03 Sep 2019 916
Sandra Nobre Short Stories
#culture #experiences

That's how I look at you, so hopelessly . ..

You can admire the Portuguese capital from the 'miradouros' located atop the city's hills. There are spots that provide breathtaking panoramic views. Some of them make us feel like we're on top of the world.

Destination: Lisbon

I never get tired of saying that out of all the countries I've landed in - on my last count a few years back, it was 41, and added to that repeated returns and countless cities, it's not even worth trying to work out the exact figure - Lisbon gets the award for the best cityscape. Controversy aside, due to the noise of the air traffic and safety aspects, bla, bla, bla, when you arrive from the south - my favourite view - where you can admire the coastal strip of the Costa da Caparica and wave at Christ the King, and cross the Ponte 25 de April Bridge, and glide across the entire city, or from the north, with the Ponte Vasco da Gama Bridge, on the horizon and the entire eastern part of the city, reborn since EXPO'98 with bold traces of modernity, nobody is left indifferent. Unless you ended up with an aisle seat, which is not the best choice when you have Lisbon as a destination. The light, the river, the history, all through the plane window.

Note: book a window seat to take in the views.

The classic viewpoints

Perched on the hills of Lisbon, the 'miradouros' reveal each neighbourhood, all the lines that sketch out the city, rising up and gaining new colours, between cranes and scaffolding, every day. You can almost trace one axis that divides it in half, when you take the Avenida da Liberdade, the former Passeio Público (Public Promenade), as a reference.
On the one side, like a large wide-open window, São Pedro de Alcântara, between Chiado and Príncipe Real, with its back to Bairro Alto, as if shyly hiding the Bohemian life watching it every night, from door to door, from bar to bar. From there, keep your eyes on the places in Graça, on the Castelo, the Jardim do Torel, on the streets of Mouraria. And the Tagus, in the background, a static image, like a watercolour painting, contrary to the rush of the days. Right next to it, the Ascensor da Glória, a national monument since 2002, defaced by the scribbles of talentless artists - the difference between street art and vandalism - still seduces passing tourists and takes them halfway to the viewpoints on the other side of the avenue. Still on this side, between the streets of Chiado, the Miradouro de Santa Catarina, better known as Adamastor, the symbol of the storms in the Os Lusiadas poems by Luís Vaz de Camões, represented in a statue facing the Tagus that made him famous. Closed to the public for more than a year, the uncertainty continues about whether a grid of protection and strict operating hours will be established after the works. Right now, with all the dust and machines, it is not exactly the best spot for admiring the city.

Photo: Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara

Cross the Avenida da Liberdade and head up the Lavra Elevator, which opened in 1884, the oldest in the city and continues to operate, going up and down between Largo da Anunciada and Rua Câmara Pestana, through Calçada do Lavra - also a national monument, similar to the Gloria (1885), Bica (1892) and Santa Justa (1902) lifts. Reach the Torel Garden, maybe the most discreet of the miradouros, between the 18th and 19th century small palaces. Originally, there was a farm whose land was ceded to the municipality in 1928 and retained the name of its owner. From here, you can discover western Lisbon and the neighbouring viewpoint of S. Pedro de Alcântara opposite. The drinks kiosk, the café and the children's park are ideal for family days out. Late afternoon, there is a more regular schedule (check in advance) with sporting activities, music, cinema and in August, it has an urban beach. 
Not many Lisboners will know the name Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner, which is the official name of the well-known Miradouro da Graça. The bronze bust of one of the most important twentieth-century poets, the only female writer with honours from the National Pantheon, whose birth centenary is in November, echoes the memories of the times she looked over the capital. Her words remain engraved there: "Em seu longo luzir de azul e rio/ Em seu corpo amontoado de colinas/ Vejo-a melhor porque a digo" (In its long glimmer of blue and sea/In its body mounted by hills/I see it better because I say it).
 And, on the highest hill, you can see the São Jorge,Castle, the river, the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, the urban fabric, and then you can make out the Parque Florestal de Monsanto, the city's green lung. Next to the promontory is the Graça Church and Convent, a twelfth-century architectural complex rebuilt in the sixteenth century and restored after the 1755 earthquake. The convent became a military barrack with the extinction of the religious orders. Inside, it retains an important set of traditional tiles from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It has been transformed into a trendy neighbourhood, and is listed in all the guides, so it is increasingly a tourist spot with queues at the doorstep of small establishments, where you can still sample traditional food if you have the patience to wait...
It is hard to say, what is the best view - whether from Sophia's eyes, or from the Senhora do Monte, practically side by side, but higher up. The chapel of Nossa Senhora do Monte, in the heart of Graça, lends her the name. Half a dozen steps away is Vila Berta, built in the first half of the twentieth century, intended for working-class housing, named after the daughter of architect Joaquim Francisco Tojal, who designed it. It is a must-stop for the popular saints' nights, when the vila is filled with people dancing and roasted sardines. Back at the observatory with Lisbon at its feet, it makes for an astounding photograph, and everything fits through the lens. 
Keep going down in the direction of the Castle, and you'll reach the Portas do Sol Viewpoint, in the Alfama neighbourhood. This is one of the most frequented tourist spots, with a hubbub of traffic and live music, the most romantic, with so many kisses exchanged on this terrace, overlooking the Tagus, like the bow of a ship. You can see the ships that enter the Bugio Lighthouse and are anchored in Santa Apolónia, without losing sight of the dome of the Pantheon, the towers of the Graça Church and São Vicente de Fora. The Museum of Decorative Arts in the Palácio Azurara is worth a visit. Continuing down the hill, following tram line 28, another postcard moment, you will reach Lisbon Cathedral, Santo António Church and Baixa. Hundreds of tuc-tucs lure passers-by, but if you're in the mood for exploration, wear comfortable footwear and walk down the alleys at your own pace, stopping for a "copo de três" (literally a glass of three: an expression used for a drink between meals, with or without a snack to go with it), a prayer, a souvenir or a selfie.

