The architecture of Lisbon has been influenced through history by its rulers, its seafaring exploits and a great big earthquake. DIY your own tour of Lisbon architecture by time-travelling through the Portuguese capital.
The Moors – Arabic influence in the architecture of Lisbon
Lisbon was under Moorish rule from the 8th-12th centuries. The current Castelo de São Jorge dates from the mid 11th century and was a Moorish stronghold until the four-month strong siege of Lisbon in 1147, after which Dom Afonso Henriques ousted the Moors and declared himself the first King of Portugal. The castle was expanded and modified to become his court.
Ramble on the ramparts, meander down the moat and breeze across the bridge. The restored citadel (price €8.50 per adult) also houses the remains of the 13th century Royal Palace, and some monster views over the red-roofed city below.
Heading up and down the steps to the battlements gives a certain scale to this centuries-old structure; but be warned – as Lisbon’s top tourist attraction you won’t have the place to yourself.
The influence of the Moors is still apparent in the Arabic flavour of Lisbon’s architecture in the Alfama neighbourhood, which sits directly below the castle. It’s a fair hike up here from the city centre below, or you can let a tram or tuk-tuk take the strain.
The seafarers – Lisbon’s Manueline architecture extravaganza
From the Moors to the explorers, Lisbon’s architecture had a serious dose of flamboyance and eccentricity in the late 15th century under the reign of Manuel I.
It was under his flag that Vasco de Gama set sail in 1497 around the Cape of Good Hope to India at Goa and Calicut. His voyage resulted in the lion’s share of the Eastern spice trade – initially pepper and cinnamon – heading Portugal’s way.
Seafaring – as well as bringing wealth to Portugal – featured strongly in the Manueline architecture found in some of Lisbon’s buildings of his era.
A cross between Gothic and Renaissance, the decorative architectural style included knotted ropes and other references to all things oceanic. Examples can be seen in Lisbon at the Unesco World Heritage sites of the Tower of Belém (€6) and the Jerónimos Monastery.
The earthquake – tiles for fire prevention
Following a huge earthquake that devastated the city in 1755 through destruction and fire, an ingenious but decorative approach was taken to future fire prevention. Tiles.
Azulejo are the city’s famed hand-painted and glazed ceramic tiles, and were used in Lisbon architecture to decorate buildings outside and in as a means of protection from the ravages of heat.
It’s a trend that continued throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to this day.
For an extra dose of tile, you can head on over to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), which features a tiled-filled cloister, a Lisbon-in-tiles panorama, and a peaceful courtyard to rest, refresh and contemplate.
But you don’t need to go to a museum to see your fill of tiles.
The cobbled streets of this hilly city are filled with colourful facades and tiled designs that seem to draw their influence from Moorish times. Geometric styles, symmetrical designs and florals in blues, yellows and greens are all common in Lisbon’s architecture.
DIY your own Lisbon architecture tour
To make your own architectural tour of Lisbon all you need is a pair of shoes that can deal with the cobbled streets, and a dose of stamina for the city’s hills. A camera also comes in handy. Enjoy!
What’s your favourite type of Lisbon architecture? Which other buildings should you visit to get a taste of its style? Share your thoughts in the comments below.