The “lower town”, the Baixa (pronounced Bye-sha), is at the heart of Lisbon. It was the product of a single phase of building, carried out in less than a decade by the dictatorial minister, the Marquês de Pombal, in the wake of the earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon in 1755. At the southern, waterfront end of the Baixa, the Praça do Comércio was the climax to Pombal’s design, surrounded by classical buildings and centred on an exuberant bronze of Dom José – the reigning monarch during the earthquake and the capital’s rebuilding. The metro station is named Terreiro do Paço, after the royal palace (paço) that once stood on this spot – the original steps still lead up from the river. Ironically, Portugal’s royals came to a sticky end in the square; in 1908, alongside what was then the Central Post Office, King Carlos I and his eldest son were shot and killed, clearing the way for the declaration of the Republic two years later. Nowadays the square is one of the city’s main venues for New Year’s Eve festivities.
North of Praça do Comércio, the largely pedestrianized Rua Augusta is marked by a huge arch, Arco da Rua Augusta, depicting statues of historical figures, including Pombal and Vasco da Gama. Pombal named the streets of the Baixa grid after the traditional crafts and businesses once carried out here, such as Rua da Prata (Silversmiths’ Street), Rua dos Sapateiros (Cobblers’ Street) and Rua do Comércio (Commercial Street). Although the trades have largely disappeared, tiled Art Deco shopfronts and elaborately decorated pastelarias still survive, while Rua da Conceição retains its shops selling beads and sequins.
At the western end of Rua de Santa Justa in the upper reaches of the Baixa, it’s hard to avoid Raul Mésnier’s Elevador de Santa Justa, one of the city’s most eccentric structures. Built in 1902 by a disciple of Eiffel, a giant lift whisks you 32m up the innards of a latticework metal tower before depositing you on a platform high above the Baixa. The exit at the top of the elevador – which leads out beside the Bairro Alto’s Convento do Carmo – is below the rooftop café, which has great views over the city.Read More