Lisbon’s Hippest Neighbourhood: A Pocket Guide to Mouraria

Wed, 18 July 2018
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.

For visitors, 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 to behold.

To Eat

Cozinha Popular

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.

Cantinho do Aziz

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

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.

Maria da Mouraria

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.

  • +351 218 860 165
  • Go to Website
  • Rua do Capelão
    Largo da Severa 2/2B
    1100 – 588

To Drink

Grupo Desportivo da Mouraria

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.

  • +351 218 013 077
  • Travessa da Nazaré 21
    1100-012

Renovar a Mouraria

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 bar.

Boutique Taberna

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 intimate setting.

To Do

Largo Das Olarias 15/17

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.

Ó! Galeria

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.

Cortiço & Netos

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.

Cozinha Popular

Cantinho do Aziz

O Corvo

Maria da Mouraria

Grupo Desportivo da Mouraria

Renovar a Mouraria

Boutique Taberna

Ó! Galeria

Cortiço & Netos

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