Today we invite you to visit the Feira da Ladra, the oldest Lisbon’s Flea Market that takes place every Tuesday and Saturday early in the morning until early afternoon in Campo de Santa Clara.
It might be hard to find real gems at Lisbon’s Flea Market but there’s always a reason to go back there: to look for a part to fix an old object; in the hopes of finding an interesting bargain; or simply to nostalgically roam around childhood memories that remind us of people or experiences.
Whether you call them antiques or kitsch, vintage, retro objects or any other name that’s in vogue, the truth is, we can find all sorts of things, new and second-hand.
With so much offer, we can spend long hours observing the weirdest and most improbable artefacts, handcrafted products, clothes, collectibles…
This is an event loved by locals and that no tourist will want to miss when visiting Lisbon.
This is without a doubt an old tradition that will last because what some discard, others will give use. An eternal recycling of emotions, illusions and contradictions.
The Origin of the Name “Feira da Ladra”
The origin of the name Ladra, which means female thief, is a mystery and still a topic of discussion since the 19th century.
The Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s Flea Market exists since the 13th century, but its designation only appeared in an official document for the first time in 1610.
Some authors defend that the market in remote times used to take place in Ribeira Velha next to the Tagus River, and for that reason the name ladra came from the old Portuguese lada that means riverbank. However, its designation seems to be more recent than that and there doesn’t seem to exist any real evidence of this primordial location.
It is also believed that the term ladra is related to the fact that stolen objects are sold there. Therefore, this market is also known as Thieves’ Market.
However, the theory that defends that ladra derives from ladro, which means lice, or from lázaro, which means filthy, poor and miserable might be more persuasive, since these places usually had lice and since lázaro is more closely related to the concept of a Flea Market.
In truth, a Flea Market is the place where all sorts of used artefacts are sold for a low price.
The Lisbon’s Flea Market Has Been Held in Many Places
In the 13th century the Lisbon’s Flea Market used to take place in Chão da Feira at the entrance of the São Jorge Castle.
Over time, it has changed location following the development of Lisbon. For this reason, it was moved to the lower zone of the city and although the statistical publication Estatística Manuscrita de Lisboa of 1552 is considered to be the first reference to the market’s location in Rossio, the Lisbon specialist Norberto de Araújo claims that in 1430 the market was already held in this location.
It stayed there for centuries and it seems that during the reign of King Filipe II it was very frequented by illustrious women.
The market extended throughout Rossio until the palace of the Dukes of Cadaval, a building that was situated where currently is the Rossio Railway Station and that was demolished in 1880.
After the earthquake of 1755 the market moved to Praça da Alegria, extending all the way to the current Restauradores Square.
In the beginning of 1823 the City Council of Lisbon determined that the market would from then on take place in Campo Santana, but due to the population discontent, in July of the same year, it was moved back to the lower zone of the city, this time limited between Calçada da Glória (where today is the emblematic Glória Funicular) and Praça da Alegria.
It stayed there until 1835 when it was once again transferred to the Santana Hill, where it remained for a few years.
In 1882 the market was split and into two and occupied two markets that had recently been built: Santa Clara and São Bento. Perhaps it is due to this fact that today Rua de São Bento, from Largo do Rato to Rua do Poço dos Negros has such a large concentration of establishments dedicated to antiques.
Campo de Santa Clara, Current Location of the Lisbon’s Flea Market
Once, this area beyond the city limit was only an open field sloping down to the river.
It was the existence of a convent of Poor Clare nuns since 1294, which determined the designation of this place of Campo de Santa Clara (Field of Saint Clare).
Later on, the lower part of this zone started being known as Campo da Forca (Field of the Gallows), as the condemned were executed here.
Until 1755 its urbanisation was weak, but after the earthquake there was a great development.
To know more, read about the zone of Graça.
Today, Campo de Santa Clara is a particularly beautiful place. There is a rich set of buildings constituted by small palaces and important monuments, such as the Church of Santa Engrácia where the National Pantheon is, and the Convent of São Vicente de Fora, Royal Pantheon of the 4th dynasty.
The pleasant Botto Machado Garden that has a magnificent view over the river and the Market of Santa Clara also deserve to be highlighted.
The Lisbon’s Flea Market extends around the Market of Santa Clara. This building constitutes an interesting exemplar of cast-iron architecture, dates back to 1877 and is from the architect Emiliano Augusto de Bettencourt. It was built by the Companhia de Mercados e Edificações Urbanas who owned it until 1927, having then been transferred to the municipality.
It operated as a fresh food market but now its facilities are used to hold events. In its exterior we find small shops of antiques, collectibles, furniture and decorations, second-hand bookshops and restaurants.
The fair was always held on Tuesday but since November 1903 that it is also held on Saturday. In these two days the streets are filled with vendors who on the ground or on improvised stalls offer their visitors an indescribable variety of objects and emotions.
Come experience it!