We only had one full day to explore as many sites as possible in Lisbon, Portugal. In addition to seeing the top tourist attractions, we also wanted to learn more about the history of the region.
Portugal, which is located adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, is a small country in terms of size, roughly about the same size as the state of Indiana. However, despite its size, the country played an important part in the westward expansion of Europe. Although Christopher Columbus is famously credited with having discovered America, both of tour guides proudly enlightened us to the fact that the Portuguese sailed west to the Americas prior to Columbus, and were already familiar with the north and south continents. Per our guide, if not for the wind, weather, and fate, North American’s might currently be speaking Portuguese, as sailors en route to the north ended up in South America (Brazil), where their influence is still present today.
Another significant piece of Portuguese history that we weren’t familiar with was that in 1755 there was an earthquake that destroyed virtually all of Lisbon and much of the coast of Portugal. Much like California in the United States, Portugal is on the edge of the continent next to a major ocean. Earthquakes, although not as frequent as in California, occur and they are severe. The quake of 1755 would be the first of several disasters of its kind that the Portuguese would experience.
Our first stop of the day was in the town of Belém (Bethlehem) located out outside of Lisbon. While there we visited three of Portugal’s top attractions: Jerónimo’s Monastery, the Belém Tower, and the Monument of the Discoveries. The Monastery was significant because it featured some of the most stunning Gothic architecture in Portugal. As a result of its location, the monastery was able to withstand the earthquake with minimal structural damage. Being able to maintain the structure’s integrity and protect its history was good for Portugal.
From there, we made our way to the Belém Tower. Initially, the Tower was built to protect the city of Lisbon. When it was erected, it was placed fifty yards or so in the Tagus River, however, due to the river water receding over the years, the Tower eventually ended up about 10 meters from dry land. We then walked to the Monument of the Discoveries, which was built to celebrate the Portuguese Age of Discovery, a period when their ships traveled to the Orient and India.
After exploring the attractions, it was time to visit the venue for our concert – the former Portuguese Palace, the Palacio de Ayuda. Before our concert began we took an extensive tour of the castle. Portugal, like Spain, had monarchs for many years prior to becoming a republic. Today, the palace is used for official state dinners hosted by the President of Portugal. It was an honor for the Morgan choir to perform in such a prestigious place. Even the room we were scheduled to perform in reminded us of the White House East Wing back in the U.S.
Because we were leaving for home early the following day, our final concert took place during the day at 4 p.m. before another packed house. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to try out my Spanish on this audience because they spoke Portuguese, so our guide translated for me. Our last concert turned out great and it was the perfect way to conclude our tour.
After the concert, we drove to our group farewell dinner. In a change from the pork dishes we were accustomed to having in Spain, our closing meal would be a main course of salmon and cod from Norway! Following dinner, we called it a night to prepare for a 4 a.m. departure and 19 hours of travel back home. We had a great time in Lisbon.