Baixa

The neighborhood of Baixa, alternatively called Pombaline Downtown, is located in the old part of Lisbon, Portugal. Its boundaries include a network of streets north of Praça do Comércio, extending from Cais do Sodré to the Alfama area at the foot of Lisbon Castle. The neighborhood extends to Rossio and Figueira squares, as well as to Avenida da Liberdade, an avenue known for its assortment of tailor shops and coffee shops.

History of Baixa

The sophisticated area of Pombaline Baixa was mainly built after the 1755 earthquake that devastated Lisbon. Its title is derived from Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, who was the 1st Marquis of Pombal and a prominent figure of the Portuguese Enlightenment. As Prime Minister to Joseph I of Portugal from 1750 to 1777, he led the reconstruction of Lisbon after the devastating earthquake. The Marquis of Pombal imposed strict regulations on the rebuilding of the city, and the current orthogonal street layout is very different from the original organic street plan that once characterized the district.

The Pombaline Baixa is a remarkable example of earthquake-resistant building design. Architects subjected their models to rigorous testing by having troops march around them to mimic the effects of an earthquake. Distinctive features of the Pombaline architecture include the Pombaline cage, a symmetrical wooden lattice framework meticulously designed to dissipate the force of an earthquake. In addition, the walls between the terraces are constructed higher than the roof timbers, thereby reducing the spread of fire.

On December 7, 2004, the Pombaline Baixa was included in Portugal’s “provisional list” of potential World Heritage sites. This designation was considered superior to the proposed reconstruction areas in Edinburgh, Turin and London. In particular, the nomination emphasized that London’s reconstruction plans after the Great Fire of 1666 failed to implement the comprehensive principles that were successfully achieved in the Pombaline Baixa.

What to See and Do in Baixa?

Praça do Comércio

Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio

Praça do Comércio, the most magnificent square in Lisbon, faces the river and was historically the main arrival point for those traveling by sea. The square once housed the Royal Palace, which was completely destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. The reconstructed square includes a triumphal arch, the centerpiece of which is a monument to the monarch who reigned during the disaster. Under the arcades you will find Lisbon’s oldest café, a tourist office and a museum telling the history of the city. There are also many cafes and restaurants for visitors to enjoy.

Santa Justa Elevator

Santa Justa Elevator
Santa Justa Elevator

The Santa Justa Elevator, which commenced operations in 1902, is an iconic attraction that connects Lisbon’s downtown to the hilltop neighborhood of Chiado. This 45m-high (148 ft) elevator is among the most popular and photographed landmarks in Lisbon. Its iron construction was influenced by the design of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Once atop (accessed via a spiral staircase), visitors can revel in a breathtaking 360-degree vista of the central Lisbon area.

Rua Augusta Arch

Famous Triumphal Augusta Arch
Rua Augusta Arch
The Rua Augusta Arch is an emblematic structure in Lisbon, renowned for offering some of the city’s most beautiful panoramas. This triumphal arch was originally built in 1775 to welcome seafarers to Lisbon. In 2013, the terrace was opened to the public for the first time, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with the sculptures and enjoy views of the city’s largest square and main pedestrian street.

Rossio Square

Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal
Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal

Rossio Square is an important square that marks the heart of Lisbon. Its pavement has a distinctive wave pattern that has been replicated in various other regions of Portugal and its colonies, such as Rio de Janeiro and Macau. Visitors can enjoy the pattern from the benches that surround the square or from the outdoor cafés that surround it. On the north side of the square is a neoclassical theater overlooking two Baroque fountains and a monument dedicated to King Pedro IV, after whom the square is officially named.

Rua Augusta

A beautiful aerial view on the streets of Lisbon, Portugal
Rua Augusta

Rua Augusta is Lisbon’s main pedestrian street, linking Rossio Square to Praça do Comércio. It is a vibrant street with open-air restaurants, street performers and local and international retailers.

MuDe – Design and Fashion Museum

The facade of Mude Museum of Fashion and design
The facade of Mude Museum of Fashion and design

MuDe, the Design and Fashion Museum, was recognized as one of the best design museums in Europe when it opened in 1999. It currently houses a fashion collection in addition to its design exhibitions. The museum showcases the work of celebrated design icons such as Charles & Ray Eames and Le Corbusier alongside the creations of top international fashion designers such as Christian Dior, Tommy Hilfiger and Yves Saint Laurent. All of this is housed in a former bank.

Praça da Figueira

Lisbon, Portugal, April 2018. The statue of King John I in Figueira Square in Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal, April 2018. The statue of King John I in Figueira Square in Lisbon, Portugal

 

Formerly the site of Lisbon’s largest covered market, Praça da Figueira now serves as a transportation hub, with trams and buses running to some of the city’s most important attractions. Although a food market is held here once a month, the square is primarily dedicated to transit services. It offers a scenic view of the castle and features an equestrian statue of King João I, which is adjacent to one of Lisbon’s oldest pastry shops, the Confeitaria Nacional.

