I had vaguely remembered seeing something on the BBC ‘Talk Portuguese’ series about the Santa Justa elevator but it wasn’t until our last day that I realised this was one thing I really should go and see in Lisbon. It was late in the day and I still wanted to grab a chance to see the Carmo Monastery ruins that lie up in Bairro Alto so a trip up the elevator made sense as this connects the the Baixa (downtown) to Bairro Alto (uptown).
The elevator (elevador) is situated on Rua de Santa Justa. If you are on Rossio Square, head downhill, cross over Rua da Betesga and carry on to the next main street running crossways. This is Rua de Santa Justa.
The Elevator is open everyday from 7 – 9pm. I had already purchased a travel card that covered me for trams and buses and the elevator was included. If you haven’t got a card there’s a ticket machine round the back of the elevator. The current price in 2012 is €5.
Built by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard (who was student of Eiffel), the 45 metres high elevador was opened in 1902. Its design is rather gothic with heavy ironwork and wooden carriage cars. Apparently it used to be steam driven but these days it’s electricity that powers the elevator. The designer, by the way, was born in Oporto but had French heritage.
There was quite a large queue when I arrived but I waited and finally after about 20 minutes I was allowed entry to one the cars that carry you to the top. Each car carries 25 people. It seemed on the day I went, only one car was open which may have been why there was such a wait.
The car itself was beautiful with the wood polished to a bright gleam. It really was like stepping back in time. It compares with the old trams in Lisbon that also have wooden interiors. I grabbed myself a place by the window. I advise trying to do this as politely as possible! If you are stuck in the centre of the car it’s quite hard to see out.
The lift only takes about a minute to reach the top whereupon we tumbled out onto the walkway to get out first glace of the view which was magnificent. A spiral ironwork staircase took me to the very top where there was a packed cafe and musicians singing. It was a hot day and the breeze at the top was refreshing. I lingered for ages staring out over Lisbon. I could see the castle and Rossio square and far out over to the Tagus river. It was, quite simply, stunning.
I came back down the stairs and went across the walkway which runs beside the Carmo monestary ruins. This brings you to a pretty little square with cafes and shops and the main entrance to the monastery. Unfortunately by the time I got there, it was shut! A quick walk downhill took me right back to Baixa and I realised it would have been very easy just to walk up. However, whilst the elevator is only a minutes journey it is well worth the ride for the views and of course stepping into a piece of Lisbon’s history.