Sunday 24 July 2011

A walk in Alfama

Washing hanging out to dry against a building facade covered entirely with centuries-old intricate painted tiles. This sight could only be Lisbon.

I went walking this week in Alfama, Lisbon's oldest quarter, and these are some of my favourite images I took away. 

Alfama spreads up one of the city's seven hills from the castle at the top, down to the river Tagus. Though 'sprawls' is a better word for the steep, winding, narrow cobbled lanes and alley-ways, where you will almost certainly get lost.

Looking down ... 

and up ...

This is the original city of Lisbon, settled successively by the Romans, Visigoths, Moors (who gave it its Arabic name, from al-hamma, meaning fountains or baths), Christian crusaders, and was a refuge for Jews in the 1500s. Traces of all these occupants are here.

There is a strong sense of community here (though I took few photos of people, who must be thoroughly sick of being photographed by curious tourists), as many inhabitants have lived here all their lives. Traditionally a neighbourhood of some of the city's poorest inhabitants, their livelihood has been protected by rent-control, though this has also meant that repair of the oldest homes is neglected.

A set of bells (do they still work?) connects to successive floors of this apartment ...

and a pigeon nests in a hole in the rooftop ...

Pots of sweet basil on a window ledge are a reminder that the feast day of St Anthony, patron saint of Lisbon has recently passed. Giving and displaying basil is one of the traditions attached to this festa in mid-June.

Tiles are everywhere, telling their own stories - the word for them also given by the Moors (azulejos from Arabic azzelij, meaning small polished stone) ...

It's easy to understand why fado, Portugal's sad, soulful music, has its origins in all the lives that have been lived out in this quarter.

Towards midday, tables were being set at tiny restaurants, cloths laid out and menus displayed ...

Though finally, not all was millennia old here - I loved this sexy leg someone had attached outside a window (sending what message?) ...

and the bright plastic flowers decorating a tiny balcony with a view to the river ...


  1. Oh Karen, I am so fortunate to be first to send you compliments on this beautiful post.

    Yes, many of us know how blue and white might be associated with Portuguese tradition, but you have shown us so much more.

    You've got me wondering how I am going to add Portugal to the list of places I would really like to visit. Have you been there at other times of the year? research begins. xo

  2. Wonderful post . It has been a long time since I've stopped to say : Bonjour / I love your photos , the colors are gorgeous . After all your portuguese post, now I want to go to Portugal for sure

  3. Lisbon rent control damaged the city.


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