The tall, imposing buildings that make up the BAIXA (Lower Town, pronounced bye-sha) house some of Lisbon’s most interesting shops and cafés. Many of the streets are pedestrianized and, by day, they thrum with business folk and street entertainers. When the offices close, however, the whole area is strangely quiet. Facing the river, these streets felt the full force of the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of the capital. The king’s minister, the Marquês de Pombal, swiftly redesigned the sector with the grid pattern that is evident today, framed by a triangle of broad squares, Praça do Comércio to the south, with Praça da Figueira and Rossio to the north. Within this triangle, three main streets are dissected by nine smaller streets, many of which took their names from the crafts and businesses carried out there, like Rua da Prata (Silversmiths’ Street) and Rua dos Sapateiros (Cobblers’ Street). Today, banks and chain stores disturb these divisions somewhat, though plenty of traditional stores remain; the central section of Rua da Conceição, for example, is still lined with shops selling beads and sequins. Pombal also wanted the grid’s churches to blend in with his harmonious design, so much so that they are almost invisible – walk along Rua de São Julião and the facade of the church of Oliveira is barely distinguishable from the offices alongside it, though its tiled interior is delightful.
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