It’s no surprise that a city with a history measured in thousands of years has had its fair share of tumultuous times and a variety of rulers. Lisbon’s prime seafaring location made it an excellent strategic point and maritime hub. While some will claim Ulysses is the founding father of the city, it is likely the Phoenicians or Carthaginians who settled the area first. The Romans stayed rooted in the region until the 5th century A.D., when the Visigoths took hold. The city came under Moorish power, and the Moors fought off Christian influence for centuries. But in 1147 Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, captured Lisbon and a subsequent ruler, Afonso III, made it the country’s capital roughly a century later.
Successful trade routes to India and the Americas allowed Lisbon and the Portuguese empire to prosper. Tumeric, ginger and other spices, along with silk, porcelain and shining gems all could be found in the city during the height of prosperity. In 1755 an unforeseen tragedy occurred. A tremendous earthquake shook the city; tidal waves and fires followed soon after. For six days the city was in chaos and thousands were killed. The recovery efforts began swiftly in the wake of the event. The Marquess de Pombal, the prime minister at the time, lead the charge. He had a vision to rebuild the city in a modern urban style with symmetrical boulevards, fountain-filled squares and mosaic sidewalks. The grid he envisioned still remains today.
Modern Lisbon developed slowly, and it is not a towering metropolis like many other European centers. Portugal’s inclusion in the European Union paved the way for redevelopment projects and economic growth. There are now modern office buildings mixed in with former palaces and Gothic facades.