Bairo Alto, Lisbon

The ‘high neighbourhood’ is medieval in origin with many narrow roads and lanes and uniformly high buildings of three or four floors. Architectural style is also quite uniform because the medieval district was spared from the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of Lisbon. The roads are roughly even in width with small sidewalks on either side and run up hill from the river with even narrower ‘traverseras’ or crossing roads every so often.

From Wikipedia: “The medium base for these lots is based on the medieval blocks known as chão (literally, ground), an agricultural measure representing a lot with 60 palms length by 30 palms wide”. I had never thought of measuring lots by hands like this, but then, we speak of horse heights in ‘hands’.

“The design of the roadways that run through the Bairro Alto, consists of a hierarchy of structural roads, oriented north to south in the direction of the Tagus River, and secondary lanes, perpendicular to the roads, running east to west.[1] The hierarchy of these routes are homogeneous in scale, with little variation in size in roads or lanes, a characteristic that is missing from the zones adjacent to the Bairro Alto, preserving an intimacy and unique character.”

We rented a small apartment on the second floor of a typical building on a typical street in Bairo Alto. The apartment is comfortable but I wouldn’t want to have to cook here too often as the kitchen is tiny. We do take our breakfast here and sometimes lunch or dinner. Meals in restaurants are inexpensive but we prefer ‘grazing’ as a travel style and can buy local food in small neighbourhood shops. Morning coffee is an espresso in a delightfully ornate shop on the corner of Rua de Rosa and Rua Dom Pedro V, which cuts across the top of the bairo, or neighbourhood. Lunch snacks are carrots sticks, cherry tomatoes and cucumber sticks, maybe with a nice queso or cheese and Gamba or Bacalao fritters. I was delighted to find fresh figs and apricots in the corner grocery. We also enjoy the local specialty tinned tuna or sardines on crackers with vinho verde.

Traffic in the streets of Bairo Alto is restricted to local residents and service vehicles. Some streets have bars and Fado restaurants and the district is considered one of the nightlife zones in Lisbon but our street is quiet.