Lisbon, situated in Portugal, is not only the country’s capital but also a municipality, with an urban area of 100.05 km² and a population of 545,796 inhabitants in 2021, making it the largest city in the country. It serves as the political center of Portugal, where the government is based and the head of state resides. The Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) is headquartered in Lisbon, which also happens to be the westernmost capital in the European continent, overlooking the Atlantic coast.
The city’s administrative boundaries are synonymous with those of the municipality, which has 24 parishes. Its administrative status can be traced back to the Roman municipality granted by Julius Caesar, with “Olissipo” serving as the foundation of the city’s name. The addition of “Felicity Julia” (Felicitas Julia) was made by the emperor in memory of himself. The Lisbon Metropolitan Area has a population of 2,870,208 people in 2021, making it the country’s largest and most populous metropolitan area.
Lisbon is widely regarded as a global city due to its significant role in financial, commercial, media, artistic, educational, and tourism-related matters. It is one of the most important economic centers in Europe, aided by the largest container port on the Atlantic coast of Europe and Humberto Delgado Airport, which receives more than 20 million passengers every year. Lisbon’s network of freeways and high-speed rail system (Alfa Pendular) connects major Portuguese cities to the capital. With 1,740,000 tourists in 2009, it is the seventh most visited city in southern Europe, after Istanbul, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Athens, and Milan. In 2015, Lisbon was the 35th most popular tourist destination, with nearly 4 million visitors, and was ranked as the 11th most popular tourist city in the world in 2018, ahead of Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, and Barcelona. In the same year, it received the “Best Destination City” and “Best City Break Destination” awards worldwide at the World Travel Awards.
Lisbon’s region is the wealthiest in the country, with a per capita GDP-PPS of €26,100, 4.7% higher than the average GDP-PPS of the European Union. Its metropolitan area has a GDP-PPS of €58 billion, which is equivalent to about 35% of the country’s total GDP-PPS, making it the twentieth richest on the continent. Lisbon ranks 122nd among the cities with the highest gross revenues globally. Most of the multinational corporations headquartered in Portugal are based in Lisbon’s region, which is the ninth city in the world with the most international conferences.
Etymology and gentile LISBOA
According to Samuel Bochart, a 17th-century French scholar who specialized in the Bible, the name Olissipo, meaning “Lisbon,” is a pre-Roman term that dates back to the Phoenicians, who called it “Allis Ubbo” or “Safe Port” due to its location in the Tagus Estuary. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support this theory. Some scholars believe that “Olissipo” is a word of Tartessian origin with the suffix “ipo” being used in Turdetan-Tartessian areas. The prefix “Oli(s)” was associated with another Lusitanian city of unknown location called “Olitingi.”
Legend has it that the Greek hero Ulysses founded Olissipo in an unknown location in the Iberian Peninsula. The Latin name was later corrupted to “Olissipona,” and the Visigoths referred to it as Ulishbon. The Moors, who conquered Lisbon in 714, gave it the Arabic name اليكسبونا (al-Lixbûnâ) or even لشبونة (al-Ushbuna).
The people of Lisbon are sometimes called “alfacinhas” in popular slang, and the origin of the term is unknown. It is assumed that the term refers to the vegetable gardens on the hills of Lisbon’s early city, where plants used for cooking, perfumery, and medicine were sold. The word lettuce comes from Arabic, suggesting that lettuce cultivation began during the Muslims’ occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. It is said that during one of the sieges of Lisbon, the city’s inhabitants almost exclusively ate lettuce from their gardens. The term “alfacinha” is entrenched in Portuguese culture, with many great writers using it to describe Lisboners.
