Baixa, the heart of Lisbon
Baixa is the heart of Lisbon. It is as central as one gets in Lisbon. With its neoclassical buildings, streets and pedestrianised areas it is perhaps one of the most beautifully designed places one could find in a European city. It is the first place I headed to immediately after dumping my suitcase In my hotel room. It is also the district I had my first Portuguese meal. It had high end shops, restaurants, pastry and souvenir shops. Street performers and petty traders are also a feature of Baixa.
The water front, where I spent a number of evenings just looking across the river Tagus to the imposing statue of Jesus as boats passed by is only a stone’s throw away from the centre of Baixa.
Like everywhere one goes to, there are a number of things that become favourites. These for me In Baixa were Commercio square, Rossio Square, Rossio station and Santa Justa Elevador.
Commercio square (Praca do Commercio)
Commercio square impressed me. It is a large square surrounded by a hefty splash of the yellow façade of the surrounding buildings. In the middle of the square is a statue of King Jose 1 . From the river front the Triumphal arch can be seen behind the statue of the King. This was the location of the King’s palace until the earthquake of 1755 which devastated all of Lisbon with the exception of Alfama. The King moved his palace from Baixa to Belem after the earthquake.
Santa Justa Elevador
Santa Justa Elevador is all about views and admiration for Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of France’s Gustave Eiffel. As explained here – Photo Essay: Santa Justa Elevador (Lisbon’s own Eiffel-Tower) – the Santa Justa Elevador is a necessity in a city where the hills are steep and elevators are a practical form of transportation.
I must have spent close to an hour on Rossio square staring at a street performer as tourists and residents flocked to burst the bubbles he was throwing up in the air. It was amusing to see kids and toddlers completely lose their inhibitions as they run amok after the bubbles. Rossio square is just as interesting at night. I witnessed live free style rapping during one evening. It is easy to get lost in liveliness. If you do manage to wrench yourself from it you’d notice the two baroque fountains and the monument with a statue on top.
My number one favourite must see in Baixa is Rossio station! No! not a square or a monument but a train station. I was captivated by it’s horse-shoe archway. This was a station that looked more like an impressively designed government building. I saw this for the first time in daylight but had to go back to photograph it at night. Rossio station was also the gateway for me to get out of Lisbon for a day to the equally magical Sintra where the fairytale Castelo da Pena is located.
The most important districts of Lisbon – Belem, Alfama, Chiado and Bairro Alto were all special and charmingly distinct in their own way. Baixa on the other hand is simply at the centre of all that happens and all that ought to be seen in Lisbon and cannot be missed.