8 December 2018

Mosteiro de Alcobaça

Alcobaça, Portugal 

Alcobaça’s development is down the Monastery, also known as the Royal Abbey of Santa Maria. Dom Alfonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, built a church to commemorate the conquest of Santarém from the Moors, in 1147. The king donated lands to Bernardo de Claraval and the Order of Cistercians, and building began in 1178 and finished about one hundred years later. At over 100 meters long it is the largest Gothic religious building in Portugal.

A characteristic of the Cistercians was agricultural work and the monks introduced new techniques and systems that transformed the region, which is still one of Portugal’s main fruit providers. 

The kitchen dates from 1752, the huge chimney, supported by eight wrought iron columns, dominates the room. The walls are completely tiled, to make them easier to clean.  Water was delivered to the kitchen via a canal system, demonstrating the ingenuity of the Cistercian monks hydraulic engineering skills. 

 
Alcobaça has a Spal factory, founded in 1965, and I had a guided tour. Some of the machines looked architectural. It was interesting to see that a lot of the production processes are still done by hand. The 470 employees produce 18 million pieces a year, sixty percent of which are exported to forty five countries.

1 December 2018

Évora, Portugal

Évora is one of Portugal’s best preserved medieval cities, it thrived from the 14thto the 16th centuries, when it was favoured by royalty. It was declared an archbishopric in 1540 and in 1559 a Jesuit university was established here. After King Dom Henrique died in 1580 and the Spanish seized the Portuguese throne, the Portuguese royal court left Évora. The university closed in 1759 and French forces plundered the town in 1808, which exacerbated the plight of the city’s decline. It is suggested that this decline was the main reason Évora remained so well preserved, Évora’s obscurity in the 19th and 20th centuries meant it remained unaffected by modern expansion.

In 1973 the university was re-established and in 1986 UNESCO declared Évora a World Heritage Site, because: “This museum-city, whose roots go back to Roman times, reached its golden age in the15th century, when it became the residence of the Portuguese kings. Its unique quality stems from the whitewashed houses decorated with azulejos and wrought-iron balconies dating from the 16th to the 18th century” and is “the finest example of a city of the Golden Age of Portugal”

The narrow cobbled streets, often there is only room for humans or cars, but not at the same time, wind, maze like, around the city, leading to the many places of interest here, too many to see in two days. The darkish yellow paint is a feature of the buildings here.

The Igreja de São Francisco, built between 1475 and 1550 in the Manueline-Gothic style, was renovated in 2015, which is why it looks so new. The Capela dos Ossos, (Chapel of Bones) was built in the 17th century and is, interesting. 


Igreja de São Francisco

Igreja de São Francisco

Three Franciscan monks in the 17th century had a problem of what to do with the overflowing graveyards of their churches and monasteries. Their solution was to line the walls and columns of the memento mori (reminder of death) with the bones and skulls of 5000 humans. Thousands of bones are arranged in patterns, covering every wall and column in the Capela dos Ossos. 


Capela dos Ossos. 

It seems as if great thought was used to position the bones and skulls, the designs are clear and particular bones have been used for certain parts of the pattern.  The frescos that decorate the ceiling, date from 1810 and skulls have been incorporated in the design. There is an inscription at the entrance of the chapel which states ‘We bones that are here await yours’. Macabrely fascinating. 

I came across this church walking to another monument, the Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Graça, built in the 16th century and Renaissance in style.

 

24 November 2018

Templo Romano

Évora, Portugal

The Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region, covering a third of the country, from south of the River Tagus (Lisbon) to the northern mountains of the Algarve. The region has vineyards, wheat fields and cork plantations. Wine production was already established here when the Romans arrived and cork has been produced here for over 700 years. Today the huge cork groves of the Alentejo provide about fifty percent of the worlds entire supply of cork. I’m on a short, two day, visit to the city of Évora, which sits in the northern half of the Alentejo.  

Évora is a walled city, the original walls were built by the Romans when they occupied the city. In the 14th century new walls were built to protect the expanding city. Parts of the old wall in the city centre has houses built into it


Praça do Giraldo

Praça do Giraldo is the largest and main, square in Évora, lined with examples of gothic and Romanesque architecture, cafes, restaurants and the Igreja de Santo Antão. The rather large Henriquina fountain dates from 1570 and has eight spouts, which represent the eight streets which lead from the square. 