Neolithic and foundation
Lisbon boasts remnants from the Neolithic, Neolithic, and Neo-Neolithic periods, and these regions were inhabited by the people of Atlantic Europe. During this time, many megalithic monuments were erected in the region, and several dolmens and menhirs are still present in the metropolitan area. In addition, Lisbon’s strategic location on the Tagus River’s estuary made it a vital port for supplying food to ships that went to Cornwall and the Tin Islands. During the first millennium BC, the Celtic people invaded the Iberian Peninsula and intermarried with the pre-Roman Iberian people, significantly increasing the number of Celtic speakers in the area. The pre-Roman Olissipo, founded in the 8th-7th century BC, was a settlement situated on the castle hill and slope, which was the most significant orientalizing settlement in Portugal. According to estimates, its population was between 2,500 and 5,000 individuals, and it provided a good anchorage for maritime traffic and trade with the Phoenicians.
Archaeological discoveries suggest that Phoenicians traded in the Lisbon region as early as 1200 BC, leading some historians to believe that they may have inhabited the current city center’s southern part on the castle hill. There have been discovered traces of a 2,000-year-old anchorage in Lisbon’s D. Luís square dating back to the 1st century BC and 5th century AD, where ships anchored for unloading and repairs, as well as for passenger and cargo transit. The Phoenicians took advantage of the largest river in the Iberian Peninsula’s mouth to trade precious metals with local tribes and traded other essential products such as salt, salted fish, and Lusitanian thoroughbred horses. While some historians believe that Lisbon was an ancient indigenous civilization called Opidus that only traded with the Phoenicians, others contend that the Phoenicians indeed founded the city. A legend also posits that the Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses) founded Lisbon and surrounded the original settlement with seven hills, like Rome.
It is believed that the ancient Greeks had a trading post at the mouth of the Tagus River, but due to the conflicts in the Mediterranean, it was abandoned, primarily due to the power of Carthage at that time. The territory of Lisbon was primarily occupied by Mediterranean populations that were influenced by various civilizations such as Phoenician, Punic, Berber-Moorish, and Latin-Roman. The Latin-Roman culture eventually dominated as a culture of power in administrative structures and education, after the Roman Empire’s legacies were appropriated by the Catholic Church.
The Romans conquered Olissipo around 139/138 BC and annexed it to the empire. The city was reinforced with walls and granted Roman citizenship, a privilege that was very rare for non-Roman peoples at that time. The city then benefited from the status of a municipality, along with the territories around it, paying no taxes to Rome, unlike other conquered castros and settlements. Lisbon was integrated into the province of Lusitania, with wide autonomy, and became part of the Roman amphitheater. The city was famous for manufacturing garum, a luxury food made from fish paste, preserved in amphorae and exported to Rome and the entire empire.
The first bishop of the city was Saint Gens, and Lisbon was one of the first aggregates that spontaneously welcomed Christianity at the end of the Roman Empire. However, the city was invaded by barbarians such as the Alans, Vandals, Suevi, and was taken by the Visigoths of Toledo, who called it “Ulishbona”.
In the early 7th century, “Ulishbuna” suffered from looting and a loss of commercial dynamics, and became little more than a village. In 711, the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by Moorish troops led by Tárique, taking advantage of a civil war among the Visigoths. Abdalazize ibne Muça, one of Tárique’s sons, conquered what remained of the Roman peninsular west, including “Olishbuna,” according to old historians. However, modern researchers deny this version, stating that the indigenous Lisboners were Berbers with a deeply rooted culture. In 714, Lisbon was taken by Moors from North Africa, called Aluxbuna in Arabic, whose ancient name was Cudia. The Viking fleet invaded Lisbon in 754, destroying coastal villages and causing the expulsion of many Christians from the region. Meanwhile, in the North, the Condado Portucalense separated from the Kingdom of Leon, establishing itself in Guimarães, with economic strength and autonomy in Oporto, the port city of Cale in Gaia. The new kingdom would be driven by the commercial dynamism of the young merchant city, similar in importance to Lisbon on the Tagus River and eventually conquered.
