Alfama, Lisbon

Alfama, stretching across the hillside from the Castle of São Jorge to the Tejo River, is the oldest district in the city of Lisbon. Alfama means “baths or fountains” and is derived from the Arabic “Al-hamma.” The Alfama district has numerous historical sites of interest as well as many inviting restaurants and Fado bars. Within the boundaries of Alfama are the parishes of São Miguel, Santo Estevão and São Vicente de Fora along with sections of the well-known streets, Rua do Barão and Rua São João da Praça. These two streets are part of Freguesia (parish) da Sé. In 2012, Alfama became part of the parish of Santa Maria Maior.

Alfama was fortunate to survive the severe earthquake of 1755. The district has also managed to maintain its charm and allure despite the strong trend of modernization throughout Lisbon over the last few decades. Today, Alfama is home to many historical buildings of note as well as to popular Fado music.

As the identifying music of Lisbon, Fado is constantly heard from open bar doorways in both the Bairro Alto and Alfama districts. Its haunting, memorable melodies, sung soulfully and sometimes mournfully by local singers are best when accompanied by a Portuguese classical guitarist. Fado was first performed in the historic section of Alfama which was the home of many sailors and their families in its early days. The literal translation of the word Fado is “fate.” However, most people who have experienced this unusual music style describe it as conveying feelings of nostalgia and wishful desire. Fado songs are meant to reveal the sadness felt by sailors and their families when separated by miles of ocean during long months when the sailors are away at sea. Today, the Fado Museum is a very popular site for visitors and tourists.

Some of the most frequently visited sites in the historic, picturesque Alfama district include:

Sé Cathedral - The impressive neo-gothic style Sé Cathedral was the first religious structure to be built after Portugal gained freedom from the Moors of North Africa in the 12th century. Christian Crusaders erected this cathedral on the site where a Mosque formerly stood. The Sé Cathedral was one of the firsts Catholic Church in Portugal and has been a prominent church in the country’s history ever since. It is one of the most frequently visited sites in Lisbon by travelers from around the world.

Igreja de Santo António - This church, with exterior design in the late Baroque period style, is dedicated to Saint Anthony, Portugal’s patron saint. A small underground chapel in the church houses the section of the crypt which marks the location, according to historical reports, where Saint Anthony was born in 1195. This charming church is located on the major roadway between Alfama and Baixa.

Miradouro de Santa Luzia. - This charming view point within Alfama is a colorful scenic spot from which to view the artfully painted cafes, restaurants and other structures of the district. It can be found along the well-traveled road that also passes by the grand Sé Cathedral en route to the Graça district.

There are many more sites of beauty, style, historical significance and intrigue in the Alfama district of Lisbon. Many travelers find themselves compelled to return to this area of Lisbon frequently to visit its many famous sites and to enjoy the charming ambiance and hospitality always abundant there.