How much do you really know about Lisbon? From strange curiosities to mind-blowing secrets, this is our short and sweet list of 15 facts about Lisbon that you probably didn’t know about.
1. It’s not really the city of seven hills
Most locals you meet will welcome you to the city of the seven hills. The truth is that these seven hills were never very historically accurate and were (mis)counted, possibly on purpose just to make the city more similar to Rome, also known as the city of seven hills.
2. They even forgot the tallest one!
Graça is the tallest of Lisbon’s hills, but it was left out of the original and official list. The seven lucky ones are: São Jorge, São Vicente, São Roque, Santo André, Santa Catarina, Chagas and Sant’Ana.
3. All the crows were called Vincent
Crows have been the symbol of the city since 1173 when they escorted the body of Saint Vincent to Lisbon, where he would be buried. You’d always find crows up in the São Jorge Castle and down by the Sé — but every coal merchant in the city would keep a pet crow, too. All of these pet crows (which have disappeared along with the coal merchants) always had the same name: Vicente, after the saint.
4. It was the first city in the world to import Guinness
It’s not in the Guinness book of world records, but records from 1811 show that Lisbon was the first city in the world to import Guinness. Cheers! O’Gillins and Hennessy’s are one of the few pubs in Lisbon where you can drink a perfectly-poured pint of Guinness — continuing a tradition that is over 203 years old.
5. Delicacies grew in the Tagus
The river Tagus, or Tejo in Portuguese, is not the most appealing of rivers. Nobody (sane) looks at it and feels like taking a dip. But this river that once inspired Sir Thomas Wyatt’s wish-me-luck farewell had world-famous oysters growing in the river.
6. Two of Lisbon’s monuments are copycats
A Portuguese cardinal was visiting Rio de Janeiro in 1934 — only three years after the famous Brazilian monument was finished — and was so impressed, he decided Lisbon should have one just like that. That’s the story behind the Christ the King statue. Likewise, in 1532, Brás de Albuquerque went to Italy, saw the Diamanti palace in Ferrara, came back and decided to build the Casa dos Bicos (currently the José Saramago Foundation).
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7. One of them has a pretty decent excuse…
The guys at the top of the Catholic church in Portugal justified the Christ the King statue by saying it was a thank you token to God for having answered a special prayer to keep Portugal out of the Second World War.
8. …the other one has a hilarious name
The Saramago Foundation is popularly known as Casa dos Bicos. Bicos is anything that’s pointed, like the stones on this house’s façade, but it’s also slang for oral sex. Think of it as BJ house; you won’t be the only one.
9. One of the smallest bookshops in the world is here
Bertrand is well-known as the oldest running bookshop in the world, but Livraria do Simão is one of the smallest ones with only 3.8 squared metres — nevertheless, it’s able to hold 4,000 books! It’s so small that when a customer walks in, the shop owner usually has to walk out.
10. Spies came to Lisbon from all over the world
During WWII, the richest European refugees created a small community around the Casino town of Estoril, just outside Lisbon. They spent days at the beach, nights dancing away, high-class dining in between. And when they gambled, the stakes were much higher than you’d think. The best spies of all the western nations were hard at work in these circles. Most famously, Ian Fleming, writer of the James Bond novels, was here on duty for the British Naval Intelligence.
11. There are saved seats for two dead writers…
At one of Lisbon’s classic cafés, Martinho da Arcada, there are two tables that are kept empty and are permanently “reserved”. One is for Fernando Pessoa, possibly Portugal’s most popular poet, and another for the Nobel laureate José Saramago, possibly Portugal’s most loved and hated writer.
12. … and one of them prefers the competition!
While they’re saving Fernando Pessoa a seat, you can find him sitting down, come rain or come shine, outside of the Brasileira in Chiado. Tourists love to take a picture with him. Join the queue if you like; we won’t judge.
13. The world’s only public tie-mirror is here too
At least that we know of, there’s no other city in the world with a public mirror like this one. You’ll find it in Rossio, close to door number 115 on D. Pedro IV square. It reads something like: “tidy your tie’s knot” (componha o nó da sua gravata).
14. Only five men know the recipe to Lisbon’s favourite pastry
In a city where nobody keeps a secret, these guys do. They know the secret recipe to the Pastel de Belém and they’re not telling. The recipe has never been written down and they’re required to memorise it. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and the guardians of this recipe take special precautions: they never travel in the same plane, take the same car, or order the same dish at any restaurant.
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15. The city may have ties with the Freemasonry
They say the whole of Baixa was projected and built upon the principles of the Freemasons: there are seven streets (one of which is Gold Street and the other Silver Street), three squares, two pillars by the riverside, one triumphal arch, and many other hints. We don’t know how true any of this is, but still!
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