History & Culture
Lisbon or Lisboa was highly prized by the ancient Europeans both for its geographical position on the banks of the River Tagus and for its fertile soil. It became a battlefield for the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians but was taken over by the Romans in 205 BC.
The legendary Moors, who invaded in 714, resisted repeated Christian attacks for 400 years but were not finally expelled until 1147, when King Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, took a hand. In that same year, he demolished the city's main Moorish mosque and ordered a cathedral to be built on the same site.
Lisbon became the official capital of Portugal in 1255. In the 15th and 16th centuries Lisbon boomed as the epicentre of the vast Portuguese empire after explorer Vasco da Gama found a sea route to India. The magnificent Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, founded in the capital in 1501, is one of several monuments to Portugal’s great Age of Discovery still standing.
By the 1700’s, Lisbon had become the centre of international trade in gold, as well as spices, silks and jewellery, but at 9.30am on November 1st 1755, everything changed when three major earthquakes hit the city; unleashing a devastating fire and tsunami.
Although as many as a third of Lisbon’s 270,000 inhabitants died, and much of the city was flattened, a massive rebuild, which created today’s formal city grid system, was undertaken by the Marquis of Pombal just a short time later.
Today, Lisbon is a cultural haven with world-class music, opera and ballet in abundance. The Portuguese Symphony Orchestra and Portuguese National Ballet are renowned throughout the world, as is the Gulbenkian Orchestra and Choir.
Bullfighting is a mainstay of traditional Portuguese culture, but unlike the Spanish version, the Portuguese matadors fight on horseback and the bull is not killed in the ring.