Baixa, literally translated as 'low', is situated in the gulf between the two main hills of the city and is the central business and shopping district of the capital. The 1755 earthquake and subsequent rebuilding by the then Prime Minister the Marques de Pombal are responsible for the orderly layout of this area, known formally as the Baixa Pombalina. Here a grid of straight streets lined with neoclassical buildings link up majestic squares and grand avenues, testimony to the genius of the Pombaline plan and widely considered an architectural achievement of great note in Europe at the time. The ground floor may contain a fashionable high-street store, one of the legendary Lisbon cafes like the Nicola or even one of the many establishments offering pieces of filigree Portuguese gold work on the Rua do Ouro or Rua da Prata (Gold and Silver Street, respectively).
However, this is just one of the many elegant squares (praças) in the area. At the top of Rua da Prata, in the Praça da Figueira one finds the hugely popular Café Suiça and also the delicious traditional pastries at the Confeitaria Nacional, opened in the early 19th century and at the time widely considered to be one of the most elegant cake shops on the continent. Here it is a bronze King Joao I who sits astride his mount and forms the often pigeon clad centrepiece.
Sintra. Beyond it is the Praça dos Restauradores, named after those who fought in 1640 to restore Portuguese rule and oust the Spanish – their bravery is honoured by a towering obelisk and two statues representing Victory and Liberty. Although seen all over the city, the black and white paving mosaics here are particularly impressive. On the west side of the square the famed Elevador da Gloria starts its ascent to Bairro Alto, to its side a fantastic pink palace which was once the residence of the Marquis of Foz now houses the national tourism office and beyond that again is the art deco splendour of the Eden Cinema. Now no longer a cinema, it is one of the few remaining buildings of its style along the Avenida da Liberdade, which flows out of this square towards the Marques de Pombal roundabout or Rotunda.
Just off the Rua do Ouro is Lisbon's most splendid elevador, once built to connect the low and high points of Baixa and Bairro Alto, now carries tourists vertically 45 metres to a café and a host of superb views of the city. Built in 1902 by an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, whose influence is quite apparent, this neo-gothic structure is known as the Elevador de Santa Justa or the Elevador do Carmo, owing to the Carmo church it used to link to.
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