Henriquina Fountain

Today the square is a meeting place, where one can relax over a coffee, pose for photos or eat hot roasted chestnuts. In the 16th century it was the site of the public burning of people by the Inquisition, over 22,000 people in a 200 year period. One of the most notorious events happened in 1573 when ‘convicts’ of the court were burnt alive on giant pyres, constructed in the centre of the square. It was also where the Duke of Braganza was beheaded.

Santo Antáo Igreja

The remains of this Roman Forum, Templo Romano, are among the best preserved Roman monuments in Portugal. Dating from the 2nd or early 3rdcentury, the temple was, over time, incorporated into various buildings, including a butcher’s shop/slaughter house. The Forum was re-discovered and restored in the late 19th century, 14 of the original 18 granite columns remain.

Évora’s Roman-Gothic Cathedral was built from 1280 to 1350 and is sited on the highest point of the city. 

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The Aqueduto da Água de Prata (Aqueduct of Silver Water) was completed in 1537, 18 kilometres long, it provided freshwater to the residents of Évora until 1979. Although no longer used to carry water, the structure is still in use, as houses have been built into its arches.

17 November 2018

Alcobaça, Portugal

Alcobaça is a municipal district and town about 100 kilometres north of Lisbon. In the 12th century it was chosen as the site of Portugal’s largest church and this is what the town is best know for, more about the church in a future post.  Alcobaça is a delightful town, where I had lunch after visiting a local factory. 

 Atlantis Crystal is said to be one of the finest handmade crystals in the world and I had a guided tour of the factory in Alcobaça, where it is made. Founded in 1944 as Alcobaça Crystals, producing chandeliers and glasses for domestic use, and then in the early 1970s it started producing high quality hand made glass.

The factory has an aerial walkway for visitors to watch the craftsmen (there were no women) at work. Using moulds made of wood and steel, and blow rods, the highly skilled artisans produce some of the worlds finest lead crystal.  The high standards of quality control mean many pieces are discarded by experts, who find flaws not seen by an untrained eye, this glass is used in the production of sandpaper. The factory was very noisy and extremely hot. 

By the time I’d finished the guided tours the sun was setting and it was time to head home.

11 November 2018

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Lisbon, Portugal

On the last day of October it rained all day. The rains brought a drop in the temperature, from the mid twenties to the late teens, announcing that Autumn has finally arrived here in the city that I now call home. This summer was beautiful, and long and hot, (including a not so nice week of heatwave temperatures of 45C), but the summer seems to have gone by in a flash and although the leaves on the trees are still green, it won’t be long before they bare their naked branches and rain will be ‘the normal’ again. There hasn’t been any rain here since May, so aside from the realisation that summer is over, it was a also a reminder that the stone tile pavements here, when wet, turn into the equivalent of sheets of  ice, and one has to relearn to walk on the slippy slopes to prevent falling over. I have a mixture of things to tell you about this week, none of which have been enough for one post which is why they may seem rather random.

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On the 4 November there was a military parade commemorating 100 years since the end of the 1st World War, (1914-1918). It was the largest parade of it’s kind in the city, honouring the memory of the 100,000 Portuguese people who fought in the war and the 7,500 who died. It was also to honor peace.

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There were 4,500 people in the parade, including representatives from the armed forces of France, Germany, the UK and the USA; approximately 200 vehicles and motorbikes; 86 horses and 30 dogs, complete with their humans; and a fly past by helicopters and F.16 aircraft. The roads around Avenida de Liberdade were closed, where some of the parade participants were waiting, so the city centre, devoid of traffic, became a peaceful place for a couple of hours, aiding time for reflection and commemoration.


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I recently had a guided tour of the Portuguese Parliament Building, which is in the São Bento Palace. The palace dates from 1598 which is the year the monks began building, what was originally a monastery. It remained a monastery until 1833, then it had various incarnations as a prison, a military academy, a hospice, and a repository for deceased foreigners, before becoming the home of parliament.

Over the years the building has been remodelled, with additions like the Lobby, built in 1895; the Grand Staircase, built in the 1930s, which leads to the Session Chamber and the Senate Chamber; and the Hall of Honor  built in the 1940s, with murals depicting Portuguese maritime scenes.

