During my first and admittedly vaguely researched visit to Lisbon back in 2003, I was convinced the sweltering heat was causing me to hallucinate. The sight of what appeared to be Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer and California’s Golden Gate bridge on the horizon of the Portuguese capital was surely absurd. Yet, once I had returned home and made a few internet enquiries, it turned out these ‘visions’ were not fantasy at all. Thirteen years later, and having had done my research this time, I returned to the city and set aside a day of my trip to discover whether the spirit of Rio and San Francisco really did exist over on the other side of the River Tegus.
A ferry from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodre brought me across the River Tegus to the town of Cacilhas. In less than fifteen minutes I had been transported from a cosmopolitan European city to a charming Latin American old town.
As I continued to walk west through the district of Almada however, old world charm quickly turned into concrete jungle and for the rest of my journey through the district there was nothing but ugly apartment blocks and multi-laned high streets to endure the sight off. Eventually, the signs I was following led me up a hill and into a park area where I now appeared to be in California.
A little further towards the edge of the park and this was the sight that greeted me.
Originally called Ponte Salazar, Lisbon’s iconic suspension bridge was renamed Ponte 25 de Abril in the 1970s to commemorate the day on which a successful and peaceful military coup overthrew the authoritarian Estado Novo regime. So peaceful was the coup, revolutionaries were able to place carnations in the barrels of army guns and pin flowers to army officers’ uniforms with little resistance. As a result, the coup is remembered as the Carnation Revolution of 1974.
Although not responsible for the Golden Gate bridge, the ‘American Bridge Company’ was responsible for Golden Gate’s sister bridge the San Francisco-Oakland Bay; a tenuous link then between Ponte 25 de Abril which the America Bridge Company completed in 1966, and San Francisco.
The amplified sound from the high volume of traffic continuously crossing the bridge’s two decks – six lanes of road traffic across its upper deck with two train lines running along its lower deck – is similar to the noise made from an angry swarm of bees. It can just be heard over the gail force winds recorded on this wobbly short video I made of the bridge whilst trying not to be blown off Almada and into the Tegus below (it really was very windy the day I visited Almada).
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As featured in the video also, the huge Rio-esque monument of Jesus I had seen so many times from the banks and viewing platforms of Lisbon city was now only metres away from the spot I was presently standing on. Cristo Rei (Christ the King) is not quite as tall nor as wide as Rio’s Christ the Redeemer. It is twenty-eight metres tall, two metres shorter than its Brazilian counterpart but stands on a seventy-five metre high pedestal on the highest point of Almada, over one-hundred-and-thirty metres above sea level.
Since 1936, Lisbon had plans to build a religious shrine to celebrate its deep Catholic convictions. The then Cardinal of Lisbon had fallen in love with the recently inaugurated statue in Rio and convinced authorities that a similar sized monument was exactly what the Portuguese city needed. Politics and the Second World War meant it took over a decade to acquire the funds and the right plot of land for the statue and a further decade to build it. Cristo Rei was finally inaugurated and opened to the public in 1959.
Ferries between Cais do Sodre and Cacilhas sail daily and regularly, at least three times an hour as long as the weather is good which in Lisbon is practically all the time. A one-way ticket can be bought from the port ticket machines just before boarding and cost a ridiculously cheap €1.20 (2016). The journey takes around ten minutes.
Signs for Cristo Rei from Cacilhas are aplenty from the moment one disembarks from the ferry. However, the walk is long (the best part of an hour) and often there will be two signs for Cristo Rei pointing in completely different directions. This is not due to vandalism, more the case that all roads in Almada appear to lead to Cristo Rei, only some roads are more scenic and take longer to get there.
A far quicker and more comfortable way to reach the monument is by bus. The 101 bus regularly departs from just outside the port and terminates at the Cristo Rei Visitors Centre a few hundred metres from the monument itself. The journey takes around twenty minutes and costs €1.35 (2016). Lisbon travelcards and credit added to Viva Viagem tickets are not valid on this bus, but tickets can be purchased from the driver.
Cristo Rei is opened daily from 0900 to 1900 and entrance to the viewing platform costs €4 (2016). A lift brings visitors up most of the way, but there are a few further flights of stairs to take before finally reaching the obligatory souvenir shop that leads up onto the viewing platform. The stairway is narrow and I don’t know how wheelchair users would be able to get from the lift to the viewing platform without a lot of assistance and patience.
There is no pedestrian access to Ponte 25 de Abril but overland trains from Sete Rios (a short walk from Jardim Zoologico station on the Blue metro line) regularly cross the bridge. The first station most trains stop at after crossing over the bridge is either Corrios or Foros da Amora a few miles further down the track. A return ticket to either of these stations can be bought for a few Euros at Sete Rios.
Lisbon’s trams and funiculars: riding ‘Justa‘ another form of classic public transport