Portugal – The Valley Of The Tejo (Tagus)

THE lower course of the Tejo, called Tajo in Spain, separates Portugal into two portions differing much in their general aspect, climate, and soil. The valley itself is a sort of intermediary between the north and south, and the vast estuary into which the river discharges itself.

Where the Tejo enters Portugal, below the magnificent bridge of Alcantara, it is still hemmed in between precipitous banks, and is neither navigable nor available for purposes of irrigation. Having traversed the defile of Villa Velha do Rodâo, its valley gradually widens, awl after having received ifs most considerable tributary, the Zezere, it becomes a tranquil stream, abounding in islands and sand-banks, and is navigable during the whole of the year. Below Salvaterra the river bifurcates, its two branches enclosing the marshy island of Lezirias. The vast estuary which begins below this island is an arm of the sea rather than a river; its waters are saline, and between Sacavem and Alhandra there are salt-pans. The Tejo affords one of the most striking instances of a river encroaching upon its western bank, which is steep and hilly, whilst the left bank is low.

The irregular range of hills which forms the back-bone of the peninsula enclose L by the Lower Tejo and the ocean is attached to the mountain of Estrella by a ravined plateau of trifling elevation, crossed by the railway connecting Coimbra with Santarem. From the summit of the Serra do Aire (” wind mountain,” 2,222 feet) we look down upon the verdant valley of the Tejo and the reddish-hued plains of Alemtejo beyond it. Monte Junto (2,1 8. feet), farther south, is another commanding summit. The rocky promontory of Cart oeiro is joined to the mainland by a sandy beach. Upon it stands the little fortress of Peniche, whose inhabitants lead a life of seclusion, and are engaged in the manufacture of lace. A submarine plateau connects this promontory with Berlinga Island, with an old castle now used as a prison, and with the Farilhaos, dreaded by mariners.

The hills on the narrow peninsula to the north of Lisbon are of small height, but, owing to their rugged character, they present great obstacles to intercommunication. It was here Wellington constructed the famous lines of Torres Vedras, which converted the environs of Lisbon into a vast entrenched camp. To the south of these rise the beautiful heights of Cintra, celebrated for their palaces, shady valleys, delightful climate, and historical associatons. Sheets of basalt, ejected from some ancient volcano, cover the hills between Lisbon and Sacavem, and the great earthquakes of 1.331 and 17.55 prove that subterranean forces were then not quite extinct. The second of these earthquakes was probably the most violent ever witnessed in Europe. The very first shock destroyed 3,8.50 houses in Lisbon, burying 1.5,000 human beings beneath the ruins ; a minute afterwards an immense wave, nearly forty feet in height, swept off the fugitives who crowded the quay. Only one quarter of the town, that anciently inhabited by the Moors, escaped destruction. The Marquis de Pombal erected a gallows in the midst of the ruins to deter plunderers. From the focus of vibration the oscillations of the soil were propagated over an immense area, estimated at no less than 1,000,000 square miles. Oporto was destroyed in part, the harbour of Alvor in Algarve was silted up, and it is said that nearly all the large towns of Morocco tumbled into ruins.

The gully which connects the open ocean with the inland sea of Lisbon, and through which the Tejo discharges its waters, separates the cretaceous hills of Cintra from the isolated Serra da Arabida (1,537 feet), to the west of Setûbal, which belong to the same geological formation. These two groups of hills were probably portions of one range at a time when the Tejo still took its course across what are now the tertiary plains of Alemtejo, and reached the sea much farther to the south, through the estuary of the Sado.

Lisbon (Lisboa), though the number of its inhabitants is less than half what it was in the sixteenth century, exhibits no trace of the havoc wrought in 1755. Even the central portions of the town have risen from the ruins, and huge blocks of houses, imposing by their size, if not by their architecture, have taken the places of the older structures. The present city extends four miles along the Tejo, but including its suburbs, between Poco do Bispo and the Tower of Belem, its extent is nine miles. The city stretches inland a distance of two or three miles, and, like Rome, is said to he built upon seven hills. A beautiful promenade connects it with Belem. As seen from the Tejo, or from the hills opposite, Lisbon, with its towers, cupolas, and public walks, certainly presents a magnificent spectacle, and there is some truth in the proverb which says

” Que nao tern visto Lisbûa, Nile tern visto cosa boa ! ”

(” Who has not seen Lisbon has not sea a thing of beauty.”)

Unfortunately the interior of the superb metropolis does not correspond with the imposing beauty of its exterior. Lisbon has a noble square, called Largo do Comercio ; it has all the various buildings which one expects to meet with in the capital of a kingdom and an important maritime town ; but, with the exception of the chapel of Siva Joao Baptista, not one amongst them is remarkable for its architecture. The only important structure outside the city is the famous aqueduct Os Arcos das Agoas, which was built by Joao V., the Bel Edificador, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, and sustained no injury during the earthquake of 1755. On approaching the city it crosses a valley on a superb marble bridge of thirty-five arches, the highest of which is 246 feet in height.

