Located right on the river, Lisbon’s massive main square is home to a plethora of gorgeous 18th-century architecture, all built after the devastating 1755 earthquake. Its canary-yellow facades and mosaic-like cobblestones come together to form one of Europe’s most picturesque plazas; it’s hard to believe that, as recently as the 1980s, the square was used as a parking lot (photos from those days, which you can see at the nearby Lisboa Story Centre, are astonishing). For the best views, pay the €2.50 (around $3) to access the terrace of the triumphant Arco da Rua Augusta and gaze out over the square, the riverfront, and the São Jorge Castle beyond.
The Praca do Comercio
Along with the Rossio, the Praca do Comercio is one of the most popular squares in Lisbon. I actually think of it as the heart of Lisbon. The square faces the River Tagus and you can see the ferries crossing from Lisbon to Cacilhas and back. To your right, you view the April 25th Bridge and Christ statue. This square has just recently been renovated. Gone is the huge parking lot. There is no traffic except for the trolley and taxi stops at the north end near the large arch.The renovations included many small, elegant restaurants with their umbrellas on the pavement. It was great fun to sit outdoors at one of the restaurants and watch the river activities as the breezes cooled me. There is also a beer museum. Check it out for the history of Portuguese beer. Lunch is offered. The museum I thought was top rate was the Lisboa Centre. I visited the first day it was open to the public in September. This is an interactive museum. It tells the story of Lisbon. It is very well done. The film room showing the 1755 earthquake almost convinces you it’s happening and you are there in the middle of the disaster. I recommend this attraction. Across from the beer museum is the TI (Tourist Information). Stop here for your Lisboa Card which gets you free rides on the Metro, trolleys, and buses. Some museums are free, some are discounted. A very good deal. I always go to this square several times on my trips in Lisbon. I really enjoy it. Don’t miss it!
The Quay of Pillars
Down on the waterfront at the Praca Do Comercio in Lisbon you will find the quay with its two pillars. When traveling to Portugal don’t miss the quay. When the tide is high, you only see about 6" of the pillars. But at low tide, you can see the steps and the tall pillars that proudly stand at the gateway to downtown Lisbon. As you sit on the concrete benches you are reminded of the history of the pillars and the quay. The Praca Do Comercio was the Terreiro Do Paco (The Palace Square) until 1755 when THE earthquake devastated Lisbon.The entire square and city were reduced to rubble after the quake, the tsunami, and the three days of fire. The square was rebuilt but not the Palace. The square became the Praca Do Comercio. When the entire square was the Palace, Kings and nobles from all over Europe would visit by boat and disembark at the waterfront and ascend the stairs to be escorted to the Palace and the King. It’s fun to imagine the pomp and excitement of those royal occasions. I usually sit at the quay under the bright blue sky as the sun warms me and sigh because I’m very content. I breathe in the salty air and relax. I look across the Tagus River at Cacilhas. I watch the ferries ply back and forth on the river. I check out the Cristo Rei statue which guards the April 25th Bridge spanning the river. Each time that I have been to Lisbon and the Pillars, the weather has been perfect. Lucky me!
Under the Arches in the Praca
The Praca do Comercio on the waterfront in Lisbon has recently been refurbished. And what a pleasant surprise. There are restaurants where you sit under an umbrella and enjoy your lunch while watching the boats ply the Tagus. You might even see a cruise ship arriving in Lisbon. The arches in this photo are in the west wing of the square. One of the places to stop on this side would be the T.I. ( tourist information center). You can pick up maps, brochures, and get directions, or information from the helpful clerks. This is the place where you purchase the Lisboa Card. This card allows you free use of Lisbon’s public transportation system - trains, trolleys, metro,buses. Many of Lisbon’s museums and attractions are either free or discounted, Note that on Sundays many sights are free until 2:00. Many are closed on Mondays so buy accordingly. Be sure to mention it if you are a senior citizen as most sites are free or half price for you. A companion guidebook comes with your card and lists the attractions, museums, tours and discounts for each. There are many facts and addresses and phone numbers listed.Discount tickets for several sites are in the book. When you get your card, sign it and keep it with you in a safe place. There are also shopping and restaurant cards available for Lisbon but they are too complicated. I always buy a Lisboa Card for two or three days depending on the length of my stay in Lisbon. I love hopping on a trolley or the Metro with my card.
Sunset over the Tagus
At the end of Praça do Comercio, on its border with the Tagus you can see the location where the old Discovery Caravels landed with the goods that the Portuguese brought back from the new found territories over seas. When The Portuguese Empire was a cue of ships awaited to unload the precious Gold, Silver, Spice, Silk, Wood, Cacao, Coffee, Tea, Here the ships would harness their ropes on the very same pillars where those two seagulls are standing and all the population of Lisbon would gather around to witness what exoticness was brought back this time. Up the road from this location, the streets of Baixa (downtown area) are named after the specific item that was traded there.
Listening to History
If you want to know more about Lisbon memories, visit Lisboa Story Centre. Learn about the post-earthquake (1755) era and the reconstruction of the city by Marquês de Pombal, who introduced modern city planning. This interpretation center takes visitors on a 60-minute journey through space and time with an audio guide presenting historical events and dramatic scenes. It’s located in Terreiro do Paço. You can get there by bus, tram, or subway—or just by walking down Augusta Street straight to the river. It’s open every day from 10 am till 8 pm (last tour at 7pm). Adult tickets cost 7€, but if you have Lisboa Card, you will benefit from a 20 percent discount on the admission price.