Lisbon's Myths and Legends


After the Trojan War, Ulysses sailed around the Iberian peninsula. It is said that crossing the Portuguese coast, he encountered a very seductive but terrifying creature half-woman, half-serpent queen of the beautiful coastal lands. Nobody dared to approach her reign. But Ulysses, charmed by the beauty of the landscape decided to anchor and rest for a few days. The queen immediately fell in love with the greek hero who, fearing her fury, agreed to stay longer.

His plans were to escape as soon as he could but inspired by the breathtaking surroundings he climbed into one of its hills and declared: "Here I will raise the most beautiful city of the Universe and call it Ulisseia, upon my own name." The city was built and just after Ulysses found an opportunity to escape. The serpent queen, desperate with grief tried to follow him. But her immense tail was stuck down the river. And that is how the serpentined Tagus river mouth and the seven hills were formed.

Today it's known by Lisbon, one of the oldest European capitals and a city full of myths and legends in its history. Walk its streets and discover a few of the mysterious stories. Start in one of these places:

Rua da Palma
When in 1147 D. Afonso Henriques (the first Portuguese king) was planning to conquer the city of Lisbon to toe moors, a mysterious knight appeared and offered his help. Fighting side by side, the two men were victorious but the knight succumbed his wounds. He was buried in S. Vicente de Fora Church and it is said that a palm tree grew on his tomb. The leaves had magical properties, performing miraculous cures. Today there is no longer a palm tree there but it is said that Palma Street was named after this special tree.

Martim Moniz Square
This square is named after another hero of D. Afonso Henriques army. Martim Moniz also known to be responsible for the Portuguese victory over the moors back in the 12th century. When sieged the moors half-opened the city doors to evaluate the power of their enemy. Seizing the opportunity, Martim Moniz prevented the door to close again, cocking it with his own body. Thanks to his heroic action, the Portuguese army was able to cross by and defeat the invaders. Unfortunately Moniz didn't survive but the king gave his name to the place where he fell: Martim Moniz Square.

St. Engracia Church
There is a very well known saying amongst locals that says: "it's like st. Engracia construction works". It's said when referring to something that is taking time to come to an end. The origin comes from St Engracia church that has been trying to finish its restoration works since the 17th century. If there is someone to blame, his name is Simão. He was a young man in love with a nun from the convent. Always surrounding the convent, hoping to see her, he was innocently accused of stealing some of the church relics. Condemned to die in the fire, he cursed the church, declaring that the restoration works would never end. Coincidence or not, every time it is coming to an end, something happens destroying what has been done.

S. Vicente de Fora Church
Although St. Anthony gets all the festivities, the real saint patron of Lisbon is St. Vincent. His legend is also related to the conquest of the city by Portugal's first king, D. Afonso Henriques. It is said that after Henriques has recovered Lisbon's he commanded that the remainings of the the brave soldier Vincent buried in the south would come back to his hometown. The body traveled by boat and along the whole journey two crows escorted the vessel. The same crows that are still today part of the city's coat of arms.

Silvia is an awarded writer and a traveller with more than 15 years experience. Although her journeys have been taking her a bit everywhere in the world, Lisbon is her hometown, is the city where she always returns to unveil and write about its never ending wonders.

More from this author:
Why is Lisbon the Best City to Have your Flight Delayed?
Portugal: Big Adventures in a Small Country
Best Places for Freelancers to Work in Lisbon