Ulysses- The Founder of Lisbon

Azulejo 10Whilst modern methods often unravel true history, the magnetic attraction of mythology is rarely undone. We find this in the story of the birth of Lisbon. Despite the almost indisputable fact that it was the Phoenetians who were the first people of Lisbon, the legend of Ulysses refuses to die.

Ulysses was the Latin name for Odysseus. Odysseus was the great hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Born of the King of Ithaca, Odysseus was once a suitor to the most beautiful woman in the world (Helen of Troy). Though he was not chosen by her to be her husband, he made a show of loyalty to her and made all her suitors promise to protect her. However when she was captured by Troy, Odysseus did not want to go to battle and pretended instead that he was mad! Soon however, he made good on his original promise and became the man behind the idea of the Trojan Horse. He was a great warrior of the mind, skilled in strategy – cool, calm and collected. His loyalties were governed by intellect and therefore they could change according to the politics of the situation. For this reason Odysseus was also known for his lies but the lies stemmed from a belief that he was serving a greater good and that was always to protect his homeland.

He married the lovely Penelope who stayed faithful to him even during the 10 long years it took for him to return from Troy. It was during this tempestuous journey that Odysseus founded Lisbon. He had battled sea monsters, giants and all manner of strange things but one day a bolt of lightning appeared and exploded into flame in an unknown land. It is said that when Odysseus reached the source, he was instructed to build a city on the point of impact and this was the beginnings of Lisbon. He followed what was likely to be the instruction of Zeus (for he was the great God of Thunder and Lightning) and named his city Ulisaypo or Olissopo.

Olissopo became Alisubbo (meaning ‘friendly bay’) to the Phoenicians. Later this changed with the coming of the Moors to Al Aschbuna. This then merged to become Lissabona which is the forerunner to what we know today as Lisboa.

Today Odysseus is still remembered within Lisbon as he has a tower named after his Latin counterpart in the Castelo de São Jorge. It is perhaps very fitting that the Tower of Ulysses  houses the Cámara Escura (Camera Obscura).

Invented by Leonardo Da Vinci, this optical system projects a 360 degree view of the city. It is as though Ulysses is everywhere the eye can see. He was brave, loyal, cunning, wise and tenacious – qualities that are found in abundance when we look to the history of Lisbon. Remember, as you look out from the battlements of the Castelo, it rose from the ruins of the great earthquake to be the beautiful place we know today.


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