According to traditional Portuguese history, al-Ushbuna was conquered from the Moors by Afonso Henriques, but in reality it was the Marrano manorial classes of Entre Douro e Minho who played a significant role in the conquest. The first attempt to reconquer Lisbon happened in 1137, but it failed, and only in 1147 did Christians reconquer the town under the leadership of Dom Afonso Henriques. The king granted Lisbon a charter in 1179 and in 1255, the city became the capital of the kingdom due to its strategic location. In the last centuries of the Middle Ages, Lisbon became an important port with established trade links with northern Europe and the Mediterranean cities. King Dom Dinis founded the first Portuguese university in Lisbon in 1290, which was later transferred to Coimbra due to a fire. Dom Fernando I built the famous Fernandina Wall to accommodate the city’s growing population. The crisis of 1383-85 marked a new chapter in Lisbon’s history, which ended with the city’s bourgeoisie emerging as one of the winners in the battle that saw the Master of Avis acclaimed John I of Portugal. In 1385, Lisbon became the capital of the kingdom, replacing Coimbra.
Age of navigation
During the late 15th century, Portuguese monarch, D. João II, made maritime discoveries a strategic priority. He relocated his residence from São Jorge Castle to Terreiro do Paço, which became the focal point for shipbuilding yards and the royal palace. It was an ideal location for the young sovereign to oversee the Tagus from a tower close to alleys that he visited on nighttime escapades. Portugal was the first to incorporate technological and scientific research into state policy, inviting specialists from Aragon, Catalonia, Italy, and Germany to enrich nautical knowledge, augmented by oriental pilots. With expeditions departing from Lisbon, the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands were discovered, and there are compelling arguments to suggest that Portuguese caravels reached Brazil before the official discovery of America.
During the height of Portuguese colonial expansion, Lisbon’s riverside houses had between three and five stories, housing commercial premises and stores. The city began to overtake Genoa in the slave trade, with captives traded and sold throughout Europe. Lisbon’s greatest wealth since the end of the 16th century was gold and the monopoly on Brazilian products, but smuggling and piracy led to significant losses. The country’s economic situation was strained while the nations of Europe, such as England, began to industrialize and trade with the Americas and Asia.
After the Catalans revolted in 1636, the merchants of Lisbon allied with the small and medium nobility, trying to convince the Duke of Braganza, Dom João, to accept the throne, leading to the Restoration of Independence in 1640. Post-Restoration Lisbon was a city increasingly dominated by Catholic religious orders, with over forty convents founded, in addition to the thirty already in existence. The political climate became more conservative, more authoritarian, with the Inquisition repressing the merchant class and controlling mentalities, suppressing creativity in the name of the “purity” of the faith.
Lisbon became the stage for the Church’s autos-de-fé against apostates, heretics, and Jews, accused of deviations from Christianity. Citizens could also be sacrificed for frivolous reasons. Victims were burned alive in elaborate bonfires, in places like Rossio and Praça do Comércio, while King João V watched, striving not to fall short of neighboring Spain and other European countries in grandiose works and notable deeds. These repressive practices, cultivating fear and creating a stigma, would serve as a model for future rulers. King João V ordered the construction of the Águas Livres Aqueduct in 1731.
Earthquake of 1755 and Pombaline Lisbon
On November 1, 1755, Lisbon was struck by a devastating earthquake that nearly destroyed the city. In response to the tragedy, the Marquis of Pombal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, who was Minister of War and Foreign Affairs, quickly drew up plans to rebuild the city. The area that was rebuilt is now known as Baixa Pombalina. D. João V, in the 18th century, urged the Pope to grant the Archbishop of Lisbon the honorary title of Patriarch, with automatic appointment as Cardinal, hence the title “Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon.” In the early 19th century, Portugal was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops, forcing King João VI to temporarily move to Brazil, which resulted in the looting of many possessions in Lisbon.
The 19th century saw the city experience intense liberal struggles and the beginning of a flourishing era for cafes and theaters. The city’s cultural and commercial center shifted to Chiado in the 1880s, with new stores and clubs settling on the adjacent hill. The Grémio Literário, famous for stories by Eça de Queirós, was founded in Chiado, and the area saw the emergence of fashionable clothing stores and luxury goods. In 1879, the Avenida da Liberdade was opened, marking the start of the city’s expansion beyond Baixa.
