Portugal is a country that has fascinated me for a long time, whether it’s exploring the cellars of Porto, sipping sticky port wine alongside the Douro River, or getting lost in the gardens of Sintra, where the underworld comes to life at the bottom of an inverted tower that plunges into a subterranean labyrinth.
But Portugal’s capital Lisbon also comes with its own curiosities, such as the wonderful Santa Justa Lift.
Set on undulating hills, where even the pavements are adorned with tiles and mosaics, Lisbon easily falls into the category as being one of Europe’s prettiest cities. However, daily life in the city poses tough hikes on its seven hills, which is why a little help from engineering could be useful. While some cities use funiculars or cable cars to deal with their great heights, Lisbon has a unique and beautiful fin de siècle solution in its Santa Justa Lift that connects a lower part of the city with an upper one.
The Santa Justa Lift is not only a handy piece of engineering to get from lower point A to higher point B, but it’s also a strikingly beautiful one. The lift, which seems to sport a mixture of neo-gothic and “steampunk” aesthetic rises to an elevation of 45 metres up to Bairro Alto from the lower Baixa Pombalina district.
Planned in the 1870s and finished by 1902, by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, who studied under Gustave Eiffel, this neo-gothic tower is a marvel of industrial engineering. The engineer from Porto constructed the tower to run with a steam engine, which was converted to an electric one as early as 1907, which unlike Lisbon’s other funiculars and tramways, operates on a vertical trajectory.
The Santa Justa Lift is a convenient way of getting up to the trendy district of Bairro Alto, and operates every day of the week for around 16 hours a day, with cars going every two minutes.
Taking the steps up from Rua Santa Justa to the lift, there are two compartments – one for up and one for down. The lift rises up in wood and brass cars, that rattle up with views across Lisbon up to the top of the elevator. Ornate ironwork graces the structure, and at the top, there is a narrow spiral staircase that winds up to the top viewing platform for a panorama across the entire cityscape, across the terracotta rooftops and mosaic-lined streets all the way out to sea and the castle.
The intricate, twisted ironwork transforms this functional elevator into an industrial work of art, and a unique site in Lisbon’s downtown area.
However, Lisbon is full of creative and fun for getting up the hills. There are numerous yellow trams that navigate up steep hills across the city, which at the time can feel more like a rollercoaster ride than a tram journey, but the Santa Justa Lift is worth visiting, even if passing for its architectural splendour.
Cover photo by Diego Muñoz.
Uncredited photos my own.