Lisbon is relatively poor in interesting monuments, but few towns can rival it in natural advantages of soil, climate, and geographical position. Its situation is most central ; its harbour, at the mouth of a navigable river, is one of the most excellent in the world ; and its entrance can be easily defended, the principal works erected for that purpose being Fort :Sao Julia) and the Tower of Bugio.

Lisbon is important not only as regards Portugal, but also, on account of its position, with reference to the rest of Europe—nay, of the entire world. As long as the Mediterranean was the theatre of human history it remained in obscurity, but no sooner had mariners ventured beyond the columns of Hercules than the beautiful harbour at the mouth of the Tejo became one of the principal points of departure for vessels starting upon voyages of discovery. Lisbon became the most advanced outpost of Europe on the Atlantic, for it offered greater facilities than any other port for voyages directed to the Azores, Madeira, the Canaries, and the western coasts of Africa. The achievements of Portuguese mariners have passed into history. Vast territories in every quarter of the globe became tributary to little Portugal, and it needed the epic force of a Camoes to celebrate these wonderful conquests.

That age of glory lasted but a short time, for proud Lisbon, which had become known to Eastern nations as the ” City of the Franks,” as if it were the capital of Europe, lost its pre-eminent position towards the close of the sixteenth century.

Portugal capsized suddenly, like a small barge overcrowded with sails. Crushed by the terrible reign of Philip IT., enervated by luxury, and grown disdainful of honest labour, as slaveholders always will, Lisbon was constrained to see much of its commerce and most of its valued colonies pass into the hands of Spaniards and Dutchmen. But, in spite of these disasters, Lisbon is still a commercial port of great importance, although as yet no direct line of railway connects it with Madrid and the rest of Europe. England occupies the foremost position amongst the customers of the town, and the Brazilians, whose severance from the mother country was at first looked upon as an irremediable disaster, follow next.* Spain, though it borders upon Portugal for several hundred miles, scarcely enters into commercial relations with it. Civil wars have, however, driven many Spanish exiles to Lisbon, and these have already exercised a considerable influence upon manners. Formerly only men were to be seen in the streets of Lisbon, the women being confined almost with the same rigour as in a Mohammedan city, but the example set by Spanish ladies has found many imitators amongst their Portuguese sisters. The towns in the immediate vicinity of Lisbon are celebrated for their picturesque beauties.

Portuguese Estremadura, which neither suffers from northern frosts nor from fogs and aridity, can boast of a climate approaching that of the fabled Islands of the Happy. At Lisbon snow, or ” white rain,” as it is called, falls rarely, but it may be seen glittering on the summits of the Serras da Estrella and de Lonsao. Its fall near the sea-coast is looked upon as an evil omen, and a heavy snow-storm, as recently as last century, frightened the inhabitants of Lisbon to such an extent that they fancied the day of judgment had come, and rushed into the churches.

The regular alternation between land and sea breezes is likewise an advantage possessed by the neighbourhood of Lisbon. From the beginning of May through-out the fine season the wind blows from the land in the morning, by noon it has shifted to t e south, in the evening it blows from the west and north-west, and during the night from the north. Hence its name of riento roteiro; that is, ” rotary wind.” As to the winds forming part of the regular system of atmospheric circulation, they blow with far less regularity. The polar winds, stopped by the transversal mountain ranges of the country, either follow the direction of the coast or are diverted to the plateaux of Spain, and make their appearance in Portugal as easterly winds. It is these latter which render the summer oppressively hot. At Lisbon the thermometer rises occasionally to 100 ‘ F., and in 1798 even 104′ were observed. Experience has taught us that although the heat at Rio de Janeiro is in excess of that of Lisbon, the dog-days at the latter place are more unbearable.

The vegetation of the happy district where the climate of North and South intermingle is twofold in its aspect. The date-palm makes its appearance in the gardens of Lower Estremadura; the dwarf palm grows in the open air along the coast ; the agave raises its candelabra-like branches as on the coast of Mexico: the camellias are more beautiful than anywhere else in Europe; and the hedges are composed of prickly cacti (.opal), as in Sicily and Algeria. The fruits of the Mediterranean ripen to perfection ; and even the mango of the Antilles, only recently introduced, has found a congenial climate. Oranges are known as portogalli in several countries as far as Egypt, as if the inhabitants of Portugal had been the first to whom these golden apples were known; and even the word chintarah, or chantarah, by which the orange is known in some parts of India, is supposed to be a corruption of the name of the Portuguese town of Cintra.

Belem (Bethlehem) is the nearest of the suburban towns of Lisbon, being separated from it merely by a rivulet named Alcântara, after an old Moorish bridge. It is the first place beheld by a mariner approaching Lisbon, and its square tower, built by King John the Perfect, is seen from afar. It was hence Vaseo da Gama started upon the memorable expedition which taught the Portuguese the road to India, and a magnificent monastery, now converted into an educational institution, was built in commemoration of this glorious event.

