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As one of the world’s oldest cities, Lisbon has seen it all. First inhabited by pre-Celtic tribes who settled in the region during the Neolithic period, it was the Phoenicians who truly laid the foundations for the city as it exists today, establishing a trading port that they named Alis Ubbo (“safe port”) in the sheltered Targus estuary. The Romans arrived in 205BC, drawn to the city’s strategic location, further swelling its status to one of the most important cities on the Iberian Peninsula. A succession of conquerors followed, most notably a prosperous period of Moorish rule from AD711 until the city was eventually reconquered by Christian crusaders at the behest of Alfonso Henriques I, the first king of Portugal. The city was nominated Portuguese capital in 1256 by Afonso III, relegating Coimbra and allowing Lisbon to reach its zenith in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. During this period, Portuguese explorers dominated the world’s oceans, establishing an empire that stretched from Brazil to India. The steady rise of this seemingly indomitable metropolis was brought to a sudden halt on 1 November 1755, when eight minutes of earthquake literally shook the city to its very core. A city-engulfing tsunami followed thereafter, and then a week-long firestorm, reducing most of what was left to embers. Thanks to the wealth and might of the Portuguese empire, the city was quickly rebuilt in the Pombaline style, handsome red roofs rising phoenix-like from the ashes to create the elegant city as it stands today. Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that vestiges of pre-earthquake Lisbon did manage to survive the near apocalyptic events of 1755. What remains will form the basis of this new study tour; join guest lecturer Isabelle Kent as she peels back the layers of this remarkable and invincible city to discover a history as richly diverse as it is long.
Morning flight from London Heathrow to Lisbon. En route to the hotel, our private coach will take us first to the Museu Nacional Azulejo, which is dedicated to the beautiful tin-glazed ceramic tiles that adorn so many of Portugal’s fine buildings. The impressive collection is one of the largest ceramics collections in the world, with azulejos from the 15th century onwards, alongside a broader display of ceramics, porcelain and faience. After a light lunch, we continue to our hotel, in the heart of Lisbon. Some time to settle in is followed by an introductory walk through the Rossi district before returning to the hotel for a group meal in the restaurant, with panoramic views across the city.
After breakfast, transfer by coach to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, home to the outstanding private collection of oil magnate, Calouste Gulbenkian. Landscaped gardens frame a striking concrete structure, which houses an impressive collection of Western and Eastern art. Beginning with treasures of Ancient Egypt, the museum is chronologically ordered, and highlights include a number of works by Old Masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt and an exquisite collection of pieces by the French jeweller and glassmaker René Lalique. Continue to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, another wildly impressive collection of painting, decorative arts, sculpture and furniture, with works by Bosch, Dürer and Tiepolo to name a few. Transfer to Lisbon Cathedral, passing the wonderful exterior of the 16th-century palace, Casa dos Bicos, on the way, notable for its tactile spiked façade. The fortress-like cathedral was built in 1150 by Portugal’s first king on the site of a former mosque and portions of the original Late Romanesque structure survive. Our final stop of the day is the spectacular Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon’s Moorish pinnacle. Perched on the city’s highest hilltop, it is visible from almost every street below. Explore snaking ramparts, tranquil gardens and share in the expansive seaward views that inspired an empire. Afterwards, return to the hotel by coach for an evening at leisure.
Leave the city limits this morning to visit the Batalha Monastery, commissioned by King Joao to commemorate victory over the Castilians at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. Constructed over two centuries, the architecture is a wonderful expression of the transition from Gothic to Manueline style, the lavish Portuguese architecture honed during the Portuguese Renaissance and Age of Discoveries. Particularly astonishing is the Royal Cloister, with its lace-like carved limestone ornamentation. So ambitious was the project, construction was eventually abandoned in favour of Jerónimos Monastery, although an extensive restoration and completion project was initiated in 1840 by King Fernando II, following the Napoleonic Wars. After a group lunch, visit the Alcobaça Monastery, one of Portugal’s most important mediaeval monasteries. Founded in 1153 under the reign of Afonso I, the first Portuguese king, the monastery formed part of a wider royal strategy to assert power over lands recently conquered from the Moors. Considered a masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art, it expresses the style in the purest sense, and on a phenomenal scale. Afterwards, we return to Lisbon, where the evening is free for your own activities.
Spend the day exploring the Belém district, originally the location of the city’s shipyards and docks at the mouth of the Tagas River. As befits the scale of Portugal’s maritime success, the area is filled with extravagantly handsome buildings and many of the city’s finest monuments, such as Belém Tower. The impressive 16th-century fortification was the ceremonial starting and ending point for many of Portugal’s great voyages of discovery and is a fine example of the Manueline style. Continue to Jerónimos Monastery, perhaps the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s fortune and influence during the Age of Discovery. Founded by King Manuel I at the turn of the 16th century, the Manueline style is once more expressed in the monastery’s daunting façade, which extends for some 300 meters. Originally constructed to mark the safe return of Vasco da Gama and his men from his discovery of the maritime path to India, da Gama is interred here alongside other great Portuguese navigators. In the afternoon, walk to the Museu Coleçao Berardo, Belém’s fabulous museum of modern and contemporary art, with works by Picasso, Miró, Mondrian and more. Afterwards, a Port and Pastéis (Portugal’s famous egg custard tart) tasting, offers a delicious way to refuel. Return by coach to the hotel, glimpsing Belém Palace, the official presidential residence, along the way. A group dinner this evening marks our final night in Lisbon.
Depart the hotel on foot to visit Carmo Convent, the ruined arches of which stand in the midst of the rebuilt city as a poignant reminder of one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. Once one of the finest mediaeval buildings in the city, today the ruins form part of an attached archaeological museum. Continue to the Sao Roque Church, the earliest Jesuit church in the Portuguese world. The unassuming exterior conceals a dazzling interior of gold, marble and Florentine azulejos. The excessively ornate Chapel of St. John the Baptist is a fittingly magnificent flourish to our final visit of this tour, often described as the world’s most expensive chapel, it is an astonishing sight. After some free time for an independent lunch, we return to the hotel. Here we collect our coach to the airport, arriving back in London in the early evening.