Pre-World War I. wooden trams clank up steep hills past mosaic pavements and Art Nouveau cafés and the medieval village-like quarter of Alfama which hangs below the city’s São Jorge castle. Modern Lisbon, with a population of just over 3 million, has kept an easy-going pace and scale with little of the underlying violence of most cities and ports of its size. It also boasts a vibrant, cosmopolitan identity, with large communities of Brazilians, Africans (from Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde), and Asians (from Macao, Goa and East Timor). Many came over to work on two major urban development projects in the Nineties: the preparations for the European City of Culture in 1994, the Expo 98 and the European Soccer Championships in 2004. Lisbon invested heavily in these ventures and the rejuvenation of the city with new roads, hotels, buses, and bridge schemes. Disused dockland has been reclaimed and communication links improved with several showcase pieces of architecture and engineering. For example, Santiago Calatrava’s impressive Gare de Oriente and his sleek fourteen kilometer-long Vasco de Gama bridge which links Lisbon airport to a network of national motorways.
The Great Earthquake of 1755 (followed by a tidal wave and fire) destroyed most of the city’s larger buildings. Twenty years of frantic reconstruction led to many impressive new palaces and churches as well as the street grid pattern spanning the seven hills of Lisbon. Several buildings from Portugal’s golden age survived the earthquake; notably the Torre de Belém, the Castelo de São Jorge and the Monastery of Jerónimos at Belém. Many of the city’s more modern sites also demand attention: the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, a museum and cultural complex with superb collections of ancient and modern art and the futuristic Oceanarium at the Parque das Nações, the largest of its kind in Europe. Half an hour south of Lisbon dunes stretch along the Costa da Caparica and twenty kilometers north you’ll pass the coastal resorts of Estoril and Cascais before reaching the lush wooded heights and royal palaces of Sintra and the monastery of Mafra, one of the most extraordinary buildings in the country.
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