ALFAMA DOESN’T SMELL LIKE FADO
IT SMELLS LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE SOLITUDE
A SAD SILENCE
IT TASTES OF SADNESS WITH BREAD
ALFAMA DOESN’T SMELL LIKE FADO
BUT THERE’S NO OTHER SONG”.
jOSÉ CARLOS ARY DOS SANTOS
Old, typical, genuine, charming and charismatic! The Alfama neighborhood is all this and much more!
Lisbon is a small city but integrates a multiplicity of neighborhoods and socio-economic realities. The Lisbon of Avenidas Novas is very different from the Lisbon of Alfama. I confess that my heart leans more towards the typical neighborhoods of the old city. Alfama is the most illustrious of its representatives!
In Alfama we can feel the heart of this old city beating at a different rhythm. There we still find the typical Lisbon resident. The taxi driver with his shirt open and the gold thread wrapped around his chest hair. Mrs. Maria hanging out the laundry exchanging complaints with her next door neighbor. Kids in the street playing ball (the fat one in the goal and only playing because he owns the ball!). There are things that in Alfama have changed little with the passage of time.
But there we also find a mass of tourists wandering through its streets and alleys. In Alfama there is room for everyone and for you too. Come with us!
WHERE AND HOW TO GO TO ALFAMA?
The Alfama neighborhood is right in the heart of Lisbon, next to the São Jorge castle. To get there there are many alternatives. None of them include your car! The narrow and steep streets of the neighborhood are compatible with walks… on foot! Metro, bus and streetcar are good options to get to the Alfama neighborhood!
Between 711 and 1147 (during the Moorish domination), there were “two Alfamas”. The Alfama from above, more aristocratic. And the Alfama of the sea, where the people lived. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the wealthier population of Alfama moved to wealthier and more desirable areas of Lisbon. The neighborhood was thus left to a poorer population, mostly formed by sailors and fishermen.
Despite being made up of very humble and old houses, the dwellings stoically withstood the great earthquake of 1755. But of course the Moorish (Arab) houses are practically non-existent today.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Alfama was neglected by the power of the day. It was there that criminality found room to thrive during those years. During the 80’s Alfama was a bad neighborhood where nobody wanted to live. It was during the 90’s that a long process of recuperation of this and other typical neighborhoods of Lisbon began.
Despite all the trials and tribulations, the original spirit of the Muslim quarter is still there. If you go there, notice how the narrow streets facilitate communication between neighbors, how people chat in small cafes, taverns, and neighborhood grocery stores. Alfama resisted and resists! Alfama is alive and recommended!
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN ALFAMA?
Start by walking aimlessly through the streets of Alfama. Notice its narrow streets and alleys. In the architecture of the houses of the neighborhood. In the small details that are so Portuguese: the clothes laid out on the ropes, the parakeet’s cage at the window, and the residents chatting at the door. Go into a local café or tavern. Order a coffee and drink a water. Observe the people.
After you feel the atmosphere of Alfama, visit what interests you most. Here is a long list of attractions for you to choose with criteria and ease. We hope it will be useful!
VIEWPOINTS IN ALFAMA
There are four viewpoints in Alfama that deserve a close visit! They are perfect places for a relaxing evening in good company! Pure pleasure in this mythical neighborhood of Lisbon!
PORTAS DO SOL VIEWPOINT
A spectacular location situated on the south face of the Castle hill. From this point we have a fantastic perspective over the mythical Alfama neighborhood. As we enter the Portas do Sol viewpoint, we are (well) welcomed by the statue of São Vicente (a work of the sculptor Raúl Xavier).
When we look to the left, we can see the Panteão Nacional and the São Vicente church. If we go down towards our river Tejo, we find the Fado Museum and the Santo Estevão church. On a clear day we can clearly see not only the south bank but also the Arrábida mountain range. One of the most spectacular viewpoints in Lisbon!
SANTA LUZIA VIEWPOINT (ALFAMA)
The magnificent view that this viewpoint provides is just one of the attractions of the place. At the Santa Luzia viewpoint you will also find beautiful tile panels, a water plane and a very pleasant garden. From this point in the city, you can admire the domes and towers of the nearby churches (Santa Engrácia, Santo Estevão, and São Miguel). Enjoy your visit and have a coffee on the terrace. There you will find panels allusive to the old Praça do Comércio and the conquest of São Jorge Castle. All this against the backdrop of a unique view of the Tagus River!
SANTO ESTEVÃO VIEWPOINT (ALFAMA)
It is in the Santo Estevão square that you will find this almost unknown treasure! There you will find the Santo Estevão church (12th century) and next to this temple you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. It is probably the quietest and least frequented viewpoint in the area. But not less spectacular than the others. On sunny days, it is even more beautiful!