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On a balmy evening in late September, I went to an event of The Environmental Sound Art Festival, held at the Māe d’ Água. I saw Sirius, who are Yaw Tembe, a trumpeter and Francisco Trindade, a percussionist and objects manipulator. Sirius are described in the festival programme as ‘a psychedelic kind of improvised music’.

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I also saw Tomoko Sauvage. Rather than do an injustice to the work of Tomoko I have taken this description of her work from her website,  ‘For more than ten years, Tomoko Sauvage has been investigating the sound and visual properties of water in different states, as well as those of ceramics, combined with electronics. China bowls of different sizes, filled with water and amplified via hydrophones (underwater microphones), water bowls is a kind of natural synthesizer that generates fluid timbre using waves, drops and bubbles. These recipients resonate and also produce subaquatic feedback, an acoustic phenomenon that requires fine tuning depending on the amount of water, a subtle volume control and interaction with the acoustic space. Through primordial materials and playful gestures, Tomoko Sauvage searches for a fragile balance between randomness and discipline, chaos and order.’    

oznorIt was my first experience of music of this kind and it was very interesting. The water around the stage provided great reflections of the event.

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4 November 2018

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Buddha Eden Garden

Situated at Quinta dos Loridos, the park was opened in 2006 and has continued to expand, new pieces were being displayed when I visited. Along side the Buddhas, there’s a diverse collection of contemporary art in the gardens.

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An African Sculpture Garden, dedicated to the Shona people of Zimbabwe, has over 200 sculptures.

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A restaurant provides good Portuguese food and somewhere to rest ones weary feet from walking around the grounds. Adjacent to the garden are vineyards and the onsite shop offers wine tasting as well as an extensive range of local wines.

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27 October 2018

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Buddha Eden Garden, Portugal

An hour’s drive north of Lisbon is the Buddha Eden Garden. Covering over 35 hectares of land, it is the largest oriental garden in Europe. Created by José Berardo, a contemporary art collector, who after reading about the Taliban’s destruction of stone Buddhas in Bamiyan, purchased a huge range of Buddha statues and created the sculpture park.

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Aside from the Buddhas, the park is home to seven hundred terracota soldiers, modelled on the originals from Xian in China.

The gardens are landscaped with several water features, one of which has a variety of wild animals made from metal. There is more about the park in the next post.

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22 September 2018

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Óbidos, Portugal

Óbidos is a town about 80 kilometres north of Lisbon, which is completely surrounded by the walls of a 12th century castle. Famous for being a wedding present given to queens by kings, starting with King Dinis who gave Óbidos to Queen Isabel on their wedding day in 1282. It continued to be the property of Portuguese queens until the 19th century. The town is also where, in 1973, the first meeting took place that led to the Carnation Revolution on 25 April 1974. (Search 25 April 2018 for more information)

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Until the 15th century there was a natural harbour on the west side of Óbidos, where ships moored at the castle walls. A combination of tsunamis, earthquakes and storms ‘moved’ the coastline 10 kilometres away from the town. Óbidos was declared a National Monument in1951.

Access to Óbidos is by the town gate, built around 1380, which leads to narrow cobbled streets, flower covered walls, and white painted, terracotta roofed, buildings. There are also five churches and a chapel fitted within the medieval walls. The shops all seemed to be aimed at tourists, which fill the main streets, wander away from these and one will find quieter lanes with fewer tourists, making it slightly more pleasant to enjoy the medieval delights of Óbidos.

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It is possible to walk along the castle ramparts, which provides views of the surrounding countryside as well as of the town itself. The aqueduct, sited outside the town walls was built by Queen Catherine in the 16th century  to transport water to the town.

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15 September 2018

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Murtosa, Portugal

The municipality of Murtosa is located at the centre of the Rio de Aveiro, and over 80 percent of its land area is within a Special Protection Zone. Much of this area is covered by the lagoon and one of the best ways to experience this is a boat ride.

The chap steering the moliceiro, (boat) I was in was 82 years old, and has worked on the lagoon all his life. In the 19th century moliceiros were designed and used to harvest seaweed from the lagoon, ‘moliço’ is seaweed. They are painted in bright colours, with low sides and a high front and back, to make the collection of seaweed easy.  The seaweed was used to fertilise the sandy soil in the area, before chemical fertilizers were used. The moliceiro is perfect for  the shallow waters of the lagoon.

