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Behind the Magic of Portugal
Posted 11/18/2017 04:00PM

TASIS pioneered the concept of Academic Travel in 1956, and the School's students and teachers have been exploring Europe together ever since. Once each semester, all Middle School and High School students take a break from their traditional classroom setting to enjoy week-long trips related to courses of study, particular interests, or grade levels.

In the following article, Lilian Angelone '19 recaps her group's cultural trip to historic Lisbon, Portugal.

Lilian created this excellent short video to go with her blog post.

By Lilian Angelone '19


After a short two-and-a-half-hour flight from Milan–Malpensa airport, we arrived to the city of Lisbon, Portugal. We dropped off our bags and headed straight to our first outing: a private Capoeira class. Capoeira is a traditional Portuguese dance, founded by Angolans in Brazil in the 16th century, that combines the art of dance, martial arts, and acrobatics to create a beautiful spectacle. Back when slaves were a crucial part of the Brazilian economy (because of the vast sugarcane plantations called engenhos), they used Capoeira as a basic method of survival. Nowadays, Capoeira is still studied, taught, and practiced by many as a portal to keep connected and to spread their history and culture. It was amazing to see the true commitment and love for the "sport" shown by our trainer, who is fully deaf yet still pursued a career that revolved around his passion. This class gave us a platform to step outside our comfort zone and make quite the fools of ourselves.


We spent the beginning of the day walking around the iconic streets and neighborhoods of Baixa-Chiado and took our first ride on the iconic Lisbon tram system. As we walked, we got to see the mosaic trend that is so prevalent in Portuguese architecture and is what makes the streets of Lisbon come alive with brilliant colors. From the walls to the doorframes to the stone under our feet, there was no escaping the art encaptured in every square foot of this historic city.

Next, we climbed up to one of the best viewing points of Lisbon: Sao Jorge Castle, where we had a panoramic view of the entire city. We looked down at the various spots we had visited, and where we had left to explore throughout the rest of the week. The accurate age of the Sao Jorge Castle is well-disputed, although the fortification is nowadays thought to have dated back to 48 BC, when the city was still under Roman control. The hill and fortress has a vast history of different inhabitants, from the indigenous Celtic tribes to Phoenicians to Greeks and later to Moorish people. The legend says that Knight Martim Moniz sacrificed his life by throwing his body in front of the doors of the castle, preventing the Moors from closing it and allowing the Christian soldiers to enter. While walking up the flights and flight of stone steps, I imagined the history that occurred under my feet and thought about who had stepped there before me.

Next we got to take a ride on the city's Telecabine, giving us another panoramic view, but this time over the Tagus River. We then visited one of Lisbon's most popular tourist attractions, the Lisbon Oceanarium. Filled with adorable fluffy otters and tiny penguins, the Oceanarium offered a relaxing break from our day of walking around the city.

Finally, to finish off a long day we put on our chef hats and met with a local Portuguese chef to learn how to cook some traditional Portuguese recipes. On the menu was Caldo Verde Soup, Bacalhau à Brás, and Pão-de-ló de Alfeizerao (creamy sponge cake). It was really interesting learning the techniques used in the making of these dishes, but the best part was that we got to eat it all at the end! It was a bit worrying for people like me, who wouldn't identify themselves as "adventurous" when it comes to food, but I was happily surprised to find a new liking for cod!


After a quick breakfast at the hotel we hopped on a coach bus and made our way to the historical town of Obidos. The name "Óbidos" comes from the Latin term oppidum, meaning "fortified city." The city is a popular tourist destination because of its well-preserved medical architecture even after the 1755 earthquake that caused damage to the village walls and some churches. The town was thriving with stands where locals were selling chestnuts, or "castanhas," and various cheeses. The quaint streets and vast stone walls had the ability to transport any visitor to a time of horse-drawn carriages and duels.

