plans for the future, with a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation, ensuring that the city remains at the forefront of modernity whilst also preserving its rich history and cultural heritage.

By Jay Costa Owen

|| [email protected]
Jay works for a private charter airline, and is also a UX designer and aspiring author who enjoys learning about history and other cultures