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Portugal, in general, and specifically the capital city of Lisbon, is a place that is very much on the up. With relatively relaxed visa laws compared to the rest of Western Europe, great weather, interesting culture, modern infrastructure including high-speed Wi-Fi, and the lowest cost of living in Western Europe, Lisbon has become one of Europe’s most popular cities with Internet startups and other businesses.
But there’s much more to recommend about this city than just its affordability. Lisbon is also the capital of an ancient nation that has had a completely outsized effect on the history of the world. Portugal’s history as a naval and imperial power has left the capital with an astonishing collection of beautiful and historic buildings that make it a delight to explore for anyone with an interest in history, architecture, or just a good photo opportunity.
Leave your bags behind at a convenient Lisbon luggage storage and check out some of these architectural masterpieces. Diving into the city’s past, you’ll nevertheless also be swept up in the lively energy of modern Lisbon.
When the city was struck by the Great Earthquake of 1755, much of its medieval architectural beauty was permanently destroyed. That means there isn’t much left of the ancient city to admire. However, this ancient convent dates back to the way Lisbon used to be before the earthquake. And in some ways, its status as a ruin makes it even more atmospheric than it would otherwise be.
Built-in 1389, the convent is perhaps Lisbon’s best example of the Gothic style of architecture popular at the time. In the 20th century, the walls were carefully reconstructed, but the building was left as a ruin to show the damage caused by the earthquake that shaped the way Lisbon looks to this day. The convent also houses an archaeological museum where you can learn more about what was lost in the earthquake and how Lisbon looked at various periods in its history, from the very earliest times up to the present day.
Another of the most-visited buildings in the ancient heart of the city, this remarkable 16th-century monastery is a flawless example of the Manueline, or Portuguese late Gothic, style. Its delicate columns may look too thin to support the weight of the massive structure, but they survived the 1755 earthquake intact, making this one of the best examples of pre-earthquake architecture in Lisbon.
The monastery also occupies an important place in the history of Portuguese exploration. Many of the country’s most famous explorers, including Vasco da Gama, prayed here before setting out on their history-making voyages. And as Portugal’s far-flung trading empire made the country rich, that wealth was poured back into the elaborate decoration of the monastery.
Committed architecture fans will be stunned by this beautifully ornate building, and even those with a more casual interest can’t fail to be impressed. Make sure to book your tickets in advance to make sure you get into this popular place.
In the sunny climate of Portugal, Lisbon’s public squares function as popular communal spaces to meet friends, enjoy a drink or a meal, and just hang out in the lively atmosphere. Rossio Square is no exception, and because it contains one of the city’s major public transportation hubs in the form of Rossio Station, this place is always lively.
However, most visitors to the square don’t realize that this is a prime example of what is called Pombaline architecture. Named after the Marquis of Pombal, who was responsible for the reconstruction of Lisbon after the earthquake, this is a relatively spare style of architecture without the Baroque ornamentation popular elsewhere at the time, and it also displays 18th-century understanding of anti-earthquake engineering. Take a walk around Rossio Square or grab a drink or a meal at a sidewalk café to soak up this distinctly Lisbon architectural style.
Sao Roque Church
If the sparseness of Pombaline Lisbon isn’t for you, or you just want a change, don’t worry. The city also has plenty of exuberant Baroque buildings, including this renowned church. This was one of the few buildings to survive the Great Earthquake and was first constructed in 1506, though it took more than 100 years to finish.
Don’t be fooled by the relatively austere façade of the church because inside, it is a riot of sculptural and architectural beauty. Each chapel seems to be trying to outdo the other in extravagant ornamentation, including the 18th-century Chapel of St. John the Baptist, which was assembled from precious stones in Rome and then shipped to Lisbon for reassembly, making it the most expensive chapel in Europe at the time it was built.
Conceição e Silva Mansion
Remnants of Moorish rule are few and far between in Lisbon. However, in the 19th century, the city underwent a fad for neo-Moorish architecture, and several of the buildings in the city still show the influence of this architectural fashion.
One of the best examples is the Conceição e Silva Mansion, which was constructed in 1891 and combines Art Nouveau with Moorish elements to create one of the most striking buildings in the area. For architecture fans, it’s worth a visit just to admire from the outside and appreciate an underrated chapter in the architectural history of the city.
Architecture in Lisbon
Lisbon’s Great Earthquake was a tragedy at the time, and it’s sad to think about the ancient buildings that were destroyed. However, the disaster also cleared the way for new things to be created, with the result that Lisbon is now one of the most architecturally interesting cities in all of Europe.
Leave your bags behind at a convenient luggage storage and check out some of these incredible buildings to get a better sense of the different chapters of the city’s architectural history.