First Impressions Of This Unsung And Undervalued European Capital City
Lief and I arrived in the heart of Lisbon’s business and banking district yesterday and installed ourselves in a hotel housed in a building that dates back 300 years at least. Other buildings up and down this tree-lined street are older. I’m at home here. I’m most comfortable in cities and structures with long pasts.
Lisbon’s past is long indeed. This city on the Tagus, one of the oldest in Western Europe, was originally settled as a Phoenician trading post. It was in the 15th and 16th centuries, though, that Lisbon flourished. Awe-inspiring landmarks were constructed during this Golden Age of Discovery—the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém, for example, and, on the waterfront, the Praca do Comercio.
Stepping through the triumphal arch onto this immense plaza, Lief and I paused without meaning to. The enormity of the space and the height and grandeur of the structures on three sides around you almost take your breath away when you face them for the first time.
“Imagine what it must have been like to be here, standing on this spot, 500 years ago,” Lief said, looking slowly up, then down the waterfront before us.
“Imagine the activity… the trade… the money…” he trailed off.
Getting To Know Lisbon
From that spot, 500 years ago, Lisbon carried its culture to the four corners of the globe, colonizing Asia, South America, Africa, andthe Atlantic islands, and then it carried back from these far-flung territories great wealth, much of which was invested in the betterment of what became one of the most glorious cities of its age.
Lisbon became Lisbon thanks to its strategic geographic position at the mouth of the Tagus River. According to a popular fado, Lisbon has always been in love with her river… because the river is the city’s lifeline to the sea… and Portugal very much identifies herself with the sea.
“We have a word in Portuguese,” a new friend here, Miguel, told me today, “that doesn’t exist in any other language as far as I know.
“The word is saudade. It means a longing for, a missing or a yearning for something. It’s a noun, not a verb, and its meaning is born from the feeling of a young wife for her husband sailor long at sea.”
“Yes, and this is connected to another important word for us,” my attorney friend Joao interjected. “Saudade is connected to fado.
“Fado is our traditional music, but it is also our destiny. It is not good, it is not bad. It is simply the way it is… the way your life is because of the choices you have made.”
“Yes,” Miguel explained. “Saudade is the fado of the woman who has chosen to marry a sailor. It comes with the territory.
“Most of the world looks at Portugal as the edge of Europe,” Miguel continued. “We Portuguese look at the world map and see ourselves right at the center… at the heart.
“For us, the sea is part of our territory… a continuation of our domain… so, for us, Portugal is quite expansive…”
As I’m getting to know it better, I’m realizing that Portugal is a small country with a colorful history and a big romantic heart.
Lisbon, which I’m becoming acquainted with for the first time this trip, is a noble and elegant city whose centuries-old, pastel-colored stone structures are bordered by jacaranda trees and set off by formal gardens and parks with elaborate fountains. Roads, walkways, and pavements are laid with small cobblestones in contrasting colors to create elaborate patterns and sea scenes that are like works of art, almost mosaics.
From her early-morning rainbow on my bedroom wall to her winding patterned cobblestoned streets, Lisbon is getting under my skin. I feel an attachment starting.
Time to step away from my laptop and get back out there to see what else this city has to offer. I left Lief with the property agent so I could get this dispatch off to you. I’m to meet up with them again shortly.
While I’ve been entranced by Lisbon’s romantic history, Lief has been focused on understanding the city’s present-day real estate market. Values are up 20% over the past year in certain districts… and they continue up.
“As a result,” Joao told us, “some sections of the city are over-priced in my opinion. These are the areas where everyone has been focused. There is only so much inventory, and now buyers are fighting over it. I say leave those areas alone for now.
“Better to look elsewhere. I know one section of the city, for example, on the river that has a great deal to offer but where values are still very low because so far no one has been paying any attention. I’ll take you there tonight for drinks…”