In Lisbon, even the land is designed for the sea. Portugal and Spain share the oldest permanent border in history, dating from 1249. Backed into the farthest corner of Europe, the Portuguese had nowhere else to go but seaward – this is reflected in just about every aspect of Lisbon, from nautical-themed churches to monuments built to navigators, from the giant estates of seafaring merchants to the present-day survival of the old “sailor district”. The city was leveled by an 9.0 scale mega-earthquake in 1755 (legend says that candles shook in monasteries in Dublin), followed by fires and a tsunami that left the city in ruins. But Lisbon was reborn, taking advantage of this “clean slate” to make use of modern city planning and creating an open, well layed-out city center (as opposed to the narrow, winding medieval streets of BCN’s Barri Gotic). The planners left the destroyed Convento Carmo church as a show of the earthquake’s destruction – a haunting reminder that even the strongest stone buildings are no match for geologic fault lines.
I also took a day-trip to Sintra, home of the old Portuguese Royal Palaces and the most amazing estate I have ever seen, the Quinta da Regaleira. The Quinta was the summer home of a very, very, very wealthy Portuguese merchant, and I imagine the estate would have been very, very, very fun to build. There are several series of underground tunnels that lead under waterfalls and though wells, turrets overlooking the city of Sintra, a beautiful white, Gothic mansion, and sprawling gardens that make for LOTS of great pictures. I tried to put my adventure though one of the underground passageways in order – entering through a cave behind the Guardian’s Gate, through a passage to the bottom of a well, continuing and emerging under a (now dormant, but active in Spring/Summer) waterfall! Too cool – exactly what every 10-year-old needs in their house.