History (1)

Throughout its history the city of Lisbon has been closely allied to some of the greatest seafaring conquests and has been an important commercial and cultural centre known throughout the world. However, it has also experienced the misery brought by devastating earthquakes, from which it has recovered thanks to well thought-out reconstruction programmes.

In the present day, the Portuguese capital, with its historic streets and squares, is looking towards the future and finding its place as a modern, economic, technological and cultural European capital.  

There is a legend based on Lisbon’s beginnings recounted by the poet Luis de Camoes in “Os Lusíadas” (The Lusiads in English) the Portuguese national epic, written in the 16th century. According to the story, the hero Ulysses founded Lisbon on his way back home at the end of the Trojan war. 

Putting the myth aside, archaeological finds have shown that the Phoenicians established a commercial port on what are now the shores of the city, in around 1200 BC. Geographically, the Tajo estuary was ideal as a source of provisions for the Phoenician boats as they worked their trading routes.

Some theories speculate that the city’s name dates back to this period when it was known as Allis Ubbo, which was Phoenician for “Safe Port”. Others, however, think that the word Lisbon comes from the ancient name for the river Tajo: Lisso.

After the Punic Wars, the Romans seized from Carthage its most prized possession, Hispania. Lisbon thus passed into the hands of the Roman Empire. The city lived its most difficult moments while under the control of Julius Cesar in 60 BC. 

However, after the fall of the empire, Alamaanis, Suebis and Visigoths were just a few of the groups who ruled the city, causing its further decline.

The rise of Lisbon came about with the Moorish invasion in the year 711, a presence which would last 450 years. Mosques, houses and city walls were just some of the additions they made to the city. However, without doubt, their biggest achievement was to transform Lisbon into an important commercial centre.

Some of the remnants of the Moorish period can be seen in the old district of “la Alfama” (a name which comes from the Arabic: Al-Hamma) as well as in the “Sao Jorge” Castle, which dominates the city.

Despite the Vikings trying to invade the city several times in the 9th and 10th centuries, Lisbon did not fall to anyone until the time of the reconquest.

Then, in 1147, the monarch Afonso Henriques led an army of English, French, German and Portuguese knights and expelled the Moors from Portugal and thus became the first king of the country.

With the clear intention of re-establishing Christianity to the capital, he built a new cathedral on the site of the old mosque and brought to the city the remains of Saint Vicente from the Algarve, making him from that moment on Lisbon’s patron saint.

Due to its strategic position in the country, Lisbon became capital in 1256 while under the rule of King Afonso III. This would mark the beginning of a period of economic prosperity and international notoriety thanks to its impressive marine conquests. 

In the 14th century the city spread towards the river, became a cultural centre and saw the construction of the “Baixa” area, at the foot of the castle. Even though at the end of the century plague epidemics destabilised the economy and had a severe effect on the population, the city’s Golden Century was just around the corner.

It was the year 1497, with Vasco de Gama’s departure to high seas, which saw the beginning of the period known for its discoveries, a truly golden era during which Lisbon became a city of the highest merit.

Vasco de Gama opened up the sea route to India which brought great wealth from trade in spices, metals, etc. After him, many other explorers scoured the oceans and discovered new lands as well as products to be used in commerce. King Manuel I made use of the wealth they brought by founding the manueline style of architecture which can be seen in great monuments like the “Belém” tower or the “Jerónimos” monastery. 

The city continued to grow, new residential districts developed to house the many traders that had moved to the capital, and the royal palace was built in the new square named “Terreiro do Paço”, but nowadays called “Praça do Comerço”.  

At the end of the 16th century Portugal lost its young king Sebastiao I in the attempt to conquer Morocco and without an heir to the throne the Spanish occupied the country in 1580. The Spanish king Felipe II neglected Lisbon and gave control of the government to a viceroy. However, in 1640 the Spanish occupiers were expelled from Portugal.

At the beginning of the 18th century under the reign of Joao V, a construction project was initiated with the intention of regaining the city’s past splendour. This project, however, was deeply affected by an event that would dramatically mark Lisbon’s history: the devastating earthquake of 1755. Almost 85 per cent of the city was totally destroyed, and thousands of people died amid the ruins. The city would have to be rebuilt practically from zero. 

Following these events, King José I and his prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal, would come to make history. Employing an unprecedented reconstruction programme a new, majestic city was born. However, the pharaonic project had yet to be finished when the country was invaded by Napoleon’s forces in 1807 and the royal family took flight to Río de Janeiro, which became the temporary capital of the empire, while Lisbon was left to crumble.

In the 19th century industrialisation and economic growth were dominant forces. The monarchy fell in 1908 after the assassination of the king and a republic was formed. This was followed by the long dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar who initiated a prolonged period of modernisation in the city.

The peaceful military revolution of 1974, “la Revoluçao dos Cravos”, the Carnation Revolution in English, brought the dictatorship to an end and started a euphoric period of political change that has made the city what it is today.

As part of the European Union, Lisbon is today a prestigious city, a European cultural capital that played host to the Universal Exhibition in 1998 and is still historically noted for its great maritime past.

Cosmopolitan, modern but retaining touches of the past, Lisbon has no intention of being forgotten. Without doubt, it can and will continue to make history.

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