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.
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.
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.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Alfama (Portugal). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Alfama.
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