Exploring Lisbon’s Historic Alfama

spain 3-180009_4_2Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood.  In 711, the Moors took Lisbon and the new rulers added to and set up residence in the hilltop fortifications, previously built and occupied by Romans then Visigoths. From the castle, the Alfama neighborhood spreads like a quilt of red tile roofs down the hillside to the Tejo River. Since the Alfama sits on a strong foundation of bedrock (unlike the Baixa, lower town) it was not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and tsunami.

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My photo tour begins at the riverfront.

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16th century Casa dos Bicos (House of the Pointed Stones)

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The Palacete Chafariz D’El Rei (now a boutique hotel)

The Alfama’s labyrinthine layout of narrow, twisting, cobblestone streets and steep stairways gives it an enchanting medieval medina feel. Every twist and turn brings something delightful into view and you don’t have to be overly concerned with mapping your course, simply enjoy exploring and keep heading up the hill to Castelo de São Jorge.

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Ready? Let’s climb!

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If you don’t feel up for the steep walk or are pressed for time, hop on Tram 28.

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Portuguese tiles are known as azulejos. You may guess the name has something to do with the Portuguese word azul (blue) but it actually comes from the Arabic word az-zulayj (polished stone). The Moors were the first to bring ceramic tiles to the Iberian Peninsula.

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🙂 The smartest choice of vehicle if you are an Alfama resident.

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Or better yet, a motorcycle.

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Portugal’s first king, Afonso I who conquered the Moors and took Lisbon in 1147, built the Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral) on top of the ruins of a mosque. Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Lisbon, was supposedly baptized here in 1195.

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More lovely azulejos

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Largo das Portas do Sol – See the umbrellas on the right? You can order grilled sardines (a local specialty) at this restaurant and take in the view.

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Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in the background.

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Archway to the castle

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Taking a breather and resting his weary feet while we purchase entrance tickets.

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Castelo de São Jorge

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Some days there are reenactors in medieval dress roaming the castle grounds.

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The view from the castle’s ramparts.

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Ponte 25 de Abril (The 25th of April Bridge) – based on the Golden Gate in San Francisco and named for Portugal’s Carnation Revolution.

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Praça do Comércio

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The ruins of Igreja do Carmo (roof collapsed in 1755 earthquake)

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Sit, chat, laugh, and enjoy the view.

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The Feira da Ladra (Thieves Market) sets up every Tuesday and Saturday in Campo de Santa Clara. This flea market is popular with both locals and tourists, however keep your belongings close, it’s known for pickpockets.

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Sorry if I’m offending any Sporting Fans 🙂

The dome is the Panteão Nacional, where famous Portuguese, like Amalia Rodrigues (fado singer), are buried.

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The Alfama is also magical at night, the perfect atmosphere for listening to fado. My favorite place is Mesa de Frades (Friars Table). Once an old chapel its walls are covered in beautiful azulejos – it is an intimate venue 🙂 we had a guitar player sit just arm’s length away. The music begins at 11 but make reservations for an earlier diner and you’ll have a table for the show (otherwise it’s standing room only).

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If you are not familiar with fado, here is a soulful sample.

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