Bairro Alto

Bairro Alto


Bairro Alto (literally the upper quarter in Portuguese) is an area of central Lisbon.

It functions as a residential, shopping and entertainment district: it is the heart of the Portuguese capital’s nightlife, attracting its youth. Lisbon’s Punk, Gay, Metal, Goth, Hip Hopand Reggae scenes, all count the Bairro as their home, given the specialization of its clubs and bars.

Although fado, Portugal’s national music still survives in the new nightlife, the crowds in the Bairro Alto area are a multicultural mix of cultures and entertainment.

The Bairro Alto was born as a response to the social and economic transformation in Lisbon in the second half of the 15th century.  Commercial development caused the growth in the population, and an associated expansion of construction within the medieval walled city. It was this phenomenon that resulted in the urbanization process of the Bairro Alto district, in two distinct phases.

The first phase began in 1487, after the death of Guedelha Palaçano, an influential figure in the kingdom: his widow transferred lands situated on the western limit of the city to the Kings equerry, Filipe Gonçalves.  The land rights for these lands were sold in 1498 to the nobleman Luís de Atouguia.

Between 1499 and 1502 various royal letters, signed by King Manuel, indicated that there was a need to demolish the balconies and varandas that occupied public spaces in the district. This was part of a package of legislative reforms issued to improve the image of the city. A similar royal charter in 1500, was issued with the objective of transforming the free lands that still existed with the old walls. These initiatives lead to the first urbanization, named Vila Nova do Olival (around 1502), situated around the old Convent of the Trinity, using a series of administrative tools and proceedings that would, later, be used in the creation of the Bairro Alto.

In 1505, the construction of the new royal palace, resulted in the move of the Court to the riverfront, and extended the city until the Cais do Sodré.

Around 1513, the first move to divide the lands of the Bairro Alto began, under the approval of Lopo Atouguia, Bartolomeu de Andrade and his wife Francisca Cordovil, received permission to section-off plots for the construction of houses. The new urbanization would be designated Vila Nova de Andrade. After the establishment of a grid network of roads, the first houses began to be built, with the majority popping-up south of the Portas de Santa Catarina in 1514. The remainder of the homes also began occupying plots along Rua das FloresRua do CaboRua do Castelo, the consecutively namedRua PrimeiraSegunda and Terceira, in addition to the Rua da Barroca do Mar. By 1527, there were a total of 408 buildings in the area, totall 1600 inhabitants.

During the 1530s, the agglomeration began to spread towards the old Estrada de Santos (now theCalçada do Combro), tracing or following to the north of this route, where it encountered Rua da RosaRua da AtalaiaRua dos Calafates (now Rua Diário de Notícias), Rua das GáveasRua do Norteand Rua de São Roque.

The 1531 earthquake resulted in a need to increase the number of residential homes, speeding the growth of the Bairro.

The first Jesuits arrived in Portugal in 1540.

In 1551, the civil parishes of Mártires and Loreto included 2464 homes and 20132 inhabitants.

The second phase of urbanization in the Bairro Alto began around 1553, with the implantation of theSociety of Jesus (Portuguese: Companhia de Jesus) in the civil parish of São Roque, initiating a period of polarized growth, due to their presence. At that time, the zone to the north of Estrada de Santos began being referred to as the Bairro Alto de São Roque.[1] This new phase, growth extended from São Roque until the terrains of the Palace of the Counts of Avintes to the north, limited by theRua de São BoaventuraRua do LoureiroRua da Cruz and Rua Formosa (actually Rua do Século).

In 1559, the civil parish of Santa Catarina was created. Less than a decade later, the Largo de São Roque was formed, and the beginning of the construction of new church and residences of the Society of Jesus were initiated. The enlargement of the route between the Portas de Catarina andLargo de São Roque would occur in 1569, becoming known as the Rua Larga de São Roque.

The civil parish of Encarnação was formed in 1679.

Although the Bairro was not significantly affected by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the Marquess of Pombal developed plans to restructure the urban fabric between the Bairro Alto and Baixa, which included standardizing the largos, squares and roads. Between 1760 and 1780, was the beginning of the renovation/remodelling of the roads Rua de São RoqueRua de Calhariz and Rua do Século, that included the widening of the routes and construction of new buildings.

Around the 19th century, the northern limites of the Bairro, including the zone around São Pedro de Alcântara until Príncipe Real were delimited. The area was consolidated with the construction of a group of diverse buildings and specifically rental properties.  The block that existed between Rua da Rosa and the Travessa do Tijolo came to condition activity in the neighborhood, including the establishment of various newspapers, of which O Bola still remains. In 1880, the municipal council decided to widen the Rua dos Moinhos do Vento (now the Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara), expropriating lands and buildings that restricted its expansion.


In 1881, lots pertaining to the Count of Soure in the Alto do Longo area of the Bairro were opened to the public. This zone maintained a semi-rural character, with single-storey houses and courtyards, until the alteration of Rua D. Pedro V (the old Estrada da Cotovia), when the construction of four- and five-storey homes came to eliminate these early residences.