Dingy and shabby, that’s what the old Moorish quarter Mouraria may still look like in the mind of people who have read some mainstream tourist guides. The Lisboetas never had this attitude to the formerly “rundown“ area which is reviving now. Just like Portugal’s most famous music. The Fado was and will always be reborn in the Mouraria. Just like life itself. Still many houses are threatened by decay, but renovations are in full swing, despite the crisis.
In 2011, Lisbon’s mayor, António Costa, allowed no doubt about the priority the city gives to the revitalization of Mouraria neighborhood: He moved his official residence for two years to Largo do Intendente – exactly where until then, even locals wouldn’t go voluntarily. The square and the surrounding streets used to be dominated by prostitution, drug trafficking and crime. One can imagine the “enthusiasm“ of Costas staff about the move – but they had to follow him. Today, not only they are convinced.
No stone of the street pavement was left unchanged, and after a complete redesign the Largo do Intendente was officially reopened in summer 2012 with a week-long series of events – including a concert of the Portuguese cult band par excellence, Xutos & Pontapés. Since then, Intendente became a place to go.
Many of the buildings here give evidence that this is where one of the most important factories of traditional Portuguese tile art had been situated. And art is coming home: At Largo do Intendente, 19, “Largo Residências“ accommodate artists, and tourists can stay under the same roof. The interior has been put together tastefully, with a puristic and creative approach. Staying here feels more like residing in the private premises of an artist than at a hotel. The rooms can also be booked for weeks or month, providing an inexpensive and authentic alternative for individualists.
Even the Locals can express their own creativity here – or simply enjoy concerts, readings, theatre plays … or just a bica (espresso) or Imperial (beer).
Another stunning example for the revival of Mouraria is Martim Moniz square. An earlier redesign in 1998, for the Expo, hadn’t done much for it’s reputation. But now you can find here stands with delicious snacks and drinks from all over the world. DJs and occasional live music make Martim Moniz a place to stay until the early hours. There’s always something going on – be it free dance classes, intercultural performances or a free Mariza concert. In 2012 Martim Moniz premiered with summer nights spent in deck chairs, full of laughter and with a taste of sangria. Unbelievable for all who knew the hitherto haunted atmosphere of the place.
Yet, crime has not completely disappeared from the Mouraria – but it doesn’t rule here anymore. And there are many initiatives that aim to help people in making their life meaningful, without illegality. It’s about being proud of maintaining the intercultural tradition – thus breaking another tradition; that is the tradition of exclusion.
This is how Mouraria was born, after all. During the 12th Century, the “Muslim quarter” was the place in the outskirts where Dom Afonso Henriques sent the Moors. A place for the marginalized, displaced and suddenly homeless – who build their children a new home here. Same story then as nowadays. Allover the world, this is how different cultures come together, struggle and, finally, create a new cultural identity of their own.
Today, Portuguese people who have been living here for decades mingle with Erasmus students and families from all over the world, often from India, Pakistan and China. The shopping center “Centro Comercial Mouraria” offers all the tastes, spices, styles and different lifestyles of the neighborhood: Food and exotic ingredients from a home far away, next to hairdressers for haircuts you don’t find in western fashion magazines, next door to the doctor who heals by means of traditional Chinese medicine. A neighborhood well worth to be explored, wealthy even without bling.