Portugal: 5 Lisbon Districts to Learn the Country's Ancient History


With a long and ancient history, Lisbon is a city with many little secrets from very different times. Every old district is a living museum for a specific period: the Christian Conquering in the 12th century; the glory days of of the Discovery ages in the 15th century; or the importance of business and trading during the 18th century. For a glimpse of the city's heritage, here are five Lisbon's districts to help you discover the historical foundations of this city.

Mouraria
Mouraria is the birthplace of Fado, the famous melancholic Portuguese traditional song. Severa, known as the first fado singer, was born here. Long before that, in 1147 when Lisbon was conquered by the Christians, Mouraria was the district where the defeated Moors were allowed to live. Although very little has survived from those times, the curious fact is that presently is still a multiethnic neighbourhood. Nevertheless Mouraria preserves its authenticity creating a colourful and cultural rich mixture of cultures represented by Indian, Chinese, Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants. Martim Moniz Square is a good example of this well integrated diversity.

Graça
Laying in one of Lisbon's seven hills, Graça is like a small village within the city. After the 1755 earthquake a lot of families decided to rebuild their home here. Before that Graça was mostly an olive grove on the hillside. At the top of the neighbourhood stands the impressive city defensive castle - Castelo de S. Jorge - a 14th century monument not to be missed. Graça is also where Senhora do Monte can be found, a garden and a privileged viewpoint of the city.

Alfama
It is considered the second oldest European District (the first is in Cadiz, Spain). Thanks to its solid rock foundations it was one of the few neighbourhoods that was not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. The narrow streets form a peculiar labyrinth inviting every visitor to get lost. In fact, it's the only way to discover the secret alleys and little squares. Its name still reflects the Moorish presence. Alfama is an arabic word meaning hot fountains or baths. Here yo can also find Lisbon's Cathedral, a monumental church build between the 12th and the 14th centuries.

Belém
Born on the city's waterfront during the Discovery times (between the 15th and the 17th centuries) Belém is where the most imposing monuments were built to reflect the richness of those times. Jeronimos Monastery and Belém Tower, both World Heritage Sites are two good examples of that glorious period of the Portuguese History. Belém is also the place where you can find the place where the original custard tart or Pastel de Belém is baked.

Madragoa
The first settlers in the area, long before the 1755 earthquake were the Africans arriving from the colonies. Because of that, the district was called Mocambo by then. It was only in the 18th century that Madragoa got its current name, thanks to the establishment of a convent called "Madres de Goa". During that period the neighbourhood was mostly inhabited by fisherman and vegetable traders due to its privileged location near the river. Mercado da Ribeira - the biggest Lisbon Market recently remodelled - is still a live example of how life was during those times.

Silvia is a writer and a traveller born and raised in Lisbon. Although her journeys have been taking her a bit everywhere in the world, Lisbon is the city where she always return to unveil and write about its never ending wonders.

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