Familiarizing with Lisbon

First, a disclosure I am not exactly a backpacker in the strict sense of the word. As we know, backpacking requires more than the love and knowledge and thriftiness of going out there to see and savor the world. One must be in top shape to be able to withstand the punishing grind of being always on the go weighted down with the essentials for survival. We of the senior type are generally advised to exercise self-indulgence, giving way to the younger sector the pleasures of the more challenging sides of backpacking.

Having said that, we nevertheless may not completely inhibit ourselves from this topic because there are aspects of backpacking we who are advanced in years may be able to share with the rest of the gang. In fact it may be suggested that a separate category is appropriate to those who can't be backpackers to the hilt. Backpacker-at-heart, maybe? Levity aside, a big no-no of this kind of adventure are spur-of-the-moment decisions. In addition to the right choice of implements, for example, one must have foreknowledge of what he would be going into. There's much one can learn from online resources but actual experiences from those who have been there are also invaluable.

In a recent trip to Lisbon, for example, I learned that the city won hands down the Hoscar Awards, worldwide rankings of the best budget hostels. As we know, the modern day backpacking lifestyle has expanded much as a result of low-cost airlines and budget accommodations in many parts of the world. Lisbon has the warmest winters among big cities in Europe (from December to February) and the typical summer season is from May to October. That gives us an idea of what attire to pack.

The capital and the largest city of Portugal, Lisbon is one of the least explored European backpacking destinations. Historically, it is also one of the oldest cities in the world, predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by hundreds of years. Archaeological research has shown that Lisbon has Phoenician, Indo-European and even Stone age vestiges in its DNA. The Romans were there too after emerging as victors of the Punic wars. With the subsequent fall of Roman Empire, Lisbon came into the control of a series of Germanic rulers from the 5th century and by Moors in the 8th century. In 1147 it was returned to Christian rule by the Crusaders. Lisbon also bear the marks of Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion, its war with Spain, the world wars and the devastating earthquake of 1755, which killed between 60,000 and 90,000 people and destroyed eighty-five percent of the city.

The first Portuguese university -- now known as the University of Coimbra -- was founded in Lisbon in 1290. The 16th century was Lisbon's golden era, the European hub of commerce between Africa, India, the Far East and later, Brazil. Lisbon acquired great riches by the trade in spices, slaves, sugar, textiles and other goods. It was the Age of Discovery and Portugal was in stiff competition with Spain for supremacy in the seas.

Most of the Portuguese expeditions left from Lisbon during the 15th to 17th centuries, including Vasco da Gama's expedition to India in 1497. Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese soldier-navigator largely credited for spearheading the first circumnavigation of the world, studied at Queen Leonora's School of Pages in Lisbon although it is said that he later learned cartography, astronomy and celestial navigation not in a school setting. It was also in Lisbon that Magellan had sought for funding from the king for a fleet to reach the Spice Islands and was repeatedly refused thus prompting him to obtain sponsorship from the king of Spain instead.

A heated discussion had been going on in a Facebook site called Mga Bisaya about the role and influence of Spanish colonizers in the Philippines. The first Spaniards to reach that country were from the Armada de Molucca commanded by the Portuguese Magellan. A backpacker who certainly has more time and access to local folks would be surprised that hardly any local folk ever heard of one of their most famous sons. Even a travel guide I've spoken to didn't know of any memorial to Magellan in Portugal. After all he was considered a traitor to his homeland for renouncing his citizenship and serving a rival country.

Later, I came across a write-up about Lisbon's 171-foot Monument to the Discoveries built in 1960 on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator's death. Magellan has a monument after all. His statue is in the same pedestal with those of Henry, King Manuel I, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabral (discoverer of Brazil) and 25 other people who played roles during Portugal's era of discoveries.

About Magellan, of course everyone knows that he was felled on April 28, 1521, in a battle against the forces of Lapulapu, chieftain of the small island of Mactan, now a part of Cebu province. As a result the foreigners turned tail and sailed back to Spain without their leader. Of the original five ships and 237 mena only the Victoria arrived back in Seville on 6 September 1522 with 18 aboard. It was captained by Juan Sebastian Elcano, truly the first circumnavigator of the world.

The Monument to the Discoveries overlooking the Tagus River in Lisbon has Magellan's statue in the same pedestal as those of Henry the Navigator, King Manuel I, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabra and 25 other famous personages during Portugal's era of discoveries.

The final resting place of Vasco da Gama, considered the discoverer of India, is located inside the Monastery of the Jeronimos, classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1983. The church is famous for its Manueline style of Portuguese architecture.

The Torre de Belem is a fortified tower built to be part of the defensive system of the Tagus River estuary in Lisbon, providing crossfire with the Fortress of Sao Sebastiao da Caparica on the south bank of the river.

About the Author
Dionesio C. Grava is a backpacker and writer, you can find him on Facebook  here https://www.facebook.com/dionesiog