Praça do Comércio Square
Still known as Terreiro do Paço (the old Royal Palace was here 400 years until the big earthquake of 1755) this is the largest of Lisbon squares. Like a great amphitheater facing the river this is a vast space (112000 sq meters) lined on three sides by yellow buildings of uniform type, with high stone arches housing several public offices (ministries, etc), and a fourth side, which is the river Tejo itself, with a marble staircase with 2 columns, the Cais das Colunas (column quays’), where the caravels and trading vessels once docked.
In the center of the square stands the 14 meters bronze equestrian statue of King José I. This was the king that ruled the country when we were devastated by the big earthquake in 1755, and although the mentor of the rebuilding of the Baixa (downtown area) was its prime minister Sebastião José, known as Marquis de Pombal, the rebuilding of the town is depicted in the magnificent pedestal of this statue. This is a place full of story for Lisbonners, which celebrates many important events. Many kings were born here (on the palace) and the penultimate was assassinated -king Carlos in 1908. Prior to air traffic this was the place of arrival for the important guests (kings, queens, etc.) as they come from the sea.
On the right corner, close to the arch, is the famous Café Martinho da Arcada (see link), which has making Portuguese typical dishes and excellent pastries since 1782 (oldest restaurant in Lisbon), and where the poet Fernando Pessoa, one of the biggest Portuguese writers of all time, enjoyed the afternoons taking some aguardente (spirit, literally fire water).
Contrary to some well known plazas in other European towns, Praça do Comércio is not yet totally exploit as a recreation area in a daily basis, eg. with restaurants and esplanades, and is still a major traffic point in Lisbon. Hopefully this will change in the future since from 2008 they close traffic on Sundays and there are many activities promoted by the city hall entities (a program called “Sundays the Terreiro do Paço is for people”. Moreover, there are many benches around the plaza to relax and after 2010 the Cais das Colunas will be reopen as a promenade place -Passeio Ribeirinho (riverside walk).
This is also the place to be if you come to spend the New Years Eve in Lisbon and you enjoy a popular night. There are always rock/pop concerts and big fireworks around midnight. Bring your own bottle and join Lisbonners in this town event.
This area is served by several city bus lines, metro line, and of course by boats coming from the other side of the river. Also nearby we have 2 major train stations: to the west Cais do Sodré (suburban line to Cascais) and to the east Santa Apolónia (departure point to the north of the country and linking to Gare do Oriente).
From this square it is also possible to take some of the many tourist routes promoted by Carris either by tram or bus. Another nice option is to take the cruise along the Tejo (from April until October). There is also a tourist office, a wine taste point, and some exhibition halls.
For more information about the square please see here
NOTE: This square will be under reconstruction in 2009 as the water supply and the sewage systems are under renovation (according to the responsible companies “until June 2009” but you know about this type of announcements).