Lisabona was Lisbon’s name in the sixteenth century. Lisabona came from Olisipo, the name the Romans had given the city more than a thousand years before – Municipium Cives Romanorum Felicitas Julia Olisipo. In the 1500s, amid the fever of the discovery of new maritime routes to countries where the commerce of spices and other riches originated, and driven by the hope of fortunes and fame to be had on those endeavors, the whole world converged into Lisabona. The crowds in the city center had Bretons, Catalans, Normans, Castilians, Genovese, Dutch, Venetian, Africans and, of course, Portuguese. Some came to spy, trying to get the secrets of maritime navigation the Portuguese had developed, others to try their fortune. The chroniclers of those days describe Lisabona as a cosmopolitan city, bustling with people, business and opportunities, the place to be within Europe.
My wife Amy and I just came back from a long vacation in Lisboa, as we Portuguese have been calling Lisbon for centuries. When we walked downtown, for a moment we got the feeling we had traveled back in time to the 1500s. We heard English, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Romanian and hardly any Portuguese. Nowadays these foreigners do not look for fortune or fame; they respond to the slogan Lisbon is the place to be this year. They follow the sun, they come to taste food specialties and wine vintages, to explore beautiful views, historical sites and monuments. They come looking for fun and leave their Pounds, Euros, Yuan, Rubles and Dollars in Portugal. The Portuguese are having a bonanza brought by tourism (more than 20 million people last year), albeit with possible downfalls down the road.
Amy and I joined the tourist crowds in Lisbon and throughout Portugal, visited many of the fantastic views and historical monuments, ate in many, many restaurants, mainly fish and seafood, trekked up the mountains, traveled down south to Algarve and basked on the beaches, absorbing the warm sun that crossed the cerulean blue sky, like none on earth. We visited museums and it seems now in Lisbon there is a museum for anything imaginable, some better than others. We visited a millenary church and monastery in Alcobaça with its cloisters, and some obscene golden altars, with beautiful art that centuries of foreign invasions, fires and earthquakes could not obliterate. In Lisbon the aqueduct from 1744 and its distribution water pools were the highlight of one of our days; I was born and raised in Lisbon but had never visited it. We traveled north to Coimbra’s University, one of the oldest in Europe, with its magnificent ancient library, then traveled to Nazaré’s promontory over the ocean, where the tallest wave in the world (78 Ft.) challenges ‘”crazy” surfers every year, and close to home we visited Cabo da Roca one more time, the most western point of continental Europe.
Thus, like all the other tourists, we joyfully, gladly and happily scattered our Dollars from the north to the south of Portugal.
Henrique Gomes, OLLI Member, OLLI Writers Group Coordinator