Lisbon and Tagus River

“And you, fair nymphs of Tagus, parent stream,
If e’er your meadows were my pastoral theme,
While you have listen’d, and by moonshine seen
My footsteps wander o’er your banks of green,
O come auspicious, and the song inspire
With all the boldness of your hero’s fire…”
Os Lusíadas” de Luís Vaz de Camões, Canto I, Estrofe 4

Tagus river has got one thousand miles of stories to share. It is the Iberian Peninsula’s longest river and has witnessed many defining events in Portuguese history. It risesat an altitude of 1,593 metres on the Albarracín hills in Spain – where it is known as the “Tajo” –  and flows west to the Atlantic ocean next to Lisbon, after a long trip of 1,007 Kilometers.

Lisbon has grown from the river, surrounded by its fables and mysteries. It’s people saw the arrival of the Phoenicians and Romans by sea and was fundamental to the conquest of Lisbon by Portugal’s founder, D. Afonso Henriques.

Upstream, the River Tagus was core to the development of cultural richness along its banks as far East as Vila Velha de Ródão.

Its waters have witnessed great and bloody naval battles, rebellions and seiges – in the fall of the monarchy in 1910 or the Carnation Revolution in 1974, to name just two. The majority of Portugal’s legendary navigators and early discoverers departed in small ships an caravels began their epic journeys from the Tagus. The 1755 earthquake saw the arrival of a sucession of enormaous tsunamis which destroyed much of downtown Lisbon and the estuary shoreline. Every year hundreds of luxury cruises dock in Lisbon especially in from Santa Apolónia to Alcântara. Tagus estuary has an important ecological reserve and bird sanctuary for migrating pink flamingos and other endangered species. Dolphins disappeared from the Tagus for some years due to the pollution. In recent summers however, they have been seen returning for the occasional Tagus feast.

The Tagus is crossed by two bridges in the capital, the oldest being the “Ponte 25 de Abril” (inaugurated as “Ponte Salazar” in 1966), one of the biggest suspension bridges in Europe, connecting Lisbon to Almada on the south bank. The second bridge is “Ponte Vasco da Gama” and is also the second longest bridge in Europe, with a span of some 17 kilometres. It was opened in 1998, connecting the eastern Lisbon suburbs (near Sacavém) to Alcochete and Montijo. The widest point of the river is known locally as “Mar da Palha” (or “Straw Sea”) and is located between Lisbon and Vila Franca de Xira and Benavente.


Adapted from: Luis Ribeiro (November 2012). Stories of Tagus River. Edition: A Esfera dos Livros

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