We just spent two glorious weeks in Portugal, a country with a rich and colorful history, dating back to about 200BCE.  For a relatively small country (about the size of the state of Maine) Portugal is jam-packed with all sorts of wonderful surprises. And the Portuguese people are just delightful; they are warm, friendly and helpful.  At the very first chance, you must go.  Our Portuguese experience is so special because of our “guides”.  First and foremost, we want to thank, Henrique.  He has been a part of our lives for many, many years and is the godfather to The Eldest Progeny.  He is a veritable font of Portuguese history, lore and just general information.  He’s a terrific person—warm, generous to a fault, an excellent cook—he’s Portuguese!  He drove us all over the place.  We got lost, and found adventures along the way.  His suggestions for food and travel were spot-on.  So, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.  You remain very near and dear to us always.  We want to thank his niece, Isabel.  We didn’t get to spend as much time with her as we would have liked; some people work!  She’s charming, delightful and a veritable font of information about Portugal, but particularly Lisbon.  She grew up near Lisbon, so she knows all the little back streets with great views, local restaurants with incredible food, and is a fearless adventurer.  A tremendous “Muito Obrigado” to both of you!

Portugal is the oldest state on the Iberian Peninsula, tucked up against Spain and bordered on two side by the Atlantic ocean.  It’s one of the oldest European nation-states and includes the archipelagos of Azores and Madeira.  It has “entertained” the Celts, Carthaginians, Romans, the Visigoths, and the Moors, along with other lesser players.

You will see the remains of Roman aqueducts and Moorish castles.

In 1139, after freeing Portugal from the grip of the Moors, Alfonso Henrique was declared the first King of Portugal. This statue of Alfonso Henrique is on the grounds of the Castelo do São Jorge, and is one of the many statues you find of him around Portugal.

Monumento do Descobrimento - Lisbon

Monumento do Descobrimento – Lisbon

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Age of Discovery, Portuguese explorers, Henry the Navigator and others, pioneered maritime exploration (that’s Henry the Navigator at the very front of the monument).

Tomb of Vasco de Gama - Mosteiro de São Jeronimo - Lisbon

Tomb of Vasco de Gama – Mosteiro de São Jeronimo – Lisbon

Vasco de Gama (this is his tomb in the Mosteiro de São Jeronimo) discovered the route to India and gave Portugal the monopoly of the spice route.  Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil.  There was exploration into Africa, as well as Canada.

One of the most significant events, in more modern history, is the earthquake of 1755.  It was an incredibly violent earthquake, about 8.5.  It’s epicenter was Lisbon, which was virtually destroyed by the earthquake and the tsunami’s and fires that followed.  Almost 30,000 people died in Lisbon alone.  The earthquake affected the entire country.  But the country survived.  They rebuilt.  When Lisbon was rebuilt, much of it is laid out in grid-form.

Alfama is the exception, with its labyrinth-like streets.  But, having said that, many things did survive or were rebuilt.  There are the wonderful castles left on hilltops, and churches galore, many of which were built on Moorish mosques.

And there are chimneys…really wonderful chimneys.

And doors.  I happen to love both.  And so we begin our exploration of but a small part of Portugal….