Lisbon’s Hippest Neighbourhood: A Pocket Guide To Mouraria
To step foot in Mouraria for the first time is to experience a subtle but immediate shift; a heightening of perception. This once forgotten district is an oasis of local life, which has become a rarity in Lisbon’s centre. Here, the labyrinthine streets are teeming with history, evolving for all to see.
Forvisitors, Mouraria offers the chance to see the Portuguese
capital in its natural state; a blur of young Ronaldos weaving
through elderly residents, orange trees and spiderweb laundry
lines, soundtracked by the calls of neighbours from windowsills.
This vibrancy means that, for many Lisboetas, Mouraria has become a
microcosm for the struggle that a growing number of residents face
- to save the beating heart of their city from rising rents,
commodification and gentrification.
Sprawling across the foothills of the iconic Castelo de São
Jorge, Mouraria has a rich history of community and solidarity,
evident today in the form of associações (co-operatives) and a
thriving independent arts scene. It first came into existence as a
Moorish ghetto in 1147, after the first Portuguese king, Afonso
Henriques, reclaimed the city and banished Muslims from inside the
castle walls. It's been a settling place for immigrants ever since
and is still one of Lisbon's most culturally diverse areas, with a
wealth of shops and eateries offering the delights of Cape Verde,
Mozambique, Bengal and China.
In its diversity, Mouraria offers the essence of Lisbon itself;
historically a port town rich with traders and their worldly wares,
that often feels more connected to Brazil and Northern Africa than
it does to the rest of the European continent. Indeed, if anywhere
can lay claim to being the home of "saudade" - the sense of
melancholic longing intrinsic to Portuguese life and enshrined in
their native music, fado (fate) - it is this district. Mouraria
found fame at the turn of the 20th century, as the birthplace of
fado music, thanks to resident Maria Severa. A revered prostitute,
Maria brought fado to the aristocracy via a love affair and secured
the music's place in history - as well as her own - before dying of
tuberculosis at 26. Today, her home is a lively fado venue and
several sculptures and murals adorn the streets in her memory.
In true saudade fashion, this newfound fame served to bring
about the destruction of much of Mouraria during Portugal's
dictatorship under Salazar, who sought to purge the city of much of
its communal identity, to which fado was key. He tore down many
historic buildings and the district remained impoverished and
largely forgotten for the better part of the last century. As
fortune would have it, this turn of ill fate allowed the
neighbourhood to escape the gentrification that has altered, if not
the face then, the soul of much of the city centre. Its reputation
for crime and disrepair only began to lift a decade ago, when the
authorities decided to restore several areas and commemorate the
district's astonishing history. Unwittingly, they've had plenty of
help from artists and activists; Mouraria has its fair share of the
city's inventive street art and a thriving network of associações
are ensuring that the community stays tight-knit, as well as
providing some of the coolest places to eat, drink and socialise.
While much of Lisbon is undergoing change, in Mouraria time seems
to be in flux, layer upon layer of history unravelling around every
corner, as local life continues defiantly unbridled. It's beautiful
Many of the best places to visit are associações, thanks to
their innovative, all-inclusive approach. Hidden behind an
inconspicuous steel doorway is one such in-the-know gem, the
People's Kitchen. Chefs and volunteers serve up the riches of
Angola, Cabo Verde and Brazil among delightfully relaxed and kitsch
settings for as little as €5 a meal. Ask about their involvement
with Muita Fruta, an exciting project that's combining tech and
volunteer work to farm Lisbon's fruit trees with juicy results.
An acclaimed and incredibly friendly restaurant serving up
satisfyingly spicy and inventive dishes from Mozambique, run by
lifelong Mouraria residents. If you are won over by Cantinho do
Aziz, like many high profile guests before you, they also have
outlets in Leeds and Miami.
O Corvo (the crow) is the protector of Lisbon and here you can
feel right at home among a (surprisingly stylish) crow-themed
setting that spills out into a beautiful azulejo-covered courtyard.
Indulge in adapted Portuguese dishes, homemade focaccia and hefty
brunches, washed down with aguardente bagaçeira (a local spirit
made from pomace) cocktails.
This fado restaurant is possibly the most historically
significant in Lisbon. The building was previously the famous
brothel in which Maria Severa worked until her lover, the Count of
Vimioso, purchased it for her to live in. Now you can eat dinner
and listen to some of the city's best fadistas, or drop in after
dinner service to enjoy the music.
This historic association is housed in a beautiful building that
includes a famous fado school, sports pitches and a terrace with
stupefying views over Lisbon, from where you can enjoy with a glass
of vinho verde. It's a real centrepiece of the local community, so
acting respectfully and basic Portuguese skills are paramount.
Renovar perfectly captures the spirit of Mouraria. Locals gather
here under the bunting to enjoy live Brazilian and North African
music, ever hopeful that the owners will fire up the barbecue. All
profits go back into the local community, so feel no shame in
ordering another drink, if you can still dance your way to the
Located in a courtyard with a long history as a bohemian meeting
point and one of the most Instagram-friendly murals in Lisbon, this
café was recently reinvented as Boutique Taberna and is a lively
place to stop for a drink. You can catch live African rhythms here
every day from 6PM and Brazilian music at the weekend in a very
This artist's workshop is innocuously tucked away close to the
People's Kitchen. Inside, a friendly group of international artists
display their ongoing and finished work to curious passers-by. They
hold ceramics workshops every Saturday afternoon.
This unique space mainly features illustrations by Portuguese
artists, arranged in a quirky collage across the walls. There's
also an exhibition area that regularly showcases some of the
country's upcoming and established artists.
Even a weekend break to Lisbon can induce a lifelong addiction
to azulejos, the tiles that adorn so many of the city's streets.
With black market tiles abound, Cortiço & Netos give you every
reason to buy legitimately - they stock beautiful rare and
discontinued tiles bought by the owner's grandfather in bulk from
the 1960s through to the 1990s. You can also take broken tiles by
the kilo and create your own azulejo-based mosaic designs.