White city resting upon the Tagus
When in 1147 Crusader Osberno arrived to the estuary of Tagus, he marvelled at the river. He said that the Tagus was two thirds water and one third fish. He was also impressed by the beauty of the city, protected by high walls at the top of the hills. For months, these walls challenged the common effort of the warriors of D. Afonso Henriques and the free fleet that searched for the Holy Land. This account that survived to present time contains the essential information on Lisbon and the surrounding region: the hills, the connection with the river, the surrounding nature. The only thing that was missing in his report was that special white light penetrating the walls of the houses and mirrored in the Tagus waters, which has impressed movie directors such as Alan Tanner or Wim Wenders.
The Portuguese capital performs the feat of being a piece of Mediterranean in the Atlantic. Immediately south in the margins of Tagus estuary, Arrábida Mountain is truly Mediterranean, presenting a vegetation of junipers and strawberry trees like the one in Corsica and white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters typical of the Greek archipelagos. However, the Atlantic character of this region can be clearly seen in Cape da Roca - "the place where the land ends and the sea begins" - situated north from Lisbon. Lisbon offers this extraordinary possibility of reaching in a half an hour car journey the endless beaches of Caparica, for instance, or the lavishly green Sintra Mountain, as well as natural zones involved by a paradise-like tranquillity from Albufeira lagoon to Cape Espichel in contrast with cosmopolitan night life areas, such as Avenue 24 de Julho or Bairro Alto.
In order to visit one of these jewels of landscape or heritage, you should take public transport, which can be an advantage. Trams are a good option especially the famous 28 tram, crossing the hills of the Portuguese capital between Graça, Chiado, Estrela and Campo de Ourique quarters. There are also the ferries that make the connection between riverside zones of the capital and Almada or the train that circulates in the inferior platform of the elegant floating bridge, connecting both margins of the Tagus since 1965.
It is this diversity and this sometimes troubled marriage, but full of passion, between city and countryside, old and modern, nature and technology that make Lisbon such a charming city, along with the surrounding zone. One of Lisbon's main advantages is precisely its uneven topography. The quarters rise on the top of the hills, some of them are popular like Graça or Campo de Ourique, while others are historical like the Castle quarter and even aristocratic like Chiado quarter. The Tagus River can be seen from the several viewpoints, balconies, windows and terraces, as if it were "my own poem opened in sun pages", in the words of Almada Negreiros.
The city that stands before our eyes has survived the 1755 earthquake and was reborn. Lisbon's downtown, designed by Marquis de Pombal after the quake, has wide streets and octagonal quarters, leading to the geometrical square of Terreiro do Paço, symbol of a triumphal rationalism. It is candidate for UNESCO World Heritage Site. Further on to the west side, there is the monumental area related to the epopee of the Discoveries with such important highlights as Jerónimos Monastery, Belém Tower, Monument to the Discoveries and the modern Belém Cultural Centre. In the opposite direction, that is to say facing east, you will find Nations' Park, a heritage of World Exhibit EXPO'98 and the new visit room of the Portuguese capital.
There are museums that contain true jewels of European culture, such as Ancient Art Museum near the riverside zone, wide areas near the river, nightlife centres such as the Docks and Avenue 24 de Julho, century-old quarters like Alfama and, above all, a city atmosphere, which is at the same time introspective, cosmopolitan, European and African. This is why Lisbon is such an appealing city for national and foreign tourists.