The Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest quarter

The oldest part of Lisbon, stumbling from the walls of the castle down to the Rio Tejo, Alfama was buttressed against significant damage in the 1755 earthquake by the steep, rocky mass on which it is built.

Although none of its houses dates from before the Christian conquest, many are of Moorish design and the kasbahlike layout is still much as Osbern the Crusader described it, with “steep defiles instead of ordinary streets … and buildings so closely packed together that, except in the merchants’ quarter, hardly a street could be found more than eight foot wide”. In Arab-occupied times Alfama was the grandest part of the city, and continued to be so after the Christian reconquest, but following subsequent earthquakes the new Christian nobility moved out, leaving it to the local fishing community.

Today, although an increasing number of tourist-orientated fado restaurants is in evidence, the quarter retains a largely traditional life of its own: you can eat at local prices in the cafés, the flea market (see below) engulfs the periphery of the area twice a week, and this is very much the place to be during the June “Popular Saints” festivals (above all on June 12), when makeshift cafés and stalls appear on every corner and there’s music and partying until daybreak

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