Fado, a typical spectacle of taverns and small venues in Lisbon’s popular neighborhoods, experienced a gradual rise in popularity during the early 20th century. Alongside this, bullfighting became a favorite pastime at large venues like the Praça de Touros do Campo Pequeno, and the popular theater or teatro de revista occupied new theaters in the capital. Meanwhile, the practice of Oratory, which involved actors commenting on fashionable themes and imitating Padre António Vieira’s flowery rhetoric and superficial arguments, became a popular pastime for the “alfacinhas.” Large public gardens modeled after London’s Hyde Park and gardens in German cities appeared in Lisbon, with the first being the Jardim da Estrela.
The elites imposed a dictatorship under João Franco in 1907, but it was too late to prevent the attacks on the royal family in Terreiro do Paço in 1908, in which the King Dom Carlos of Portugal and the heir to the throne, the Royal Prince Dom Luís Filipe de Bragança were killed, probably by anarchists. Lisbon workers then organized frequent strikes, leading to the revolution that would implant the republic in Portugal in 1910. The First Republic faced a national crisis when Portugal entered the First World War in 1916, and many casualties resulted. The anti-democratic conservative right seized power in 1926 after two other attempts in 1925, and the dictatorship led by dictator Salazar ruled the country with impunity for four decades until the Carnation Revolution in 1974.
The troubled period of the PREC followed the military coup, with left-wing propaganda and action dominating in Lisbon, from the most moderate to the most radical. Extreme right-wing groups also worsened the unrest by carrying out terrorist actions in the north of the country to stop the progress of the revolution. After the fall of the fascist regime, the Treaty of Accession to the European Economic Community was signed in Lisbon in 1985. Since then, the city and the country have been governed in party alternation by a democratic regime. Lisbon continues to develop at the pace of the most important European capitals, improving its infrastructure and building new ones, and it inaugurated its second bridge, Vasco da Gama, the longest bridge in Europe and the fourth longest in the world, in 1998.
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is situated on the right bank of the Tagus estuary at 38º42′ N and 9º00′ W. It is the westernmost capital of Europe and is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The historic center of the city is on seven hills, and some of the streets are too narrow for vehicles to pass. The city has three funiculars and an elevator, the Elevador de Santa Justa, to help with transportation. The western part of the city is occupied by the Monsanto Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in Europe, with an area of almost 10 km². The city limits are well defined within the boundaries of the historic perimeter, and the city has many neighboring cities that are part of the Lisbon metropolitan perimeter, such as Loures, Odivelas, Amadora, and Oeiras. South of the Tagus, Almada, Seixal, and Barreiro are also part of the urban expansion of Lisbon but with distinct identities from the north of the Tagus. The city has also gained land from the river with successive landfills, which allowed for the creation of new avenues, railway lines, port facilities, and new urban developments such as Parque das Nações and equipment such as the Centro Cultural de Belém, particularly from the 19th century onwards.
Baixa: Also known as “Downtown,” Baixa is the historic heart of Lisbon and is home to many of the city’s most famous attractions, including Praça do Comércio, Lisbon Cathedral, and the Santa Justa Elevator.
Alfama: This is Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, famous for its narrow streets and traditional fado music. Alfama is also home to several historical sites, including the Castelo de São Jorge and the National Pantheon.
Bairro Alto: This is one of Lisbon’s most vibrant and bohemian neighborhoods, known for its bars, restaurants and nightlife. During the day, it is a great place to explore Lisbon’s street art and independent shops.
Chiado: This neighborhood is known for its elegant architecture, upscale shopping and cultural attractions. It is home to several museums, including the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the Carmo Archaeological Museum.
Belém: Located on the outskirts of Lisbon, Belém is famous for its historical monuments, including the Jerónimos Monastery, the Belém Tower, and the Monument to Discoveries. It is also home to some of Lisbon’s best pastries, including the famous Pastéis de Belém.