If I was asked “where in old Lisbon would you like to live” I would try to find a place in one of these neighborhoods: Alfama, Graça or Mouraria.
Nothing of it (infrastructure wise) is appealing: the streets are narrow and steep, you have more (overpriced) local grocery stores than big chain supermarkets, not enough parking, the houses are old and tiny and need too much maintenance, there’s no such thing as a sense of privacy.
I would still move. I like the sound of the city’s heartbeat here. It’s different and vibrant. People will treat you like a neighbor regardless of the fact you have lived here all your life or for just two weeks. I bet they will even help you move the furniture up to your third-floor-one-bedroom-one-bathroom apartment in a building with no elevator.
The three are close — you will go from one to the other easily before realizing you are already visiting a new neighborhood. The three are rivals — when the time comes on June 13th to dispute the best “Marcha” the locals will show their claws and defend their ground; don’t worry it’s all peaceful battling. The three share common traits — the Arabic influence on architecture, the clothes hanging out to dry, the façades covered in tiles, some abandoned buildings here and there.
Alfama – From the Arabic “Al-Hama” (the fountains)
Some say it’s like a village inside the city where everybody knows everybody. It’s disorganized yet organic: it’s a mix of styles and sizes and houses built in unthinkable places. Nothing in Alfama is an eye sore. Regardless of the lack of planning when it came to housing (then again nobody actually worried about it back in the day) everything is fresh and laid back and welcoming. You’re not meant to understand it. You’re meant to embrace it and let go.
Mouraria – The neighborhood of the Moors
After Lisbon’s conquest by the Christian, the first King of Portugal Afonso Henriques built this neighborhood for the Moors, hence the name Mouraria.
It is known as the birthplace of Fado and today it is still a city inside the city, with a mix of cultures: Muslim, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese. These communities keep to themselves. Most “outsiders” won’t venture beyond the commercial hub of Martim Moniz, closer to downtown. If you happen to wander further into its streets you feel a sense of shelter. People may find odd to see you there, but you’re still welcome. If they don’t engage in many conversations with you, don’t take it personally.
Graça – On the highest hill of the city
Probably the one with the most cosmopolitan vibe of the three, Graça is famous for its lookouts, taking of course advantage of its privileged height. Most people will stop and enjoy the view from Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner (also known as Miradouro da Graça), enjoying Lisbon from above at the cafe. I prefer to walk a bit further up to the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte — less crowded, clear 360 views. A bit more windy, but worth the walk. It seems like the love locks are starting to trend here.
Have you been to any of these famous Lisbon quarters?