SENHORA DO MONTE VIEWPOINT
It is very close to the Miradouro da Graça. Like the viewpoint mentioned above, it is not very frequented. The place has a stage shape, which provides a privileged view over the city. To the left we have the Graça church and the Lisbon castle. In the background, the Tagus imposes itself beautiful and magnanimous! A delight to the eye!
OTHER ATTRACTIONS IN (or near) ALFAMA
It was in September 1998 that the Fado Museum opened its doors. It is the place that best honors all those who dedicated their lives to the Portuguese guitar and Fado. But the Fado Museum is also a true “Fado school”. There we learn everything that is related to fado. We can find
- A documentation center
- An auditorium
- An exhibition circuit (permanent and temporary)
- A museum school
Are you an admirer of the aesthetics and sound of the Portuguese guitar? Then you will like to know that the Fado Museum has in exhibition some of the most beautiful Portuguese guitars ever. At the end of your visit to the Fado Museum you will know:
- How fado became famous all over the world
- The connection of fado with theater, radio, cinema and television.
- The way Fado is still lived today in its purest environment, the Fado houses in Alfama.
MÁRIO CESARINY FREEDOM HOUSE
Mário Cesariny (1923-2006) House of Freedom opened its doors in 2013. Mário Cesariny was a major figure of the surrealist movement in Portugal. It is in Alfama that we find this space, which houses the estate donated by the artist. We’re talking about a modern, multi-purpose space that is well worth a visit.
It opened its doors on April 25, 2015. A space that all Portuguese (and not only) should visit. The Aljube Museum is dedicated to all those who fought against Salazar’s Estado Novo. It is located inside the former Aljube prison, a bloodthirsty prison where torture was a daily practice. The Aljube prison operated from 1928 to 1965. The museum has a long-term exhibition describing the regime of the New State (1926-1974). This work shows the means used by Salazar’s repressive regime: the PIDE, censorship and the political courts.
AMALIA RODRIGUES’ MURAL
Amália Rodrigues was and is the great name of fado in Portugal and in the world. Her image is engraved on the Portuguese sidewalk in the Alfama neighborhood. A spectacular work of art by the artist Vhils in conjunction with the school of cobblers of Lisbon. The mural is located between Calçada do Menino de Deus and Rua de São Tomé. Not to be missed!
The flea market is very old (it started in the XIII century) and has been held in many different places in the city of Lisbon (among other places, the castle and the Praça da Alegria).
Nowadays it takes place in the Santa Clara field (near the National Pantheon) and is the most famous fair in Lisbon and in the country. We are talking about a street market where you can find new things (essentially handicraft) and used things (the vast majority). A perfect place for those who like to buy books and vinyl records, 2nd hand furniture and clothes and many other things. Those who stroll through the flea market will find such bizarre things for sale as wigs or refrigerator doors. A spectacle not to be missed!
Even if you don’t have a particular interest in fairs, the Santa Clara field is a very pleasant place to walk, relax and read a book on a terrace.
NATIONAL PANTHEON (Church of Santa Engrácia)
Lisbon’s National Pantheon does not go unnoticed by anyone! It is one of Lisbon’s most emblematic monuments and stands imposingly in the historic area of Santa Clara (near the Alfama neighborhood). The history of the Pantheon is as old as it is interesting. All Portuguese know the famous expression “Santa Engrácia’s works”. This expression designates a work that drags on in time with no end in sight. Well, the expression is related to the construction of this monument.
It was in 1620 that the construction of the church of Santa Engrácia began. A project that took some time to be completed… In fact, it was only in the 1960s (1966 to be precise) that the church of Santa Engrácia (already known as the National Pantheon) opened its doors. Impressive, no?
In the National Pantheon some of the most famous Portuguese people in our history have found eternal rest. To name but a few, these are the cases of Manuel de Arriaga, Teófilo Braga, Sidónio Pais and Óscar Carmona (presidents of the republic). Of the writers Almeida Garret, Aquilino Ribeiro, Guerra Junqueiro, and João de Deus.
SÃO JORGE CASTLE
A must-see monument for anyone visiting Lisbon and for those visiting Alfama in particular. It stands high atop the highest hill in the city.
The original fortification dates back to the 6th century B.C. Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Muslims passed through there. The transition from fortification to castle occurred in the 10th and 11th century. In 1147, the first king of Portugal conquered the castle from the Moors. During the 20th century, the castle underwent a profound renovation giving it the appearance we can see today. The view from the castle walls is spectacular! Not to be missed!
HOTELS IN ALFAMA
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