The Alfama – Discovering Lisbon’s Timeless Treasures

Our day visiting St Anthony’s Church, the Cathedral of Saint Mary Major, and other historic sites in Lisbon was indeed memorable. The city, known for its rich history and cultural heritage, did not disappoint.

St Anthony’s Church

As I walked through the streets of Lisbon with my family, Melissa, and Samantha, the city’s rich history and cultural heritage left us in awe and wonder. One of the highlights of our visit was the stunning and historic St Anthony’s Church, also known as the Santo António Church.

The church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, referred to as either St Anthony’s Church or the Santo António Church is situated in the central area of Lisbon. The patron saint, born in Lisbon in 1195 and later became a Franciscan friar, had his family home close to Lisbon Cathedral. This small 15th-century chapel built on the site was rebuilt in the early 16th century during King Manuel I’s reign.

As we entered the church, we were struck by the beauty and grandeur of the architecture. The ornate interior and intricate carvings were breathtaking, and the gold leaf decorations on the walls and ceiling added to the overall splendor of the church. We felt a deep respect and wonder as we walked through the sacred space.

The history of the church was also intriguing to discover. The church underwent reconstruction and renovation in 1730. However, it was entirely destroyed by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, with only the main chapel remaining intact. A full rebuild was completed in 1767 in the Baroque-Rococo style, the current version of the church that can be visited today. It holds an annual procession on Saint Anthony’s day on June 13th, and it is one of the “Popular Saint Festivities” celebrated by Lisbon.

We also couldn’t help but reflect on the resilience and determination of the people of Lisbon. The 1755 earthquake that struck the city was one of the largest and most destructive in recorded history, but the people did not let it defeat them. They rebuilt their city, and their beautiful and historical churches, like St Anthony’s Church, serve as a testament to their strength and perseverance.

Lisbon Cathedral (aka Cathedral of Saint Mary Major, the Sé de Lisboa)

As we left St Anthony’s Church, we walked two minutes east of the church. We were at the beautiful and historic Cathedral of Saint Mary Major, also known as Lisbon Cathedral or simply the Sé de Lisboa.

Built in 1147, the Lisbon Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral, the oldest church in the city, and the seat of the Patriarch of Lisbon. It has stood the test of time, surviving many earthquakes and renovations throughout its history. The cathedral is a unique blend of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance. It has been designated as a National Monument since 1910. It houses the relics of St Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of Lisbon.

As we entered the cathedral, we were again struck by the beauty and grandeur of the architecture. The ornate interior and intricate carvings were breathtaking, and the gold leaf decorations on the walls and ceiling added to the overall splendor of the church. 

It was also interesting to learn about the history of the cathedral. It was also damaged in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake but has undergone several renovations and restorations. In 2020, remains of an Almoravid complex, which researchers suggest is a mosque, were uncovered, and the Portuguese Minister of Culture determined that the Muslim remains should be kept in place. It was fascinating to see the different architectural styles and how they had been incorporated into the building throughout the centuries. If you are hungry for more video, be sure to watch this vlog of Lisbon Cathedral.

Oldest House in Lisbon

About five to ten minutes further up the road, we found the oldest house in Lisbon, located in the Alfama district. 

Exterior view of the oldest house in Lisbon, which survived the 1755 earthquake and stands as a testament to the city's history.

The oldest house in Lisbon, a timeless symbol of the city’s resilience and rich history.

This small 16th-century building survived the 1755 earthquake that struck Lisbon, one of the largest and most destructive in recorded history in Portugal. The city was devastated by the earthquake, tsunami, and fires that lasted 6 days, resulting in thousands of deaths. In the following years, the few remaining buildings were demolished and replaced with more modern constructions as part of the Marquis of Pombal program to rebuild the city. This small house, however, survived the disaster and still stands to this day. It is a unique example of medieval architecture and a relic of the times before the 1755 catastrophe.

Calçada” created by Vhils. – A Tribute to the Late Fado Singer Amália Rodrigues

Lastly, and just a stone’s throw away from the oldest house in Lisbon, is a public commission titled “Calçada,” created by Vhils. 

Vhils is Alexandre Farto, a Portuguese street artist born in 1987 and grew up on the outskirts of Lisbon. He studied at the University of the Arts in London. He gained prominence in 2008 when a carved portrait of his was revealed alongside street artist Banksy at the Cans Festival in London. 

He is known for his relief portrait carvings, which are chiseled into plaster and brick walls all over the world. He also creates street art by dissecting poster ads and excavating walls, using various tools and techniques, including etching acid, bleach, pneumatic drills, and more. He believes that a destruction is a form of construction and that change is necessary to communicate with the mass public. He currently lives and works in Portugal, and his work has been showcased in various locations worldwide. See our MAAT Museum video featuring the Vhils exhibit and his monumental installation Prisma, made up of slow-motion footage recorded in cities such as Beijing, Paris, and Lisbon, arranged in a labyrinthine composition.

The piece that can be viewed in the Aflama is made in the traditional Portuguese pavement style and pays tribute to the late Fado singer Amália Rodrigues. It collaborated with the city council’s team of paviours and evoked Fado music and the city of Lisbon. The commission was a work of art and a reflection of the city’s culture and history.

Overall, our day visiting these historic sites in Lisbon was an enriching experience. We could see beautiful architecture, learn about the city’s history, and appreciate the culture and heritage of Lisbon. It was a day filled with emotions and thoughts, and we left feeling grateful for the opportunity to have had such a fantastic experience.

*Disclosure: Hey there! Just a heads-up: some links on this page are affiliate links for products and services I genuinely love and recommend. If you decide to make a purchase or subscribe through them, I’ll earn a small commission for my tea jar 🍵. Don’t worry. I’ll be using that energy to create even more awesome content for you. Thanks a million for your support! – Michael

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Hi! We’re Melissa, Michael, and Samantha. We’re a nomadic family from the United States, currently living and building our new lives in Lisbon, Portugal. Follow us on our adventures as we explore this beautiful city and all it has to offer.