Lisbon is Europe’s sunniest capital. Meteorologists have estimated that the sun shines there for more or less 300 days throughout the year!
- According to the European Safety Observatory Lisbon is also the safest capital in Europe. It has the lowest murder and rape rate and the lowest number of dwellers who have fallen victim to any kind of crime within the last five years
- Archeological remains discovered near St. George’s Castle proved that by 1200 BC Lisbon had already existed and traded with Phoenician merchants, which makes the Portuguese capital second oldest in Europe (after Athens). It is from the Phoenician language that the contemporary name of Lisbon is derived – the Phoenician sailors who arrived to its coast on their ships called it “Alis Ubbo”, which, according to various sources, means either “enchanting port” or plain simple “good location”.
Lisbon’s nickname – the White City – does not refer to the color of its houses, which are mainly yellow or tiled with blue/white or blue/green/white azulejos, although most of the city’s churches are white. It makes reference to the very special kind of light which Lisbon owes to two different things: the sun which forms Europe’s most perpendicular angle with the earth here and the ocean which surrounds the city and reflects the light. That is why Lisbon’s sunlight becomes intense to the point of appearing white.
Each year at the end of September Lisbon’s dwellers and tourists witness a peculiar and somewhat mysterious phenomenon – all the traffic stops at Rua da Prata in the city’s downtown and gigantic queues are formed along the street. The people standing in lines suddenly disappear one by one under the ground as they go down through a small “door” in the street… What you can see down there is the “Galerias Romanas” discovered in 1771 during reconstruction works following the earthquake which ravaged the city in 1755. The mysterious labirynth of long, 3-meter high, arched corridors made of stone and of rooms of various sizes spreads below the Baixa Pombalina district up to the Commercio Square on the Tagus’ shore. According to the most probable explanation, the Romans built this cryptoporticus to support other urban buildings, located on less stable soils, and used them for storage purposes as well. Just like in Naples, Italy, the ancient structures provide foundations to newer buildings, constructed mainly in the 18th century. As water penetrates into those underground areas, the urban authorities open the subterranean Lisbon for three days only, once all the water has been pumped out of it.
The park which covers all of Lisbon’s seventh hill – Monsanto – is the largest urban forest in Europe. It is also the most probable explanation of why Lisbon’s air is so fresh!
Lisbon’s scenic location and picturesque narrow streets have attracted quite a few filmmakers. The famous German director Wim Wenders was so enchanted with the city when he shot his first movie – The State of Things – there in 1982, that he returned with two more Lisbon-based pictures, one of which – “Lisbon Story” from 1996 has become a real trademark of the city starring Teresa Salgueiro - the beautiful vocalist of the Lisbon fado group Madredeus and the city itself “acting” to the sound of divine tracks by the aforementioned musicians. Lisbon has also had its Bond movie – in 1969 lots of scenes of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” featuring, curiously, George Lazenby as James Bond, were shot in Lisbon itself (e.g. the jeweler’s shop Joalharia Ferreira Marques at the Rossio Square or the 25 April Bridge, then called the Salazar Bridge) and in its surroundings (the casino in the nearby luxury resort – Estoril and the Arrabida National Park). The other well-known international productions set in the city include: “Boys from Brazil” from 1978, starring Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier – the American thriller about a hunt for Nazi criminals hidden in Paraguay, where Lisbon acted as… Paraguay, or “The Russia House” shot in 1991 – another American spy movie featuring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer as a Russian spy. The vintage charm of Lisbon’s old town makes it a perfect stage for costume drama films – in 1993 the city pretended to be Santiago de Chile in the midst of the 1973 coup d’etat in “The House of the Spirits” - the American production packed with movie stars (Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Wynona Ryder, Antonio Banderas) based upon Isabel Allende’s novel.