Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Castle, a Pastel, and a Really Big Statue

I lied at the end of the last post. This entry has nothing to do with Fernando Pessoa.

On Tuesday (the 14th) I took myself on a field trip to the Castelo de São Jorge. It looks like this:

Tower on the left is the Tower of Ulysses. Camera obscura inside was legit.

The castle sits on top of the highest hill in Lisbon, and overlooks the Tagus and pretty much everything for a number of miles. Traces of people using the site have been found dating back around the 5th or 6th century BC, but it was a castle—and a strong one at that—by the 11th century.

The castle was taken from the Moors by Crusaders in 1147. There’s a legend that one of the crusaders saw that the door was open and threw himself under it to keep it from closing. And you thought getting your fingers shut in the car door was bad.

In the late 1300s the castle was dedicated to Saint George (the dragon fighting one) and from then on it was used as a house, an archive, a reception hall, and any number of other things. In the late 1500s the Spanish had a bit of time on the throne and they used it as a barracks and a prison. Won’t lie, this kind of view from a prison might take some of the sting away. Ok, maybe not.

Here’s a little taste of what you can see from just inside the gates:

The great earthquake of 1755 took out a good chunk of the castle (and most everything else in Lisbon) and it stayed in disrepair until the mid 1900s. Now it's been restored where it needs to be restored and it's all very well put together. The only guide books they had were in Spanish, but you can see that I learned a few things still.
Flags of Portugal and Lisbon.

A view of the Tagus, not far from the spot where I fell in love with Lisbon.


I love tildes. So useful for switching gears and so much fun to draw.

On Thursday (the 16th) I grabbed my new sidekick, Felipe, and we jumped a train to Belém. Belém is a suburb situated between Lisbon and Cascais (where I went to the beach). Among other things, it is famous for a dessert called a Pastel de Belém.

Before I tell you about it, it's important to note that a pastel in Brazil is a completely different ball park. What I recognized as a pastel is like an extremely high-quality deep-fried Hot Pocket (for a discourse on Hot Pockets, find Jim Gaffagin footage, you won't regret it). But a pastel in Portugal, or at least in Belém is more like a fun-sized, creme filled, chicken-pot-pie shaped  cake. It looks like this:


But Belém is not just a holiday destination because of their pastel. It's also home to a number of interesting sites, and we spent a good six hours just walking around taking pictures.

The first thing we came upon was the "Padrão dos Descobrimentos" or "Monument to the Discoveries".

I don't know why it's tilted. Maybe I don't have my sea legs yet.

In case you didn't know, Portugal has a pretty intense naval history, and they “discovered” a lot of places. For example, the country of Cameroon got its name from “camarão” the Portuguese word for shrimp (the little sea creatures we eat, not short people).

Don't let the picture fool you; these statues are massive.

Camões (my boy) on the left holding a copy of Os Lusíadas. Remember the Chinese lover story?

Depicted on the monument, among others are:
  • Infante Dom Pedro (Top pic, holding the boat in front)
  • Vasco da Gama (Top pic, standing behind Dom Pedro)
  • Ferdinand Magellan (Top pic, five or six heads back, holding something circular)
  • Luiz Vaz de Camões (Bottom pic, far left)
  • Nuno Gonçalves (Next to Camões, paintbrush ready)
It wasn't too pricy, so we climbed to the top. The view is pretty good:

From the top, you can see the immense Rosa-dos-Ventos (‘Rose of the Winds’: a much cooler name than compass rose), which was a gift to Portugal from South Africa. It’s 50 meters in diameter and has caravels and years carved next to each of the places Portugal discovered on its way around the misleadingly-named Cape of Good Hope and, eventually, the world.

Further down the Tagus is the Tower of Belém. The Torre de Belém was used as a lighthouse back in the day, and it also used to be in the middle of the Tagus. As you can see, it is no longer in the middle of the Tagus. It wasn’t worth the price to go in, so I snapped a few pics and off we went.

Not too far from the Monument to the Discoveries lies the Monastery of the Jeronimos. This building is unreal. It’s massive, it’s gorgeous, and it’s now home to an old monastery, a cathedral, and two museums, with room to spare.

I won’t lie, I’m not sure whether 'the Jeronimos' is the exact translation. Either way, it’s one of the religious orders that was done away with when all religious orders were done away with. But the monastery is beautiful, especially the cathedral, which is home to the bones of Vasco da Gama and that poet I cannot get enough of, Camões.

Above the front door.

A few towers.

More towers.

Inside the cathedral.

Couldn't moonwalk over Camões (a tradition I have with deceased writers),
so I moonwalked all the way around him.

Looking back toward the front door.


Good work, tilde.

By this time Filipe and I were sunburned and pretty beat, but Belém isn’t too far from the Cristo Rei statue, which I’ve been dying to get to since I looked across the Tagus. So we found our way to the Alcântara-Terra bus station and got a ride across the 25 de Abril bridge (twin to the mighty Golden Gate).

I love it.

The Cristo Rei is patterned after the Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I haven’t checked my sources, but I have been told that a bishop promised the statue to the people of Lisbon if they would refrain from taking sides in World War II. Given, Portugal was officially neutral, but sent supplies to both sides. But they did shoot down the Anti-Comintern act. I digress.

Shot from where the bus dropped us off.

Oh, hello.

Who wants a hug?

Regardless of its story, the statue is a prominent landmark from anywhere near Lisbon, and it is as impressive up close and personal as any statue I’ve been to.

I leave you with a video filmed from a not-quite-allowed area of the Cristo Rei statue. (It had a better view, and I didn't break the middle chain. It was like that when I found it.)


Post a Comment