Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Portraying Urban Change in Alfama (Lisbon): How Local Socio-Spatial Practices Shape Heritage

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Abstract:  Alfama, a neighborhood whose history dates to Lisbon’s origins, held simultaneously the power and burden of representing the “old Lisbon.” It is recognized as a territory that was never a part of the efforts to modernize the city but also through its inherent values. The latter derives exactly from the nostalgic images it projects and through which the city’s history is kept alive. As part of a city’s ecosystem and embroiling global phenomena, the neighborhood faces inevitable changes, affecting both the closely intertwined urban fabric and socio-cultural aspects to shape a landscape of tangible and intangible heritage. Based on a multidisciplinary and humanistic approach, the article portrays the urban change in the neighborhood through a spatial and ethnographic lens, along different scales and angles, contributing with a critical dimension to understanding urban development processes. We examine how Alfama has been dealing with political intentions steered by economic prosperity and global influences. Thus, we look at policies fostering urban regeneration and tourism development and describe impacts on the territory and responses where traces of the community’s resilience emerge. We further discuss how increased tourism led to a “touristification” scenario and implied local responses. Namely, the community has been activating specific mechanisms and leveraging certain socio-spatial features to cope with the process of change. Some examples highlight how the community is adapting practices of space and social interactions to take advantage of the new possibilities brought up by tourism, while defending its core socio-spatial networks, in a continuous process of heritage creation.

Keywords:  Alfama; alley; heritage (re)invention; neighborhood resilience; Portugal; urban change; urban heritage



© Catarina Fontes, Graça Índias Cordeiro. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.