Oeiras, at the mouth of a small rivulet coming down from the heights of Cintra, defends the entrance to the Tejo by means of Fort Sao Juliao; Carcavellos, noted for its wines, lies farther on ; and Cascaes, with a small harbour defended by a citadel, brings us to the open ocean. The coast beyond this is protected by towers, but there are no inhabitants. The hills of Cintra, however are one of the most populous districts of the country, and they are much frequented by foreigners. Whether we follow the carriage road or the tramroad from Lisbon, we pass the castles and villas of Bomfica, the royal palace of (luaus, and the country seats of Bellas, the fountain of which supplies the capital with water. Cintra itself is surrounded by hotels and gardens. On a hill to the south of it stands the sumptuous Castle de la Penha, whose eccentricities of architecture are softened down by luxuriant masses of vegetation. Strangers likewise visit the ruins of an old Moorish castle and the caverns of the ” Monastery of Cork,” thus named because its walls are covered with cork as a protection against damp. The prospect from all the surrounding heights is magnificent, and most so from the cliffs terminating in the famous Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe.

The city of Mafra occupies a sterile plateau not far from the seaside resort of Ericeira. Like Cintra, it boasts of an immense palace, the Escorial of the kings of the house of Braganca, now used as a military school. Joao V., who erected this structure, with its numerous churches, chapels, and cells, expended for that purpose all the coin he could command, and when he died there was not enough money left in the treasury to pay for a mass for the repose of his soul. Far more curious than this immense barrack, with its 5,200 windows, is the forsaken monastery of Alcobaca, about sixty miles farther north, which was built in the twelfth century to commemorate the victories over the Moors. ear it stands the monastery of Batalha, which recalls the defeat of the Castilians in the plain of Aljubarrota in 1385. The portals, cloisters, chapel, and chapter-room abound in sculptures of marvellous finish, though of doubtful taste.

Leiria, the tow n nearest to Batalha, occupies a fine site at the confluence of the rivers Liz and Lena, and is commanded by a Moorish castle, the old residence of King Diniz the ” Labourer,” u ho planted the pilnhal of Leiria, the finest forest in Portugal. After a long period of decadence this portion of the country has entered upon a new epoch of activity. At Marinha Grande, near it, there are large glass-works, which communiicate by rail with the circular harbour of Concha (shell) de Sào Martinho.

Thomar, formerly famous on account of its monastery, stands on the eastern slope of the hills commanding the plains of Batalha and Alcobaca. It is the capital of the Knights of Christ, to whom was conceded the privilege of conquering the Indies and the New World. They performed great deeds, but in the end their rapacity led to the decadence of their native country. Thomar is a town of cotton-mills now, but commerce is more active in the places on the Tejo, and notably at Santarem, which, from its “marvellous” hill, looks down upon the verdant isles of the river and the plains of Alemtejo. Santarem and the neighbouring fortress of Abrantes supply Lisbon with vegetables and fruit, and the country around them is a veritable forest of olive-trees.

The sandy soil and shallow rivers bounded by marshes of the country to the south of the Tejo oppose serious obstacles to the establishment of important towns, and if it were not for the vicinity of Lisbon it ‘would probably be uninhabited. Almada, opposite Lisbon, Seixal, Barreiro, Aldea Gallega, and Alcochete are mere suburbs of the capital, and share in its prosperity or adversity. Setubal, or St. Ives, however, which lies farther to the south, on the estuary of the Sado, and which has an excellent harbour, suffers from too great a proximity to Lisbon, for Portugal is not rich enough to feed two ports so close to each other. Cezimbra, on the steep coast which terminates in Cape Espichel, to the west of Setubal, is likewise a decayed place, and Troja, which preceded Setubal as the emporium of the Sado, now lies buried beneath the dunes. Excavations recently made on its site have led to the discovery of Roman mosaics and of a street laid out, perhaps, by the Phoenicians; and Link, the botanist, who visited the spot at the end of’ last century, still found there the ruined courts of Moorish houses.

Setûbal, though its commercial activity is very much inferior to that of Lisbon, still exports muscat wines, delicious oranges, and salt procured from the ponds in its vicinity. The sea near Setubal and Cezimbra abounds in fish and other marine animals, and in comparison with it the Mediterranean and Bay of Biscay may almost be described as deserts. Long before scientific men explored the bottom of’ the sea the fishermen of Setubal hauled up from a depth of 300 fathoms immense sharks. Ordinary fish are caught in myriads, and the inhabitants of Cezimbra feed their pigs upon sardines. When Portugal was at the height of its commercial prosperity it supplied a considerable portion of Europe with fish, and almost enjoyed a monopoly in cod, which was exported even to Norway.