Praça do Município

Praca do Municipio Square and Lisbon City Hall and Pelourinho Column - Lisbon, Portugal
Praca do Municipio Square and Lisbon City Hall and Pelourinho Column – Lisbon, Portugal

Praça do Município is an elegant square dominated by the neoclassical Palace of the City Hall. The palace is open to the public on the first Sunday of every month. The square is adorned with the city’s trademark cobblestone patterns, which create a “carpet effect” of triangles and rectangles. An 18th-century spiral pillory stands in the center of the square, and adjacent to it is a kiosk café that serves refreshments throughout the day.

The Money Museum

Lisbon Money Museum
Lisbon Money Museum

The Money Museum is housed in a converted 17th-century church and presents a comprehensive account of the history of money throughout the world. The museum displays rare banknotes and coins from around the world, including the earliest from both the Western and Eastern worlds. Visitors are invited to put their image on a banknote and mint a coin, as well as touch a gold bar worth half a million euros. In addition, the lower level of the museum houses an archaeological site featuring a section of Lisbon’s medieval wall.

Rua dos Correeiros Archaeological Site

Rua dos Correeiros Archaeological
Rua dos Correeiros Archaeological

The Rua dos Correeiros Archaeological Site displays the results of archaeological excavations carried out in the 1990s, which uncovered evidence of Lisbon’s 2500-year history. Located underneath the headquarters of a bank, this exhibition features a number of discoveries, including well-preserved Roman mosaics.

Edifício dos Leões

The Edifício dos Leões is considered one of the most exquisite buildings in downtown Lisbon, designed in the Beaux-Arts style in 1905. The structure was originally built to house the headquarters of a bank, but was converted into a museum in 2019. The building retains many of the original pieces and furnishings, giving visitors a glimpse of what banks looked like in the early 20th century. The rest of the building has been converted to host temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.

Igreja da Conceição Velha

The Igreja da Conceição Velha is an exceptional example of Manueline (Portuguese Gothic) architecture in Lisbon, with a striking portal that is particularly noteworthy. This church was originally a Jewish temple, and the portal dates back to the 1500s. The interior, however, is a reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake.

Igreja de São Domingos

The Igreja de São Domingos has suffered two major catastrophes, being severely damaged by the earthquake of 1755 and by a fire in 1959. The interior of the church has never been restored, leaving its scorched columns as a poignant reminder of its troubled history. The site witnessed some of Lisbon’s darkest periods, serving as the place where the Inquisition announced its verdicts and where hundreds of people suspected of being Jews were massacred in 1506. In their memory, a monument has been erected in the square in front of the church. This monument faces a mural with the phrase “Lisbon, City of Tolerance” written in 34 different languages.

Igreja da Madalena

The Igreja da Madalena is a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It was rebuilt in 1783 to replace an earlier church, but the structure has retained its original Manueline portal, dating back to the 1500s. The interior of the church contains works of art by Machado de Castro, considered Portugal’s most important 18th-century sculptor. The facade of a building across the street from the church features stones taken from a Roman temple. These stones are embedded in the architecture of the building, adding an interesting historical element to the surroundings.

Igreja de São Nicolau

The Igreja de São Nicolau is a neoclassical church that was completely rebuilt in 1776 after being destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. The church’s meticulously restored ceiling paintings depict various scenes from the life of St. Nicholas.

Lisboa Story Center

The Lisboa Story Center occupies a large part of the east wing of Comércio Square and offers visitors a multimedia museum experience that tells the story of Lisbon’s history through models and digital displays. Organized chronologically, the exhibition showcases the significant events and personalities that have shaped the city over the centuries. The exhibition highlights five of the most dramatic episodes in the city’s history and is divided into six sections. The first section discusses the myths and facts of the first settlers, while another focuses on the Age of Discovery and the “global city” that resulted. The third section is dedicated to the Great Earthquake of 1755, followed by “Pombaline Lisbon,” or the modern city reconstructed by the Marquis of Pombal. This reconstruction led to the development of the square where the museum is located, and another section is dedicated to the depiction of life in the square over time. Finally, the last room focuses on general aspects of the city, and there’s a gift shop where visitors can buy souvenirs of Lisbon. There are also temporary exhibitions and all the exhibits are accompanied by multilingual audio guides.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira

The Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira is a small church that is easy to miss, even if you are standing right at the entrance. The church is housed in an ordinary building, but the interior is a pleasant surprise. The original temple dates back to 1262, but it was rebuilt in 1762 after being destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755. The ceiling of the church is adorned with an 18th century painting of the Assumption, while the walls are decorated with blue and white tile panels from the same period. These panels depict various events in the life of the Virgin, from her birth to the Flight to Egypt.