Cycling in Portugal: Lisbon (continued) - Alfama

Containing some of the city’s most ancient buildings, Alfama formed the major part of the city during Moorish rule. The hilltop castle, Castelo de São Jorge, once used as a defensible outpost by the Romans, was fortified by Berber forces during the 10th century and became Portugal’s seat of power for the next 400 years.

Known historically for being home to Lisbon’s poorest residents, Alfama attracted sailors and dock workers to its working class milieu during the 18th century. It was here, inside the district’s small sailor bars that the haunting music called ‘fado’ supposedly originated.

Originally sung by a soloist and accompanied by a classical guitar, the mournful tunes typically conveyed the sense of longing felt by sailors and their families, who became separated as a result of the long and perilous voyages around the world. Entwined with the term ‘saudade’, a feeling of profound melancholia or nostalgia, in relation to absence or loss, it remains an integral part of the Portuguese psyche.   

In fact, during the latter half of the 20th century, saudade became associated with the longing for one’s native land. This was not only felt by the vast numbers who left home in search of a better future overseas, but the population in general. It seems to be widely regarded that the country’s steady decline from world power status since its ‘Golden Age’, has slowly manifested into a bitter-sweet sense of hopelessness over which there is no control.

Portugal may lack the international status that it enjoyed more than half a millennium ago, but you’d never suspect it, looking out from our viewpoint atop of the Senhora do Monte. The uninterrupted views over the red tiled rooftops of   Lisbon’s old quarters, towards the modern  bridge  over the Rio Tejo below, left  us  with no  misconceptions that we were looking  at more than  just a city. A charismatic blend  of  past  and  present, the more we saw, the more we felt we’d left unwrapped. 

Coming Up: As you may  know this year's Giro d'Italia starts Friday May 6th. Known for  its  iconic climbs, widely  regarded   as the toughest of all  three Grand Tours, I can't wait to see the peloton take on the dramatic combination of snow? and altitude up the Colle dell Agnello. There's not a better time to think of your hardest 10 Italian climbs. 

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