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The moliceiro are now used for tourist trips, here and on Aveiro’s canals. On the lagoon it’s possible to see egrets, herons, sandpipers and flamingos. During the trip we also saw humans, harvesting clams. A few boats were anchored, while men and women, up to their chests in water, drag the sand for clams.

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Lisbon

I’ve been away for a few days, so when I was back home in Lisbon, I went for a Sunday stroll, the temperature is still in the late 20s here, and with the intense heat of the summer gone, it’s a pleasant warmth to walk in.  I live near Parque Eduardo VII, so my walk often takes me here, where the water lilies are now in bloom. One of my favourite gardens to walk around is the Gulbenkian Gardens, here I saw turtles all competing for a space on the rocks so they can bask in the sun. On my way out of the gardens I saw Half Bear by BORDALO II, the contrast of  contemporary urban art sitting along side nature, is typical of Lisbon.

 

 

8 September 2018

Murtosa, Portugal

On my day trip to Aveiro, I stopped off at Casa Museu for lunch. The museum is run by volunteers, who grow, raise, prepare, cook and then serve the food, which was delicious and plentiful. After lunch there was a guided tour of the grounds and the exhibits on display. The volunteers are custodians of the museum for Portugal and they were delightful.

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The museum provides a view of how life was for farm workers, in the early 20th century. The tools of crafts and trades were on display, this farm had a tailor, cobbler, blacksmith, hairdresser, a huge press and a shop.

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The farm house has very small bedrooms and large reception rooms, which display basketry, wool production, and weaving looms. The kitchen was quite small considering it was used to cook food for all the farmworkers. DSC_0210

The farm was self sufficient, even providing its own water, although the well was still operational, the water for the farm is delivered through more conventional means today.

 

18 August 2018

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Aveiro, Portugal

Aveiro, is a town situated between the Atlantic Ocean and mountains, and was, until the 16th century, a large important sea port. It is also known as the Venice of Portugal, due to it’s location on the Aveiro Lagoon, and the network of canals that run across the city.   I took to the water in one of the many boats that take tourists along the canals, to see the more of the town.

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Wealthy emigrants returning to Aveiro from Brazil brought Art Nouveau to the town. The Aveiro Art Nouveau movement mixed elements of this style with traditional Portuguese styles and there are some beautiful examples of this here.

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The Aveiro Salines, salt flats, only produce a small amount of salt now and are more of a tourist attraction today. However, salt production was once a major economic activity and one of the most important factors in the development of the region, references about salt date back to 949. By 1178 Aveiro was providing salt for the whole of Portugal as well as exporting salt abroad. Salt production here is restricted to the summer months.

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11 August 2018

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Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is a town and a municipality, north west of Lisbon. Evidence of it’s early occupants, the Moors, can still be seen today, the Moorish Castle, built around the 10th century, sits on one of Sinatra’s hills.  In 1995 UNESCO awarded the town World Heritage status.

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Town Hall

The short walk from the train station to the town centre takes one past the town hall, and along Volta Duche, where contemporary art works are dotted along the path. There is a small wall on the path, which makes a perfect place to set up items for sale, I particularly like this gentleman, who was playing one of his albums on a record player, that must be at least forty years old.

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This fountain was built in 1922, in the Moorish style.

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In the centre of Sintra is The Palácio Nacional de Sintra, (National Palace) a medieval palace with origins as far back as the 9th century. It became the official residence of Portuguese royal family from the 14th century with King João I. Refurbishments undertaken over time have added Gothic and Manueline, to Moorish architectural styles.  The huge multi-room building has distinctive, twin conical chimneys, 33 meters high, which were added in the early 14th century,  as part of the kitchen improvements.

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Swans Hall is the largest of the palace’s rooms, named after the swans painted on the ceiling. The magpie room also gets it’s name from the birds painted on the ceiling. The palace also has one of the largest collections of Mudejár, Moorish Iberian Tiles, in the world.

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The Coat of Arms room has the coats of arms of 72 Portuguese noble families, painted on the domed ceiling, initiated by King Manuel I, who wanted to regulate their use.

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The Palatine Chapel, has freso paintings depicting  the holy spirit as doves carrying olive branches.