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ON A STREET in Lisbon, graffiti give a red-dressed glimpse of Portugal’s past.

The figure of 19th-century Fado singer Maria Severa, painted on a flaking wall in the city’s ancient Mouraria neighborhood, is flanked by a dark-dressed local woman and a black cat.

Mouraria, whose tangled web of narrow streets dates to medieval times, was a cradle of Fado, the traditional melancholy Portuguese singing. And Severa, who sang and died young in Mouraria, was one of the first famous Fado singers, enchanting the drinkers in the area’s tough taverns and beyond.

The neighborhood, once a Moorish quarter and rough and poor in Severa’s lifetime, hasn’t shed all its poverty, but it is gentrifying as the city government invests and crumbling housing is renovated. Fado fans, locals and tourists, now come to Mouraria to see and hear the legacy of Maria Severa.

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Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at