Lisbon Architecture

Lisbon Architecture Guide: 9 Iconic Examples Of Lisbon’s Architectural History

By Tara Smollen, edited by Jackie De Burca

Lisbon is the spectacular capital city of Portugal, with a reputation as one of the most lively, charming and colourful cities in Europe. There an abundance of reasons to attract visitors to this wonderful city. Naturally, Lisbon’s magnificent architecture is one of its most important attributes. The city’s wonderfully impressive architecture oozes elegance and history.

Also, the city has an overwhelmingly welcoming atmosphere that combines its rich traditional heritage and extensive history along with remarkable modernism. Lisbon is an exceptionally diverse destination making it appealing to many different types of visitors. You could head there for a beach holiday, a cultural trip, a relaxing city break or to enjoy its spectacular nightlife, with a fantastic year-round climate. On top of this, most locals of a certain age speak good English.

Lisbon Portugal Rossio Square

The History of Lisbon’s Architectural Heritage

Today Lisbon is the buzzing capital of Portugal. Lisbon is known as the City of Light, as it is dispersed around seven hills, with the river Tagus that flows through its core, reflecting a glorious light onto its famously tiled streets. Lisbon’s lovely ceramics and its striking architecture blend together wonderfully.

Of course, as you wander around the city, you will observe elements of its architectural heritage. The reality is that much of Lisbon’s architectural legacy can be linked to the 1755 earthquake. Much of the city’s buildings are a response to this event, while some serve as reminders.

Lisbon Architecture Guide

Here Are 9 Iconic Examples Of Lisbon’s Architectural History

1. Belém Tower UNESCO

This stunning emblematic UNESCO listed landmark, the Belem Tower, was erected in 1514 to honour the expedition of Vasco de Gama. Situated at the river Tagus’s north bank, it is also dedicated to the city’s patron saint, St. Vicent. When you visit, you can climb the narrow, steep steps to enjoy striking views over the city and the river.

Lisbon Architecture Guide Belem Tower Lisbon Portugal
Belem Tower
2. Jerónimos Monastery (Hieronymites Monastery) UNESCO

The Jerónimos Monastery was constructed from the latter part of the 15th century in memory of Henry the Navigator. St. Jerome is the patron of seafaring folk. and the monastery, which can be found at the entrance of Lisbon’s port, features wonderful motifs and maritime carvings.

Jeronimos Monastery Lisbon Portugal

3. Pena Castle Sintra UNESCO

One of Portugal’s most loved monuments, the UNESCO listed Pena Palace in Sintra rises out of the lush landscape a colourful,  fairytale castle. Located in the Pena Park, the castle has two distinct wings, the new palace and the monastery.

Lisbon Architecture Guide Pena Castle Sintra
Pena Castle Sintra
4. São Jorge Castle

Perched high on one of the city’s hills, São Jorge Castle overlooks the river Tagus and the cityscape. This iconic landmark’s silhouette stands out beautifully when illuminated by night, but looks spectacular by day as well. It sits on the summit of the hill of St. George, minding the Castelo and Alfama neighbourhoods.

The construction was originally built in the 5th century by Visigoths, then later the Moors made their own modifications, in the mid-11th century. In the 12th century, when Alonso 1st was the King of Portugal, the castle underwent further changes. Later the castle was made into a Royal Palace, enjoying days of great splendour from the 13th to 16th centuries. In 1938 it was entirely restored.

Lisbon architecture St. George Castle
St. George Castle
5. Baixa Pombalina

The downtown district of Lisbon, Baixa Pombalina, known simply as Baixa by the locals, is considered of great importance as the first European example of urban planning that is resistant to earthquakes. In fact, it is currently on a tentative UNESCO list – “The reconstruction work, which began in 1756, was carried out according to an utterly innovative orthogonal plan in a unique and paradigmatic feat of Portuguese urban design.” This work was supervised by the Marquis of Pombal, hence the name of the area.

Lisbon Rossio square at sunset
Rossio square part of Baixa Pombalina
6. Santa Justa Lift

The Santa Justa Lift was built because Lisbon is very hilly and the lift was used to transport goods and people throughout the city. It connects the Baixa (Low) and Bairro Alto (High) neighbourhoods. The Santa Justa lift is made of iron, which when it was opened in 1902 was a new material to be used. The designer, Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, decorated the flit with Neo-Gothic touches and flourishes.

Lisbon architecture Santa Justa Lift

7. São Roque Church

This landmark date back to the 17th Century. The Jesuit chapel’s Baroque inlays were handmade in Italy and are detailed with precious stones including lapis lazuli, agate, amethyst and jade. It dates back in history to ‘voyages of discovery’.

8. Sé de Lisboa Cathedral

This cathedral is Lisbon’s oldest church and dates to the 12th Century. The cathedral showcases a combination of unique style. The design is typically Latin with a richly decorated interior. The cathedral was used as a defence base against enemies.

9. Águas Livres Aqueduct

The Águas Livres Aqueduct dates to the 18th Century. It was originally designed to supply drinking water within Lisbon. The design is somewhat gothic. Finished in 1744 it amazingly survived the great Lisbon earthquake. Today it is used as a bigger network of canals.

Lisbon Then and Now

As we walk throughout Lisbon today, we experience the city as a whole, from its rich cultural history and iconic architectural landmarks to its remarkable modernism. Lisbon truly is a city of welcoming pleasant people. The city is breath-taking, almost picture-perfect. Built across seven hills the view of the city is astonishing. Lisbon’s unique aesthetic truly comes from its rich historical background. Today that aesthetic can still be seen and lives in Lisbon’s historic architecture which really gives the city the most unique breath-taking distinctive attributes.

This article is one of a series about Lisbon. To discover more and get excellent information about this city, head over to the Lisbon Portugal Travel Guide.

As the topic of sustainability is so important, you may be interested to learn more about Why Lisbon Is A Top Sustainable Destination by Eduardo Lera Latorre

If you are considering relocating or retiring to Portugal, you may find this article about relocation and retirement to Portugal of interest. It is written by a relocation expert. Doctor Valentino Coletto.
Other articles featured in this Lisbon series are:

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