Lisbon is without a doubt one of Europe's most stunning old cities and an absolute must-see in any tour of the Iberian Peninsula. Lisbon has been fortunate to escape the ravishes of war for hundreds of years - unlike so many other European cities that were destroyed and firebombed in World War Two.

Today, Alfama is the magnificent city of Lisbon's oldest neighborhood and it has a charm like no other. Alfama was lucky before too. In 1755 the Lisbon earthquake damaged much of the city, but Alfama escaped without too much damage.


About Alfama

Alfama is situated on a slope between the Sao Jorge Castle and the Tagus River. Its name is of Arabic extraction from "Al-hamma" referring to public baths. During the times of the Moorish rule of Spain and Portugal Alfama was the whole of the city and was populated by poor people and fishermen.

Today this neighborhood is brimming with important historical attractions as well as excellent bars and restaurants. Today it is a labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares as it was never destroyed and rebuilt by earthquakes, fires, or wars unlike most other cities in Europe.

Landmarks Of Alfama

Lisbon Cathedral

The Lisbon Cathedral (full name Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa or Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary Major) is the oldest church in the city. Fortunately, it would seem to have been well constructed as it has survived many earthquakes in its time. Throughout its history, it has been renovated, restored, modified. Since 1910 it has been a National Monument of Portugal. It is now a mix of different architectural styles.

  • Date Built: 1147

The Convent Of The Grace

Spelled in Portuguese as Convento da Graça, the Convent of the Grace is one of the oldest converts in Lisbon. Once it was the headquarters for the Order of Saint Augustine in Portugal.  It was founded 750 years ago in 1271 with the sponsorship of Afonso III of Portugal. Some of the most important people in the history of Portugal are buried here including;  Afonso de Albuquerque, Francisco de Saldanha da Gama, and Fernando de Sousa e Silva. The convent had to be rebuilt and restored after the devasting 1755 earthquake that rocked Lisbon. Today it is classified as a National Monument and is another of the many many very old buildings in Alfama.

  • Old: 750 Year Old Portuguese Convent

Related: What It's Like To Spend A Day Exploring Portugal's Algarve

Monastery of Sao Vicente De Flora

Translating to "Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls" this monastery saw construction from 1147 to 1629. It is one of the most stunning and important monasteries and mannerist buildings in Portugal. The original Monastery was founded by the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques around the year 1147. It was dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa and hosted his relics.

  • First Built: 1147

Not much survives of these early buildings and the buildings there today were built after 1582. These buildings were ordered built by King Philip II of Spain who (after a succession crisis) became King Philip I of Portugal.

Church of Santa Engracia (Now National Pantheon)

The Church of Santa Engracia is now a National Pantheon. It is remarkable how long it took to build. It was built starting in 1682 but wasn't completed until the 20th century and it was finally reinaugurated in 1966. This church reminds one of the impossibly long build time of the stunning Sagrada Familia in Baraconla over on the other side of the peninsula. Accordingly, it has become a Portuguese synonym for a seemingly endless construction project.

  • Trivia: The Church of Santa Engracia Has Become A Byword In Portuguese

Related: The Best Resorts In Portugal For Sun, Sand, And The Best Of The Beach

Castle of Sao Jorge (Nearby Over Looking The District)

Just next to Alfama is the medieval Castle of Sao Jorge. This castle is large and imposing and looks like it is straight out of a movie. The first fortifications on this site date from the 1st century BC and its hill have played an important part in the history of Lisbon. The hill on which the castle is built has hosted successive fortifications by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, the Moors, before finally by the Portuguese. Since the 12th century, it has been very important to the Kingdom of Portugal and has served as the royal palace. Later it was a military barracks, and then the home of the Torre do Tombo National Archive. Today it is a museum and national monument of Portgual.

  • Importance: Was Once The Royal Residence

Alfama: More Than Landmarks

These are just the larger structures and monuments in the Alfama area. It is also packed with stunning narrow streets and alleyways and some of the country's best old architecture. It is home to many quaint and welcoming cafes and restaurants that call tourists to stop for a bite or coffee, relax and just feel the ambiance of this picturesque neighborhood of Portugal.

Next: 20 Beautiful Places In Portugal That Completely Surprised Us