Written by: Joe Styron
According to our tour guide Miguel, Fado represents the culture of Lisbon and Portugal, always nostalgic and full of pride. With a sense of longing and pride in the past, the people want the present to be more than what it is. Today we got to see the historical beauty and innovation of the country, but we were always brought back to earth with a sense of truth and honesty. Our day started on the shore of the Rio Tejo in Belem (Bethlehem). We were able to spend some time learning about Lisbon. With 500,000 inhabitants, Lisbon is the largest city in Portugal. Including the outlying areas, that number grows to 3.2 million inhabitants. As a country that only boasts a population of 10.5 million, one can easily see how Lisbon, a city older than Rome, can be full of excitement and intrigue.
After our brief lesson, we were able to stop at the Belem Tower. Miguel pointed out the ornate structures and with pride talked about the construction of the tower. He highlighted that Belem Tower, in its original state, was only meant as a safeguard against unwelcome ships, but the Portuguese king wanted to show off his vast wealth and pride, adding extra towers which then became customs and created the look of the area.
We then traveled to the Monument to Discovery. The idea was to showcase the people that led Portugal to innovate and strive for the unknown, bringing them out of the dark ages. Leading the way at the top was Henry the Navigator, known not for his navigational skills on the water, but for navigating Portugal into an age of exploration. It was here, when talking about the nations that Portugal traveled to prior to anyone else and the grandeur of what once was, that we got our biggest insight into the Portuguese culture. Miguel shared his personal feelings about how prideful he was, despite longing for better present-day conditions. The new museum located next to the Monastery of St Jerome was built using the same limestone used in the monastery and essentially added that feeling of nostalgia to a present-day building.
After seeing the Monastery, we stopped for Pasteis, a local favorite pastry, originated from monks. Pasteis are a delicious treat made with Filo dough, custard and egg, topped with either cinnamon or powdered sugar. As we left, we passed by Pasteis de Belem, noticing the long line of patrons waiting to get one of the local, handmade, historical treats.
We spent another hour exploring areas of Lisbon, and talking about the rich, prideful culture of the people who always yearn for more. It was heartbreaking to hear that the inhabitants of such a beautiful, welcoming, and forgiving culture often do not extend that same notion to themselves, but nonetheless it was an honor that we were given a glimpse of what truly is, extremely Portuguese.