on May 10, 2010
The Elevador da Santa Justa is probably the most unusual attraction in Lisbon. It is one of the city’s most innovative public transport systems, constructed in 1902 to tackle the problem of connecting the different areas of the hilly city centre. It is a public lift, an elevator, linking the Baixa (the Lower Town) to the Bairro Alto (the Higher District).Located at the western end of the Rua de Santa Justa off the north-south Rua Aurea is a spindly free-standing gothic fantasy in cast iron. The 32m tall lift shaft is topped with a wider pavilion above. It resembles in part the metal latticework of Paris’s Eiffel Tower. You queue on the northern side to access one of the two counterbalanced carriages. Inside these are redolent of classic railway carriages with their burnished dark wood panelling and brass accoutrements and the uniformed lift attendant. This attendant sells and clips tickets, closes and bars the doors, and then pulls the big lever that set the counterweight in movement to shuttle you up the shaft. The technology is distinctly old school! At the top you are let out onto a viewing platform 32m above the streets of the Baixa down below. There are stairs to another level, with a café (though this was closed at the time of our trip). And from here you can walk over to the streets of the Bairro Alto, across an iron bridge. This leads you alongside the shattered shell of the old Convento do Carmo. The whole upper section resembles nothing quite so much as an old seaside pier with its pavilion and flags. The Elevador is operated by Carris, who also have the monopoly on the town buses, trams (the famous yellow eléctricos), and three other elevadores (which are more like funicular railway-mounted trams). As such tickets are valid on each different form of public transport – though not the meTro – and buying bulk carnets can work out cheaper. Otherwise you can buy a ticket on board the Elevador for €2.80. This is valid for one trip up and one trip down, in any order. Though to be honest, one trip is enough to give you the experience. I suppose €2.80 is quite expensive for a journey that lasts less than a minute, but this ingenious and rather-dated piece of the public transport network is justifiably popular with both locals and tourists.
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