Alfama, Sé and Graça

With its narrow passages and vantage points, Alfama is one of the oldest and most typical quarters of Lisbon that blends Roman and Moorish architecture. Its name Alfama has its roots in the Arabic Al-Hama, meaning springs or fountains. Like its name suggests, this neighborhood has distinctively Arabic influence, and it is incomparably different from Chiado’s European grid. Built on a rock-hill, this medieval quarter is the only neighborhood that survived the Great Earthquake of 1755. Once an upper-class Moorish residential, today is a working-class quarter packed with small grocery shops and restaurants. The best time to visit is during Festas dos Santos Populares in June.

To reach Alfama, the best is to follow No. 12 and 28 tram lines near Praça do Comércio. A less tiring alternative way could be to take the tram in Praça do Comércio or in Chiado.

Through climbing up Rua Madalena, on the right is the Largo Madalena where Igreja da Madalena can be visited. Following Rua Santo António da Sé through tram lines allows one to see significant attractions of Alfama. One of those is Igreja de Santo António da Sé, built in 1812 and dedicated to saint. Further is Sé Catedral. This cathedral was built in 12th century on the ruins of a Muslim mosque and is designed in a late-Romanesque architectural style with a gothic chapel.

If you pursue any of the narrow streets that run downhill from the right of the Sé, you will find Campo das Cebolas (Field of Onions), full of souvenir shops where the main attraction is bizarre Casa dos Bico, a 16th century house built by a rich merchant, Afonso Albuquerque. Today it hosts the Cultural Department of the City Council and is not currently open for visitors.

Nearby Sé Catedral is the Museu do Teatro Romano. Built during the Emperor Augustus’ time, the museum exhibits the city’s ruined Roman theater.

Continuing the way further up to Castle, just before Largo das Portas do Sol (Sun Gate Square), one of the best vantage points, with a well-situated café Miradouro de Santa Luzia can be seen. This little garden promises a spectacular panoramic view over Lisbon and is a must to visit.

Near the top of Alfama is Castelo de São Jorge (check for hotels near St. George's Castle). Built by the Visigoths in the 5th century and enlarged by the Moors in the 9th century, the Castle demonstrates the early history of the city, while offering to its visitors an excellent panoramic view of Lisbon and Tagus River.

Northeast of the castle, on the hill above São Vincente is Graça. This is a small town center around the Largo da Graça, where the No.28 tram stops. To the west is the Esplanada da Igreja da Graça (Miradouro de Santa Graça) with an open-air café. This café has one of the most spectacular views over the city-especially at sunset. Don’t miss it!

Built in 1271, the Igreja da Graça is one of Lisbon’s oldest churches and is now used as military barracks. About 600m beyond is Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, one of the best spots in the area for lovers to view the city at sunset.

Two cultural sites lie just nearby. One of them is Igreja de Santa Engrácia. When the construction began in 1682, it was planned as one of the Lisbon’s grandest, however it had been long neglected and the construction was completed only in 1966! Panteão Nacional is also inaugurated in the same year, which contains historic ad literary figures, from Vasco da Gama to Amália Rodrigues, the famous fado singer.

Nearby is Igreja de São Vicente de Fora. Portugal’s first king, Afonso Heniques laid the foundations of this church in order to fulfill a vow to construct Christian Houses of worship where Portuguese and European crusaders lay buried. Inaugurated in 1629, the church had been severely damaged by 1755 earthquake. Outside, the view from the roof is one of the greatest in Lisbon.

Between the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora and Panteão Nacional is the Feira da Ladra. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, this flea market is held from down until early afternoon.

Alfama rewards its visitors with occasional views over the city. Don’t miss all these spectacular views over the city. Be aware, Alfama is also full of pickpocketers. Don’t flash out your camera everywhere.

Other attractions around Alfama can be listed as Museu das Artes Decorativas, Museu Nacional do Azulejo and Convento da Madre de Deus.