Alfama travel

Alfama travel

Anyone with an interest in the history, culture and architecture of Lisbon will want to visit the Alfama Historical District, even if they are only visiting Lisbon for a few days. This veritable maze of historic buildings, religious sites, museums and art galleries makes the Alfama District the most vibrant of all districts in the City of Lisbon. It has also become one of the main tourist attractions in Portugal.

Lisbon city tour

by Maria Eklind

The Alfama District is a place where visitors can get a glimpse of Portuguese life in times past. It is the oldest district in Lisbon, and contains a mass of important historical sites. Indeed, the entire district is considered to be a historic site in its own right. A small local neighbourhood typified by rambling narrow streets, classic Portuguese architecture and a warren of alleyways. Much of the Alfama Historical District survived the 1755 earthquake fairly intact, meaning it has changed little in over 300 years.

Alongside the historic architecture and numerous old churches and cathedrals is some of the trendiest social life in Portugal. Designer boutiques, wine bars and restaurants make use of old Portuguese houses to turn the Alfama District into a veritable nightlife extravaganza once the sun goes down.

When it comes to listing the actual historic attractions to be found within the district, the list is impressive. Including the incredibly well persevered St George’s Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge), the majestic Lisbon Cathedral (Se Cathedral da Lisbon) and the sombre Santa Engracia Church. These are just the major historical attractions of the district; there are dozens of minor ones as well.

Highlights of the Alfama District

There are dozens of major historical sites which could be deemed as being highlights of the Alfama District. However, two really stand out from an historic point of view.

Sedes Episcopalis, which is usually shortened to Se of Lisbon, is an impressive cathedral which dates back to 1150, making one of the oldest remaining cathedrals in Portugal. The cathedral was built at the order of Gilbert of Hastings, and English crusader and the very first Bishop of Lisbon. The cathedral has survived three major earthquakes, and because of this is possibly the best remaining example of an 11th century cathedral in Europe.

Santa Engracia was constructed in the 17th century, quite late compared to many of the buildings to be found in the Alfama District. However, this impressive church is significant due to the huge dome, which makes up a permanent feature of the Lisbon skyline. Famous in Lisbon speech as a slang term for long construction jobs, as it took over 300 years to complete! When a Lisbon resident is complaining about a construction job taking too long, they will often call it a ‘Santa Engracia’ job

The Alfama District for Families
Although there is much to interest older children in Alfama, younger children may find the walking and the travelling to be tiring. A special note on the Tram 28 tourist tram. This tram can become hot and stuffy in summer months, with no air conditioning; it is not suitable for young children during this time.

Getting to the Alfama District
Tram 28 is the most well-known way of exploring the Alfama District, as it takes in most of the historic sites on its route.

There are plenty of local busses serving the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique route and the closes rail station is at Santa Apolonia.

Date posted: 2nd November, 2018

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