If I asked you to point out the highest ground in Lisbon, you might simply not know, having never been here. But if you had been here, it’s pretty likely that you might think the highest ground in the city is in fact the hill of the castle of St George. If you did think that, though, then how would you explain the photo I took today, looking down upon the castle?
Confused? Then read on.
I was looking at some articles from a few years ago on various Lisbon tourism websites to find things to do. My criteria were that they were outside, to make the most of the sunny days, during this otherwise cold winter, and that they were free. Then I noticed one about a secret miradouro. I was quite sure that I’d been to all the miradouros but, looking at the pictures, it was evident that I had not and that, indeed, this was something of a secret.
So it was that, at 1pm yesterday, after lunch, I found myself leaving the metro at Martim Moniz and gazing up at the hill beyond the neighbourhood of Mouraria. As it happens, a lot of my colleagues and friends live in this neighbourhood and further over in Graça, so I had a fairly good idea of where I was going. Following the route of the 28 tram, up the Rua dos Cavaleiros, I made an abrupt about turn at the end, and then wound my way up various smaller roads, until I came to an imposing sandstone wall which signalled that I was at the “fake” miradouro.
Now let’s be clear, the fake miradouro is still pretty breathtaking. You look down with a near perfect angle, as Lisbon’s sweeps old town sweeps down the hill before you. Currently, there’s a lot of building work going on just below, where the local council are completely renovating a park, which will be a lovely space when it’s finished. Just across the road from it, too, there is something quite novel, in the form of a city centre allotment. Very small, but even at this stage of the year, with Spring well and truly embryonic, struggling to free itself from winter’s grasp – particularly at night – the shoots and even flowers are doing very well. This was a pleasant surprise to see.
So from here, after my brief hiatus to take photos and get my breath back, the next trick is to take the path behind the buildings opposite and creep around the back to yet another steep hill street. My knees grumbled all the way to the top, but when I arrived, it was more than worth the climb. The view is instantly awe inspiring. You can look down upon the castle and beyond, to the flowing Tejo either side of it, the water taking on an entirely different colour in each section, though whether this is owing to silt build up or just a trick of the light, I have no idea. In the other direction, you can look far north, beyond the airport and the district where I live to the hills above the city and a small wind farm scattered upon them.
But views, spectacular as they are, are not the only reason to come up here. For this is the site of one of the earliest remaining churches in Lisbon. Founded in 1147 after the reconquest of Lisbon from the Moors, the Church of Our Lady of the Mount was built here then. It was the home of the Augustinian friars for centuries until they were relocated to the convent of Graça during the 20th century. Like much of the city, the site was devastated by the earthquake of 1755, but was restored and the building you can visit here today was constructed in 1796. The building is quite stunning inside, featuring images to various female saints and Mary, naturally, though pictures are not allowed. The architecture marks it out as a classic Portuguese church building. Out front is a statue of Mary in a glass cabinet, offering blessings to the religiously inclined.
An interesting superstition here which goes back a long time is that if women sit on the “throne” at the church, when they are pregnant, they will have a safe and unproblematic pregnancy. Even King João V’s wife tried this. I have no idea where this started, though.
Just before leaving, I noticed one more interesting thing. Though clearly a relatively modern addition, this sign post made think of the age of discoveries and, with this being one of the oldest churches, I wonder if people would have come here before setting off on a voyage to unknown lands.