Alfama is a highly atmospheric part of Lisbon. The city rises very sharply from the Tagus river. Our first view of Alfama came as we strolled along the riverside and reached the Terreiro de Paço metro station. The Family recognized the towers of the cathedral from the pictures she had seen. The building to the right in front turned out to be the Jose Saramago Foundation. If we had more time in Lisbon we would definitely have gone for some of their events.
We turned into this district, passed the Jose Saramago Foundation, and climbed up a little. There’s a warren of little streets, passages, and stairs leading up. We quickly lost our way, but decided to keep going upwards. I began to notice the abundance of graffiti. Later we came to love Portuguese graffiti; it will be the subject of a future post. Going up eventually brought us to the cathedral.
As we climbed we stopped to admire some beautiful tiles embedded into buildings. We found that Alfama is slowly being renovated. The picturesque crumbling buildings are interspersed with fully renovated buildings like this one. We had begun to notice tiles: azulejos in Portuguese. We would see much more of this soon. It turns out that Alfama is full of restaurants and Fado clubs.
Later we came back to Alfama for the singular experience of listening to Fado. This musical form apparently has two different styles: the Lisbon style is said to begin with sailors, but now it is common for women to sing Fado of Lisbon. We heard a beautiful performance of this style in Alfama (photo here). Later we would encounter the Coimbra style too.
We explored other parts of the city in the evenings, but Alfama with its very distinct identity was always the most predictably interesting. If you don’t know the secret ways of Lisbon just follow us and gravitate towards Alfama.
There wasn’t much time to prepare for the trip to Portugal. I read during my layover in Munich. The historical entry point to Lisbon was the Praça do Comércio. We arrived on a brilliant Sunday afternoon and decided to go off to this square after a quick shower at the hotel. The Metro in Lisbon covers downtown pretty well. We got off at the station called Baixa-Chiado and walked.
Past Praça Luis de Camoes we turned into the steep Rua Alecim, and walked down its length. The interesting building whose photo you can see above is just opposite a cafe. We were a little tired, and thought that some caffeine would do us good. The cafe was such a beautiful hodge-podge of couches, tables, and odd decorations that it could well have featured in a movie (see photo alongside).
We walked out fortified, and found ourselves in Cais do Sodré after a short walk. This was interesting, but not where we wanted to go. So we backtracked, and found ourselves walking along Rua do Arsenal. The evening sunlight made even blank walls look beautiful. The long street eventually brought us to the Praça do Comércio.
There was a violent pillow-fight going on in front of the statue of King José crushing stone snakes. We sneaked past the skirmish and crossed the road to the Tagus river. The crowd here was a mixture of locals and tourists.
After a brief halt at the river-front, and admiring the far-away Bridge of 8 May (named after the day of the revolt against the dictator Salazar), we walked to Terreiro do Paço. A little further on we could see the old cathedral, so we moved in towards the district of Alfama. We passed the Jose Saramago Foundation, and climbed up along a series of very picturesque streets. There was washing hanging from windows every now and then.
We climbed up a steep road and found ourselves right outside the Igreja Santo Antonio de Lisboa. We stopped for a quick look at the church, and then went on to the cathedral a few steps away. A picturesque tram thundered past us. We could walk past the church on a downward sloping road to reach the local Fado bars. We were too tired for this, so we took the other road at the fork. A few steps up and we saw a nice fish restaurant: one could see that it was nice by the number of people inside. We joined them and ended the first of our epic walks across the town.