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Portugal: Alfama

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Alfama | Portugal | Europe

[Visited: July 2008 and several times before]

The oldest district of Lisbon is Alfama. Originally it was been largely formed by the Arabs that were in the Iberian peninsula from the 8th century. Indeed, its name originally derives from Arab Al-hamma, meaning baths. When the city started to grow, it did so towards the west, on the other side of the hill now crowned by the Castelo São Jorge. Since people were afraid of earthquakes, the rich abandoned the Alfama neighbourhood, leaving Alfama to fishermen and other humble people. Alfama actually survived the worst earthquake of Lisbon in 1755. Still now, the streetplan is pleasantly chaotic with a structure much like a kasba in Moorish countries. Alfama has for a long time been run down, but it is currently undergoing a facelift. Good idea: it is a very attractive area with too many buildings either abandoned or in very bad shape. It could well be the most picturesque area of Lisbon.

Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Quiet streets leading to a small square in Alfama district

There are several viewpoints from Alfama that should not be missed. From Miradouro da Graça, you have Lisbon at your feet, Castelo São Jorge on your left and Graça church behind you. This is a very attractive place to spend some time: in the late afternoon, the sun will be shining right into your eyes. Walking down towards the Tago river, you will reach Miradouro Santa Luzia, which gives the best view over the Alfama district itself. From here, you get a confirmation of what you thought while walking up the steep streets and alleys: they all twist and turn, making Alfama look a little chaotic from above.

Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Having a chat in a courtyard in Alfama

Taking a subway to Santa Apolonia station, I walked up a hill through narrow, quiet cobble-stone streets, right into the Alfama district. At times dilapidated houses, at times surprisingly beautiful, with exterior decorations and bright colours, this area breathed authenticity. When I turned one corner, the blindingly white National Pantheon towered high above me, dominating this part of the city. From here, following the twists and turns of the streets, I walked on through completely abandoned streets that could have been in some empty village in the countryside, to small squares, narrow streets with yellow streetcars working their way up the steep hills, narrow cobble-stone alleys where you could almost reach both sides of the street with your arms. I saw an old man closing the door of his colourful house, kids playing in a street without traffic (the luxury!), and often, I did not see anyone. After many detours, going up and down the hills of Alfama, I ended my walking tour at the feet of the Cathedral of Lisbon, basking in the late afternoon sun. A delicious Portuguese dinner was the conclusion of an intensive walk through this irresistible part of Lisbon.

Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Santa Engracia church which doubles as the Pantheon
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Looking out over colourful houses from the Pantheon
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Rua da Graça in Alfama district
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Tile-covered house in Alfama
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): View from Miradouro de Santa Luzia: Alfama with Pantheon and River Tago
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Rare modern architecture in Alfama
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Typical blue-and-white tiles depicting Praça do Comercio in Alfama
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Playing in a street in Alfama: young kids
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Quiet corner of the Alfama neighbourhood near the Pantheon
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Lisbon Cathedral stands proudly in Alfama
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Typical yellow streetcars in the streets of Alfama
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): House in Alfama getting some last sunrays of the day
Picture of Alfama (Portugal): Statue with Portuguese hero in Alfama

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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