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.


  • 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

Baixa, the city of Pombal

Baixa, the city of Pombal, is the flat area of Lisbon that starts at Squares of Rossio and Figueira to the north and extends south to Square of Commerce where the city opens onto Tagus river.

Rossio, seen from Sapateiros st

Baixa, before the 18th century was a part of the city that had grown poorly, with crooked and narrow streets, poor access and public health problems. The existence of numerous churches and palaces of the nobility hampered any attempts to modernize Baixa.

On November 1, 1755, the city of Lisbon was hit by a major earthquake, followed by a tsunami and a fire that lasted several days. No neighborhood in Lisbon was hit as hard as Baixa. Simultaneously with the tragedy, the historic opportunity also arose to build a modern city in the center of Lisbon.

Baixa – view from Chiado

The new configuration of Baixa was only made possible by the political and administrative genius of the Marquis of Pombal, the man who supervised the reconstruction of Lisbon after the earthquake..

The general plan for Baixa was drawn up in just 5 months. The royal palace of Ribeira was removed from Terreiro do Paço, which was renamed Square of Commerce. Several streets were outlined in the North/South direction, which were named after professions (streets of Ouro, Prata, Sapateiros or Douradores), crossed by other streets in the East/West direction that were named after saints (Nicolau, Sta Maria da Vitória, Santa Justa, Assunção and Conceição). The main street of Baixa became Rua Augusta, which starts at Rossio and ends at Arco Triunfal of Square of Commerce.

Santa Justa st seen from the elevator

The detailed plan was made in 3 years. Many innovative anti-seismic solutions have been adopted. The structural unit became the block. The existing churches were redesigned in order to integrate into the block. The entire political and social environment was so impacted that it can be said that Baixa is the city of Pombal, also known as Baixa Pombalina.

The construction process was very fast given the size of the project. Many elements were standardized so that they could be produced on a large scale (tiles, tiles). The stonework for the windows and doors was also standardized so that it could be cut in the quarries and brought to the construction site only when needed.

Baixa, corner of Augusta st and S.Nicolau st – the mythological Phoenix bird represents the symbolic death and rebirth of Lisbon in the 18th century

The Pombalino block was designed to be scalable or exportable to other locations such as Vila Real de Santo António in the Algarve.

Baixa Pombalina is contemporary with St. Petersburg on the Neva or Washington DC on the Potomac, but unlike these cities that were built from scratch, this is the reconstruction of a pre-existing city.