In 2007 there was a worldwide online vote to select the new seven wonders of the world. The results were announced in Lisbon, and that apparently inspired Portugal to conduct a popular vote for its own seven man-made wonders, followed by another vote for the natural wonders. In 2011 it was the “gastronomic wonders” vote, but no one has yet voted on Lisbon's seven marvels. However, this is undoubtedly the list of the seven things that are truly remarkable, outstanding or unique in the city:
1 | Baixa Pombalina
After the earthquake of 1755 destroyed all of central Lisbon, the city’s downtown was rebuilt following unprecedented state-of-the-art urban planning. This was before Haussmann’s redesign of Paris, using a neoclassical style (which became known as “Pombaline”) in a grid of streets. The structures of the buildings were built as a “cage” to make them earthquake-proof, and each was given modern sanitation — something quite rare throughout 18th-century Europe. It was the first time that anti-seismic design and prefabricated building methods were used in such a large scale in the world, and the strikingly modern, broad streets and squares were intended to serve as something of an 18th-century shopping mall, each dedicated to a different craft (gold, silver, saddlery...)
Lisbon’s downtown is now recognized as Europe’s first great example of neoclassical design and urban planning, and there are efforts to have it classified as a World Heritage Site.
2 | Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
With carvings inspired by India and other then-exotic lands, this World Heritage monument was built in the 1500s thanks to the riches pouring into Portugal from the East. Its extraordinary architecture is in the Manueline style, unique to Portugal, and most magnificent of all is the stonework of the cloisters.
3 | Torre de Belém
This was just one of three towers that protected Lisbon’s harbor in the 1500s, including an almost-identical one across the Tagus. This one survived the centuries, and although it looks more like a small fantasy castle for a princess, it was used as a beacon for the city’s navigators. Its magnificent architectural details are reminders of the Age of Discovery, and it’s protected as a World Heritage Site.
4 | Capela de São João Baptista - Igreja de São Roque
Built in the 1500s, this was one of the world’s first Jesuit churches, with a very plain façade but with a number of extraordinarily gilded and painted chapels inside. One of them (dedicated to St. John the Baptist) is an unique masterpiece of European art which has become known as “the world’s most expensive chapel,” paid for with the gold discovered in Brazil (at the time a Portuguese colony). Built in Rome in 1742, using only the most precious gems (ivory, lapis lazulli, gold, silver, marble, gilt bronze, agate, porphyry...), the chapel was shipped to Lisbon to be assembled in this church, where it can now be seen together with other seven side-chapels equally rich in ornamentation. Its most extraordinary feature is that its “paintings” are not paintings but actually very detailed mosaics.
5 | Coche dos Oceanos & Coche de Lisboa - Museu dos Coches
While most royal carriages were destroyed over time in most European capitals (especially in Paris after the French Revolution), Portugal’s Queen Amélia had the visionary idea of preserving the ones in Portugal in a museum. Lisbon’s Carriages Museum is therefore now an unique collection in the world, and although there are a few carriages displayed in a couple of other cities such as Vienna, Lisbon’s museum stands out for assembling ceremonial and promenade vehicles from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It’s the world’s biggest collection, with most being the private property of the royal family.
The museum allows visitors to see the technical and artistic evolution of vehicles before the motor car, and the biggest wonders are the two magnificent ones used in an embassy to France’s Louis XIV and Pope Clement XI. They’re monumentally sculpted, and represent the oceans and the glory of Lisbon.
6 | Museu do Azulejo - Convento da Madre de Deus
Ceramic tile art is found all over the Mediterranean, but nowhere else in the world did it evolve as much or as imaginatively as in Portugal. Here, tiles became more than just geometric figures decorating walls, they also depicted historical and cultural images to cover palaces, street signs and shops. There is only one place in the world where you can follow the history and evolution of this art form, and that’s Lisbon’s Tile Museum. Set in a magnificent 16th-century convent, this beautiful and unique gallery has a collection of tilework from as far back as Moorish times, and also presents modern examples by contemporary artists.
7 | Aqueduto das Águas Livres
The 1755 earthquake was able to destroy almost an entire city, but it was incapable of knocking down this monumental aqueduct. It stands today as it did in 1746, when it was completed and Lisbon was finally able to have drinking water in practically every neighborhood, with reservoirs distributed through different parts of the city. These reservoirs are now used as exhibition spaces, especially the ones in Amoreiras and Principe Real, both part of the Water Museum.
With 109 arches (most in the Gothic style, and the tallest at a record-breaking 65m/213ft high) across a valley, Lisbon’s aqueduct is considered one of the world’s masterpieces of engineering of the Baroque period, and one of the most remarkable hydraulic constructions of all time.