For architecture lovers, there’s plenty to discover in Lisbon. The city is home to a wide variety of architectural styles, from ancient castles and Medieval cathedrals to a minimalist modern pavilion, with must-see buildings scattered in every corner of the Portuguese capital. This list highlights some of the most remarkable and dramatic of them all.
The striking plaza close to the River Tagus is the largest square in Lisbon. The bright yellow buildings that surround the Praça do Comércio make this landmark unique, and attract plenty of tourists and photographers. The area once held the royal palace after the Portuguese royalty left the Castelo de São Jorge, but it was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, with the square built in its wake. Today, it’s home to the Rua Augusta Arch, designed by the Portuguese architect Santos de Carvalho and completed in 1873. The buildings that circle the square hold a few government buildings, including the tourism office, as well as one of the hottest Lisbon nightclubs, several restaurants and a sophisticated winery. The square also goes by the name Terreiro do Paço and is known as “Commerce Square” in English.
The bright white Oriente Station is the main entrance and exit for travellers heading in and out of Lisbon by train or bus and is known locally as the Gare do Oriente. The maritime theme of Expo ’98 is mirrored in the station’s wave-like beams at the entrance, and the building itself is an interesting mix of Gothic architecture and modernism. The juxtaposition between the Gothic concrete arches and the more futuristic latticework of the two-level station makes it worth the attention of architecture fans. At the ground level, you’ll find the bus station, as well as cafés, banks and shops, while the bottom level is the entrance of the metro and home to small markets. Meanwhile, the upper level is for trains.
Designed by architect José Luís Monteiro in the late 19th century, the Rossio train station reflects the typical Portuguese Neo-Manueline architecture, which was popular in the middle of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The Estação do Rossio may not receive as many travellers as the Oriente Station, but it attracts plenty of design-interested visitors who come to gaze at the splendidly designed stone arches, beautiful clock tower and lofty ceiling inside. This station is also the one to leave from when travelling to Sintra, one of Europe’s loveliest cities.
The Pavilhão de Portugal (Pavilion of Portugal) is a perfect vision of gravity-defying architecture. Designed by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, who also designed the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, the pavilion was meant to look like a curved sheet of paper sitting between two pillars. The awe-inspiring roof, which architect lovers should take the chance to stand underneath when visiting, weighs an incredible 1,400 tonnes. The Pavilhão de Portugal was created for the 1998 World Expo that regenerated the Parque das Nações area and is connected to a museum belonging to the University of Lisbon.
Lisbon cityscapes depicting the Alfama district always show the National Pantheon, which is rather hard to miss in this part of the city. It is centrally located near the site of the famous open-air flea market Feira da Ladra and stands out with its massive white dome. Its Baroque architecture is paired with Greek-inspired decor, making the National Pantheon a unique building and an exciting place to visit for those interested in architecture. Also known by its original name, the Church of Santa Engrácia, the original church was built in the 16th century but was vandalised in 1630. The rebuilding of the church, which took over 300 years to complete, was said to be cursed by the man who was erroneously convicted and executed for the building’s desecration.
Sitting slightly uphill from the National Pantheon is the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, another magnificent church in this Catholic city. Constructed in the 17th century, it also serves as a monastery and the final resting place of some of Portugal’s monarch families. The Mannerist exterior and interior are both stunning and include the pantheon, Baroque altarpieces, a collection of Baroque azulejos (tiles) and a few statues. The side and top exterior of the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora are easily visible from the Portas do Sol viewpoint, along with the National Pantheon, but nothing beats getting up close and personal.
The Vasco da Gama Tower (Torre Vasco da Gama) is without a doubt among the more noteworthy landmarks in Parque das Nações, Lisbon, and not just for its eye-catching architecture but also because it is the tallest structure in the city. Named after the famous Portuguese explorer and standing at 145 metres (476 feet) tall, it is a striking building that was originally intended to be an observation deck but was later converted into a luxury hotel. Like many other famous Lisbon buildings, it was constructed for the World Expo 1998, and you’ll find it shining by the river behind Oriente Station. Unfortunately, only guests of the hotel are allowed into the observation deck at the top.
Additional reporting by Cajsa Carlson.
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