Next stop was the seaside town of Nazaré, known for its spectacular cliffs. According to the Legend of Nazaré, the name of the town comes from a statue of Virgin Mary brought to the town by a Monk in the 4th century from Nazareth, the "Holy Land." The city is a popular tourist attraction for surfers because of the large, high-breaking waves that crash into the shores of its beaches due to the presence of the underwater Nazare Canyon. In November 2011, famous Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara surfed a record-breaking wave of 78 feet in Nazaré.

We finished off the day with a tour of the Estadio da Luz, the Benfica Lisbon football club's stadium. This stadium is a UEFA category four stadium and one of the biggest stadiums by capacity in Europe, and it held matches in the UEFA Euro 2004, including the final. It was also elected the most beautiful stadium of Europe by the French newspaper L'Équipe in October of 2014.

Later that night, while exploring the streets of downtown Lisbon, we came across a shop selling the traditional Portuguese dessert, Pastel de Nata. These sweet custard tarts can be found on most streets of Lisbon, but not everyone gets to see them made fresh! Yum!


Thursday was packed with Portuguese history as we visited the Belem Tower, the Maritime Museum, and the Lisbon Story Center. Built in 1519, the 30-meter-high Belem Tower was commissioned by King John II to act as a defense system to the mouth of the Tagus River and act as a ceremonial entrance to Lisbon. Built from lioz limestone and composed of a bastion, the tower is a perfect example of the Portuguese Manueline style. The tower was originally built on a small island in the Tagus River near the Lisbon shore but now sits on the shore due to the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, as the river was redirected. The castle holds beautiful detailed statues and relief sculptures within its walls.

Next we visited the Maritime Museum, where we learned how important Portugal's domination over the seas is to its history. There are more than 17,000 items installed in this museum—located in the west wing of Jeronimos Monastery—including model ships and items found from the Age of Discovery. Some of the most popular attractions of the museum are the historical Santa Cruz Seaplane, which was the first seaplane to ever fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1922; the cabin from Queen Amelia's yacht; and lastly the Archangel Raphael's wooden statue that is said to have been carried on Vasco da Gama's ship on his way to India.

Then we were transported back in time to the earthquake of 1755 in the Lisboa Story Center, where we listened and watched a re-telling of the most devastating parts of Portuguese history. The earthquake of 1755 was estimated to have been a level 9 earthquake and, in conjunction with fires and a tsunami, completely destroyed the city of Lisbon. Eighty-five percent of Lisbon's buildings and architecture was destroyed, and approximately 30,000-40,000 people were killed. Since the earthquake struck on an important holiday, All-Saints Day, and destroyed almost all of the churches in the city, it caused a sense of confusion and anxiety in the religious world.


On our last morning in Lisbon, we went to visit one of the landmarks that magically survived the earthquake of 1755, the Aguas Livres Aqueduct. This Aqueduct was built in the early 18th century after the city had been struggling for years from a lack of drinking water. This aqueduct extends nearly 58 km and is a remarkable example of Portuguese engineering. The views from the aqueduct served as a perfect goodbye to our week in this beautiful historic capital, leaving us with a newfound respect and understanding of Portuguese history and even a bit of their native tongue...tchau!

2017 Fall Academic Travel
Outward Bound (all 9th graders)
Baad, Austria
AP/IB English Literature
Dublin, Ireland
8th grade trip
Edinburgh, Scotland
Modern History/Honors World Literature  
Florence, Italy
IB Physics II
Geneva, Switzerland (CERN)
German Language Homestay
Heidelberg, Germany
French Language Homestay
Lausanne, Switzerland
IB Environmental Studies I/Biology II
Limassol, Cyprus
Intro to Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal
6th grade trip
Mantova, Italy
Prague, Czech Republic
Spanish Language Homestay
Seville, Spain
Italian Language Homestay
Sicily, Italy
7th grade trip
Sorrento, Italy
IB Visual Arts/IB Photography
Venice, Italy
AP Art History
Vienna, Austria
IB Chemistry II/IB Biology II
Zurich, Switzerland
2017 Fall Academic Travel: High School photo gallery

2017 Fall Academic Travel: Middle School photo gallery


For more details about the kinds of things students do on Fall Academic Travel trips, check out this recap from last November.

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