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Once at the heart of the greatest seafaring nation in the world, Lisbon nowadays still has an air of majesty that transcends time.
The air of slowly eroding wealth in the old city draws comparisons in the mind's eye to Italy's great maritime state of Venice, and indeed the two cities at the height of their ascendancies were often compared. But Lisbon is a different proposition to Venice's elegant aging dowager. Portugal's capital might wear the jewels of its golden age proudly but it is not prepared to live on the wealth it gets from pawning them to tourists.
That isn't to say Lisbon is eager to forget its past. The Monument to the Discoveries built in the 1960s to celebrate the fifth centenary of Henry the Navigator's (the stay-at-home funder of the great explorations) death demonstrates with what pride the city remembers its glories. Buildings such as the Jerónimos and the Torre de Belém not only display the vast amounts of wealth the city could once command, but are also built to a unique Portuguese architectural style born of the great days of empire.
But Lisbon has more to offer than these antique trinkets. Most recently the city has revitalised itself with a modern development and the massive centrepiece of the Vasco da Gama bridge. Ostentatiously the development was to celebrate the 500-year anniversary of Vasco da Gama's voyage to India but it has been the catalyst for a new rash of modern office blocks. The city is at the centre of the country's financial and political life and it shows in the hubbub of business that now takes place on the site of Lisbon's marvellous Expo '98 celebrations.
This blend of modernity with history is what makes Lisbon such a great destination for the visitor. It is a place where you can pick up freshly caught and barbecued fish in one of the cobbled street markets that look like they haven't changed in centuries, and walk round the next corner into a bustling business district. Such dynamism you feel the intrepid denizens of the city 500 years ago would well have approved of.
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