Other unmissable observatories

If 'miradouro' means 'hight point, with a wide horizon', you can't cross off from the list another half a dozen strategic places in the city. Down in Baixa, an ascension up the triumphant Rua Augusta Arch is another on the list. After the lift, and 46 spiral steps, you can see the perfect Pombaline square designed by the Marquês de Pombal with perpendicular streets that retain the toponymy given to designate the trades such as saddlers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, etc. - with Rua Augusta as its central axis and extending out from Terreiro do Paço to Rossio and Praça da Figueira. 
A few roads ahead, you'll find the queue to go up the Santa Justa or Carmo Elevator, one of the most notable examples of iron architecture in Portugal, in neogothic style, designed by Rual de Mesnier du Pinard; whose construction was wrongly attributed to Eiffel. Once you've endured the wait, you'll see the connection between the lower and the upper part of the city, revealing from the terrace the ruins of the Carmo Convent, Rossio, the Castle...
During an afternoon at the shopping centre, head up to the Amoreiras 360 Panoramic View – if you're not out of breath yet, it is about to happen. You won't run out of oxygen as it will take you around thirty seconds to reach 174 metres above sea level. Presented as the highest building in Lisbon, you can walk around it and enjoy a panoramic 360 degree view of the city or sit and take in the scenes. You can follow the trail of all those who have been here on Instagram using the hashtag #amoreiras360view. The famous guide Lonely Planet assures that it is "the best view of Lisbon".
The list can be as long as the curiosity of each person: the MAAT rooftop in Belém, is an interesting place to hang out late afternoon; or head up to the cupola of the National Pantheon or Santa Engrácia Church, in the Santa Clara area, next to which the picturesque Feira da Ladra, or flea market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays; and why not cross the river and head up the National Sanctuary of Christ the King, located in the Alto do Pragal area in Almada, where you can  make the Sacred Way of Jesus and enjoy sweeping views of Lisbon...

Save the best until last, or at least that viewpoint that requires the most courage - if you are afraid of heights, you might want to think twice! At Pilar 7, on the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge – called the Ponte de Salazar until the 1974 Revolution –, accessed from the Avenida da Índia in Alcântara, first you'll find out the history of the construction of this railway bridge, which connects Lisbon and Almada, on the south bank of the Tagus. Up until this point, it's pretty stress free. When you start climbing, seeing the cables supporting it, your legs will start trembling from nerves. But it is when you step onto the suspended glass-covered balcony that fear sets in. We are at the level of the cars that cross the bridge towards the beaches of Costa da Caparica. You're advised not to look down and to breath deeply. Seen from here, Lisbon is dizzying, an illusion, a wonder, a challenge. So many emotions that arouse me! But if I could, I would always be sitting by the aeroplane window, my favourite viewpoint, gazing at you from afar and approaching you with the urgency of the lovers to hug you.
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