LISBON'S striking urban design is often compared to that of Paris. It is truly a city of squares and monuments, which was redesigned and rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1755. A visitor could plan a tour going from square to square on Lisbon's beautifully laid-out streets, bordered by mosaic sidewalks. Among the more dramatic of the city's sculptures is the Monument to the Discoveries, situated in the Bel'em section of the city. It juts out over the bank of the Tagus River like the prow of a boat, as a testimony to the country's early supremacy on the seas and its strong seafaring tradition. The wide Tagus flows into the Atlantic Ocean nearby and has long been used as a channel by seagoing vessels. My husband and I visited Lisbon last October, during the week of the anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. Back home, the United States was having a holiday. The coincidence in the timing made history come alive in this gloriously sunny place.
Standing on the prow of the Monument to the Discoveries is Prince Henry the Navigator, holding a small replica of a sailing vessel. Behind him and descending on both sides of the huge monolith are figures of famous Portuguese and Spanish explorers including Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus; famous mapmakers; and astronomers who followed Henry's inspiration not only to explore the world but to chart it. Surrounding the statue on the flat square in back is an inlaid mosaic map depicting the enormous scope of Portugal's discoveries.