Alfama, a neighborhood of Lisbon
With travel to Portugal on the rise, its capital city, Lisbon, is fast becoming a not-so-hidden jewel. Overlooking the broad Tagus River estuary, and with one of Europe's finest harbors just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon has been an entrepot (center) of commerce and cultures since Phoenician times. The city and its inhabitants have always welcomed the foreign and the exotic—without losing their own unique identity.
Lisbon has its share of historic monuments, but its neighborhoods are the true testimonies to its glorious past, its decline, and its renaissance in modern times.
The Alfama quarter was the center of medieval Lisbon’s Muslim life. It retains its medina-like atmosphere in the narrow streets and intimate cafes and restaurants. St. George's Castle crowns the Alfama hill with its dazzling views of the city and the river. Nearby, the National Tile Museum in the former Madre de Deus convent traces the development of an art form so central to Lisbon's architecture.
Farther down the river, in the Belem quarter, Belem Tower, built in 1515, and the nearby Hieronymite Monastery and cloister are Lisbon's best examples of the late Gothic Manueline style, featuring ornamentation inspired by the era’s fauna, flora, and navigational motifs.
Elegant simplicity describes the central downtown, or Baixa, rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1755. The Baixa’s Avenida da Libertad has tree-lined promenades and upscale boutiques, and charming outdoor cafes dot the intimate Rua Augusta. The village-like atmosphere of Chiado—a haven for painters, politicians, and poets—is often enlivened by salsa-samba bands from the Cape Verde Islands. It is Lisbon's most popular shopping area.
Bringing history full circle, the theme of Lisbon’s Expo '98 was "The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future." On the riverside in Lisbon's east end, the site is a tribute to modern Portuguese architecture and a remarkable example of urban reclamation.
Dianne Konz, a Smithsonian Journey’s study tour leader and frequent traveler to Lisbon, guides this armchair tour of Lisbon.
Travel with Dianne on an upcoming Smithsonian Journeys program – Northern Spain and Portugal.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)