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Saga Sapphire blog - Captains' blogs

18th January, 2013

Lisbon is, according to those factitious amongst you, the second oldest European capital after Athens. It is believed to have been settled by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC due to the excellent transport possibilities offered by the vast River Tagus, which could once be said to hold all of the world’s war ships owing to its vast 14km wide estuary.

The Sapphire docked at the Alcantara Passenger Terminal, in the shadow of the 25th of April Bridge. The intermittent yet distant roar of the traffic and trains could be heard from the ship; the only real noise that would indicate that you were in one of Europe’s capitals.

Due to a powerful and deadly earthquake which struck the city in 1775, destroying much of its historical heritage, there is only one area still standing in Lisbon which offers you a view of what the city once was. The oldest district, Alfama, is easily accessible by public transportation, lending itself to images similar to San Francisco’s famous trams, but winding around the not quite so steep back streets of Lisbon instead. In contrast to these bright yellow trams, the streets of Lisbon are pretty much all black and white which I believe centres round the patron saint of Lisbon, Saint Vincent. It’s said that the black represents Saint Vincent’s attire whereas the white represents the attire wore by the Christian crusaders.

Below these streets however is a hidden Roman underworld consisting of chambers, rooms, bridges and corridors, the entrance to which is marked by a block of metal. Unfortunately, this secret world is only open to the public two days a year due to its dangerous conditions and unfortunately today was not one of them.

At 1700 with all passengers and crew safely on board the Sapphire set out to sea, passing the Monument to the Discoveries, with Henry the Navigator on the prow keeping vigil over the Tagus.

No sooner were we past this monument than we were abeam of the Belem Tower, built in 1496 during the reign of King Manuel I. And just to put things into perspective, this small stretch of water would have seen the likes of Vasco de Gama set sail on his voyages to open a sea-based trade route to India in his epic voyage around Africa's Cape of Good Hope to succeed in breaking the monopoly of Arab and Venetian spice traders.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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