It would be difficult to imagine what city might have risen at the mouth of the Tagus, if any of the three Philips, under whom the two kingdoms of this peninsula were brought together for sixty years (1580-1640), had ever thought of transferring their seat of government to Lisbon.
At the time the union was effected, Madrid had been only a few years a royal residence; and the disadvantages of its site were still so strongly felt that the project of a removal back to Toledo, Valladolid, or Seville, was repeatedly entertained. On the other hand, Lisbon had been a capital for several hundred years, and for a long period in the sixteenth century it had almost the monopoly of the world’s maritime and commercial enterprise. Of all the westward-looking seaports, just when westward-ho had become the watchword all over Europe, Lisbon was the grandest, the safest, and most frequented. It was the main gate to the East and West Indies, the great highway to that empire of the son of Charles V. on which, it was said, without boast, the sun never set. It had the finest position outside the Mediterranean, rivaling the beauty of Genoa and Naples, and exceeding the importance of declining Venice and enslaved Constantinople.
The pride of Portugal would have been gratified by the elevation of the minor kingdom to the dignity of the sovereign state. The boundary of the two countries, nowhere traced visibly by natural landmarks, would have been speedily obliterated, and the immense advantage of maritime communication for a state ruling over Italy, the Netherlands, and the colonies, would have more than counterbalanced the importance of the central position of that dreary Madrida center of which it could only be said that it was in-conveniently equidistant from every point in the circumference. .
Even at the head of a kingdom of four millions, Lisbon has all the aspect and pretensions of a great capital. It rejoices in one of the grandest, strongest, and most picturesque situations; and boasts a genial, as well as a perfectly healthy southern climate. Without one thorough-fare of imposing stateliness; without one church, palace, or edifice of transcendent merit; without a museum, a monument, a statue, or a picture worthy the attention of a traveler familiar with the wonders of Spain and Italy, Lisbon has more than enough to charm the eye, and to interest the mind of a visitor for a prolonged sojourn. Be-fore 1755, this city, like Genoa, had no streets, but only hills. But in that year the earthquake did Lisbon all the good that fire often does for Constantinople; it made a gap through the maze of lanes and alleys; it caused a depression between the hills, which was subsequently leveled and laid out into that half-dozen decent streets, round that truly magnificent “Black Horse Square,” where one fancies himself in some stately quarter about the new Paris boulevards, or the Paddington and Westbourne Park districts in London.
For a man with sound lungs, and free from all apprehension of a disease of the heart, the hills, however, will have the chief attraction. Lisbon has all the panoramic variety and amenity of Genoa; it has all the tawdriness of the churches; all the gloom of the forsaken monasteries; all the vestiges of a ubiquitous, over-grown, ecclesiastical establishment, which in its downfall threatened to involve the city itself in its ruins, and which gives many of its remote and sequestered districts the look of a settled desolation and decay.
Nine out of ten streets in Lisbon are named from some of the saints of the Portuguese calendar, evidently admitting even some who are still awaiting papal canonization. Like Constantinople, and all other rivals of Rome, Lisbon is described as “seated on the Seven Hills.” But as one walks up and down its interminable labyrinth of steep paths, the impression rather is that the town straggles over two main ridges, broken up into seventy or more little knolls and bluffs, and parted by the deep gaps made one hundred and twenty-seven years ago by the earth-quake. Except in the immediate neighborhood of the main square above named, and along the artificially widened quays of the golden Tagus, there is no flat ground but what has been smoothed down and terraced up by dint of hard work, and at a high cost. Lisbon is one of those towns which have risen in olden times in obedience to consideration of warlike defense, and in which men continue to crowd together from habit, from indifference to elbow room, from love of pure air, from attachment to a picturesque situation, with utter disregard of comfortand are all the better for it.
And the horses in Lisbon are trained in the same hardening school; for one sees even the jades and screws put to hackney-carriages, by no means recommendable on the score of outward look, driven down long and fearfully abrupt slopes at a headlong pace, which terrifies the beholder, and takes away the breath of the “fare” inside the vehicle, yet so sure-footed, and held up by such masterly hands, that it never happened to me, in a fortnight or three weeks’ residence, to see one of them trip or slip, much less measure its length on the ground.
What the business of Lisbon may be it would be difficult to say, for, in spite of its great historical traditions, and the advantages of its matchless situation, this city has no very extensive trade, and all the energy and thrift of Portugal seem concentrated in Oporto and the northern districts. Yet it is evident that, if this is not the place for men to work, it is the very spot they choose for the enjoyment of work’s wages. Tho there be little gain, there must be considerable wealth in Lisbonwealth not accumulated in a few hands, but reaching some of the lower degrees in the social scale. The number of gentlemen’s fine housesnot only clustering round such favorite spots as the Praca do Rocio, Paseio Publico, Praca do Principe Real, and the like, but scattered here and there iii out-of-the-way quarters, and often in the midst of mean hovelsaway up the hills, along the quays, and where one would least look for them appears to be altogether out of proportion with the population of the place, which barely exceeds 275,000, suburbs included.
But the fact is that Lisbon is the center of the country’s wealth, and is clad in all the glory of national industry, tho it does not as largely contribute to its development, as the great cities of London, Paris, Vienna, or Berlin do to their respective nations. It has not laid aside the traditions, and rejoices in the remnants of its vast maritime empire. The resources of the place lie in the western isles and Madeira, in its colonial establishments on the east and west coasts of Africa, and its pied-a-terre in the East Indies, but, above all things, in the connection it keeps up with the emancipated empire of Brazil which is still the Portuguese oyster. All this makes Lisbon the center of a commercial enterprise, only the final results of which are visible in the wellbeing of many who come back to rest from their labors, and to look for the safe investment of the outcome of their ventures.
It is mainly the wealth of these Brasileros (for so are called the Portuguese emigrants who settle here on their return from Rio Janeiro, Bahia, or Pernambuco), their wealth, gotten no one knows or asks how, that makes Lisbon what she is. By far the greatest number of them are natives of the fine districts of the Douro and Minho; and the ambition of these is to own a few acres of land, and to build a big house in the petty towns or villages which gave them birth. But those who bring back colossal fortunes, or who have in some degree been polished by foreign travel, who have caught up ideas and manners, and social wants and habits, from their intercourse with other racesmen of a more stirring, fastidious, and aspiring dispositiondisdain the obscurity of provincial repose, and are irresistibly attracted to the capital. Here, they trust, the glitter of their riches will be better appreciated; it will make their way into that charmed circle of the upper ranks whose titles will be within their reach, whose somewhat faded splendor they will easily outshine, and whose graces and elegancies they will strive to copy.
The mansions and gardens of these nouveaux riches vastly outnumber, in Lisbon, the palaces of the old nobility and a stranger is, on a superficial acquaintance, bewildered by the frequency of high-sounding names and handles to names; and finds it difficult to discriminate between the genuine article and the mere counterfeit.