For anyone considering a trip to a European city, Lisbon perhaps isn't a destination that springs immediately to mind. The Portuguese capital's singular charms, however, are drawing an increasing number of visitors.
The port city on Europe's southwestern edge can't boast the scale or variety of, say, Paris or London. What it offers is a small scale suited to walkers, a sedate pace of life, little crime and lots of history. The famously hospitable Portuguese are another asset, and the restaurants can lay on exceptional fish and seafood from the Atlantic.
During the Age of Exploration 500 years ago, when Portugal led Europe out of the Mediterranean and established an empire spanning from Latin America across Africa to Asia, Lisbon was one of the world's wealthiest cities. The massive 1755 earthquake _ so catastrophic that it helped change the course of western European thought _ destroyed many of the greatest Lisbon monuments.
Though the city swiftly modernized after Portugal joined the European Union a quarter century ago, it has retained an old-time attractiveness as well as a beguiling blend of people from the country's former colonies in Africa, India and Brazil.
The Belem neighborhood, on the north bank of the Tagus River, was the launch pad for the great Portuguese ships and dauntless mariners who set off to discover the world beyond the horizon in the 15th and 16th centuries. Belem, which translates as Bethlehem (the voyages had a strong religious component), has the Jeronimos monastery and church from 1601, broad gardens, and a large marble map on the riverbank showing the places the Portuguese encountered, and when, as they radiated across the globe. The Portuguese like to think of it as the ground zero of globalization. The Monument to the Discoveries features statues of national heroes such as Vasco da Gama. The local pastry shops sell the famous, and irresistible, Portuguese custard tarts. Across the river, next to the April 25 Bridge that bears a striking resemblance to San Francisco's Golden Gate, a giant statue of Christ overlooks the city, its arms open.
The Alfama quarter is distinguished by its narrow, cobbled streets on the hillside below Lisbon castle, where archaeologists have found traces of occupation dating from the seventh century B.C.. Once home to medieval Jewish and Moorish settlements, the quarter has an endearing shabbiness and lived-in feel. Walking through the quiet streets often involves ducking