Country with Fascinating History
Portugal has an early spring, cloudless skies, blue seas, pink and azure buildings in and around Lisbon, white buildings with minarets down south in the Algarve where the Moorish occupation is still evident… and dreamy castles and fortresses up north in the Costa Verde (the Green Coast) where Oporto is located. Oporto is the second largest city in Portugal and is known world-wide for its wine and port.
The olive tree, introduced into Portugal by the Phoenicians as early as 1700 B.C., is still important to the economy of the country. We bought olives by the kilo from a huge pail at the Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon. Oranges, which were first known in English as “Portyngales” (having come from Portugal) are used in courtyards as decorative trees, Moorish-style, and of course, as fruit crops.
Choosing Where to Visit
In visiting Portugal, one must try to decide whether to concentrate on the Costa Verde, the “emerald in Portugal’s crown”; on the Algarve, which is in the south facing Africa and is the part of the country best known to tourists; on Lisbon and the Lisbon coast with Cascais and Estoril, both lively and cosmopolitan (Estoril is famous for its casino; or on the interior of the country which includes fascinating legacies left by the meeting of Iberian and Roman civilizations 2000 years ago.
With its unhurried, friendly people and simple, unfabricated appeal, it doesn’t really matter where you go. Portugal has a style of calm luxury that is very attractive to those nostalgic
enough to yearn for the past.
The Occupiers of the Past
Over the last 1000 years or so, the country has had various occupiers and their imprints have been left on the architecture, foods and customs of the people. Basic itineraries for visitors, each offering a separate and different fact of Portuguese life include trips to Braga, the “Portuguese Rome”. Braga is not only one of the oldest towns in Portugal but also one of the oldest in Christendom, with its own liturgy called the “Braga Rite”. Many tourists like to visit the old Moorish capital in the Algarve. It is called Silves and is only 13 km. from the Algarve coast.
I loved Evora, capital of the province of the upper Alentejo. It is a university town with a magnificent Roman Temple of Diana right in the centre of the city. Of course, Lisbon is a must-see and one could stay for days and days visitng museums, trying pork and clams and grilled sardines (in the summer) and stopping for a “bica” or small espresso with one or two of the delicious custard tarts known as Belem tarts and other superb pastries such as Sintra tartlets and little cakes made of marzipan.
Origins of Lisbon
The origins of Lisbon are shrouded in legend. Among its mythical founders are Elisha and Ulysses. The name itself is derived from Olissapona, a Latin version of the Phoenician “Allis Ubo”, meaning delightful little port.
As Portugal developed into one of the great maritime powers, Lisbon, which had become an important port, became the capital of the Portuguese Empire. In the 15th century it was the world centre for trade in spices, jewels from the East and gold from Brazil.