Georges Rouzeau - 2011-01-31
Lisbon has won the prize of “best weekend destination” at the European World Travel Awards for the second year running. It’s well deserved! And there’s no doubt that the popular Alfama quarter, an inextricable labyrinth of dead-end alleys and flights of steps, has contributed to this award.
Dear readers, let me start by warning you: there is nothing in particular “to visit”, in the Alfama, or very little – but everything to feel, smell, breathe and dream. The Alfama isn’t so much a place to be described, rather it is a playground for aimless wandering in a poetic, surrealistic way that wouldn’t disappoint André Breton in Nadja. How could you possibly describe or suggest an itinerary in this inextricable labyrinth of alleys, stairways and alleys? This hill which slips towards the Tagus is Lisbon’s oldest district, which was miraculously spared by the earthquake of 1755. The Alfama has retained its original configuration, with its maze of medieval streets, interspersed with alleys and dead ends, and the smell of sardines. However at 5 € for a dish of grilled sardines, who would want to complain!
We can, nevertheless find some glimpses of history: here and there the Romans have left a few remains in the district (the ruins of a theatre in Rua da Saudade and archealogical remains inside the Cathedral.) In the 5th century, the Visigoths built the Castelo Săo Jorge which has one of the finest views over Lisbon. The Arabs gave the district its name of “Alfama” which comes from the term al-Alhaman signifying fountain, and in fact the area is still full of water tanks for collecting rainwater. There are also remnants of the Moorish walls, mullioned windows and reminders of the Jewish quarter: the passage of time is as tangible as the stone eroded by the moss...
Nowadays, the Alfama has more tourists than the people of Lisbon who almost never set foot there. You can walk around the area all night without the slightest risk and all you will encounter will be the starving cats and Fadista laments - the Alfama has the city’s best Fado clubs, such as La Casa de Linhares. When you get thirsty, find a table on the terrace of a tiny taverna. These places are antiquated to perfection and no trendy designer makeover has come to spoil them. You almost expect to see the silhouette of the famous poet Fernando Pessoa emerging from them.
Where to stay
Solar Do Castelo
Rua das Cozinhas, 2, 1100-131 Lisboa
Located at the top of the Alfama, inside the Castelo Sao Jorge, this (largely 18th century) historic building offers a haven of tranquillity which is invaluable in this noisy city. You can take your breakfast on a Moorish patio where you might be visited by the neighbouring castle’s peacocks. There are few rooms, but the quiet is at a premium and the hosts are of rare kindness.
Note: By car, you have no choice but to drive up to the castle area (automatic barriers defend the entrance), cross the first gate, without damaging the bodywork, or crushing a tourist: a real exploit!
Where can you listen to Fado music?
Casa de Linhares
Beco dos Armazéns 2