Alfama, where Lisbon was born

No one can say they know the capital of Portugal without getting lost in Alfama, where Lisbon was born.

from here you go down to the heart of Alfama

During the first millennium BC. the great civilizations of the Mediterranean (Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians) established permanent occupation in Alfama (which was not yet called that) as a support base for their navigations between the Mediterranean and northern Europe and vice versa. The reasons for this choice are the abundance of fresh water sources and the existence of a “safe harbor” (Alis Ubbo in Phoenician, hence the name Lisbon).

Beco do Mexias

The first time that the city of Lisbon had a city structure was with the Roman Empire, in the time of Julius Caesar (1st century BC). From this period you can visit the ruins of the Roman Theater, next to the Cathedral of Lisbon.

escadinhas do Terreiro do Trigo

in the century VIII, long after the departure of the Romans, the Moors (Islamic populations of North Africa) dominated the city but were not happy to live in a Roman city and built a madina (city of North Africa) in the image of the cities of Casablanca, Marrakech or Tanger in Morocco. Although there is a great abundance of remains of the Roman city, the structure of the city as it stands today has the characteristics of a city in North Africa.

typical street of Alfama
typical street of Alfama

During the 2nd Crusade (1147), knights from almost all of Europe, including French, German, Dutch, Italian, English and Scots carried out a siege that resulted in the fall of Lisbon to Christendom. In the Alfama district you can find several pieces of the wall (Cerca Moura) that comes from this period. After 5 months of siege, the surrender was finally negotiated. The former occupants were allowed to leave the city empty-handed as a way of saving their lives (25 October 1147).

Take advantage of the corners to rest – on the right side, detail of the old wall

The population of Alfama is made up of the mixture of descendants of the Crusaders, the Moors, the former slaves, the Jews and many other influences that have caused a homogeneous population in which it is no longer possible to know who descends from whom.

Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios – no need to go to Belém to see the Manueline style

If you want to walk around Alfama, don’t waste time studying a map. You just have to choose if you want to visit Alfama from the top down or from the bottom up. The first option is to go to Largo das Portas do Sol and go down the stairs towards the Tagus, without forgetting to notice the magnificent section of the wall that is on the right side as you descend. To start walking around Alfama on the lower side, go to Largo do Chafariz de Dentro and follow the Beco do Mexias where you have a public washing facility on the right where you can wash clothes by hand. Alternatively, you can go up Rua dos Remédios, with the portal of the Ermida de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios on the left, in Manueline style, just like the great monuments of Belém. In any of these cases, just follow where your eyes or the camera take you.

Alfama street art - trompe l'oeil
Alfama street art – trompe l’oeil

For those who feel uncomfortable walking around a city that they do not dominate, there are always some references, the Church of S. Miguel (with two towers) and the Church of S. Estêvão (with a tower). The area between these two churches is the most picturesque in Alfama. The visitor who decides to get lost in Alfama, in a safe, fun and free activity, will find an opportunity to take a picture in every alley and wherever they turn.

Another way to get to know Alfama (for the brave or for those who are physically fit) is to start next to the Fado Museum and go up towards the Castle, taking care to stop at the Santa Luzia viewpoint, to rest and admire the landscape, and then continue to the Castle.

Trivia:

  • the continuous occupation of Alfama for the last 3000 years makes Lisbon the second oldest capital in Europe, after Athens in Greece
  • in Alfama there were public baths until the 20th century
  • “Chafariz de Dentro” was formerly called the fountain of horses (go there and see why)
  • each door of the Old Wall had a name. One of them, called Door of Alfama (“place of a thousand waters” in Arabic) gave the neighborhood its name.
  • 1000 years ago the tidal waters arrived where the Fado Museum is today
  • in the 1755 earthquake, the Alfama neighborhood was one of the least affected in the city
  • at the top of the stairs of Terreiro do Trigo was one of the four Jewish quarters in the city

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