20 April 2019

Lisbon, Portugal

I’m going to start a random series, and I’m giving it the snappy title of ‘Buildings that look boring on the outside but are surprising on the inside’. The first building in this series is the Casa do Alentejo. I have walked past the plain façade many times and never given it a second look. It is not just the interior of the Casa do Alentejo, but it’s history, that is interesting. Built in the early seventeenth century and originally owned by an aristocratic family, it was leased to a company in 1917 who turned part of the building into Portugal’s first casino, The Majestic Club. The club became a popular venue for all night drinking, gambling and partying. The club closed in 1928, and in 1932 it was leased to the Alentejo Guild. The building was re named Casa do Alentejo, becoming the headquarters of the Regionalist Alentejo Association, dedicated to boosting, promoting and preserving the culture of the Alentejo.

The first floor of the building is a neo-Arab style courtyard, a tiled stairway leads up to the second floor, which has a library, a restaurant, and function rooms.

The library was created in 1928, with the aim of supporting education, culture and leisure by giving access to books, newspapers and magazines to the people that could not afford them. This social movement resulted in the donation of thousands of books by individuals and institutions, today the library has over 10,000 items.


The restaurant is covered in tile panels created by Jorge Colaço (beginning of the 20th century), and serves food from the Alentejo region.


Salão dos Espelhos

The Salão dos Espelhos room, decorated in the style of Louis XVI, has decorative stucco and hand painted panels by Benvindo Ceia. The other has paintings by Alentejo born artist Domingos Costa.

The balcony on the upper floor provides a view of the street. The rest of the photos are a random selection taken on my walks around the city, I always come across something I haven’t seen before so I never tire of capturing what I see.

Parque Eduardo VII

13 April 2019

Castelo de Almourol

The weather has turned a bit here in Portugal, the temperature has dropped a little, still in double figures though, and we have had some rain. On an rather overcast day I went to Castelo de Almourol (Almourol castle), which is regarded as Portugal’s most beautiful castle. Situated in the municipality of Praia do Ribatejo, the castle sits on a small island in the middle of the Tagus River, and is a significant, military, medieval monument. The castle was part of the defence system created by the Templar Knights to secure the border of the Christian Kingdom against the Moors and remained a major stronghold for nearly two centuries during the Middle Ages. When the Christians arrived here in 1129, the castle already existed under the name of Almorolan.

A short, scenic, boat ride takes one to the island, and on the walk to the castle are cactus ‘trees’, said to be as old as the castle.

Constância, Portugal

Six kilometres north of the Castelo de Almourol is the town of Constância situated on the banks of where the River Zêzere and River Tagus meet. Originally known as Antiga Punhete, from the Roman for fight of the Tagus, due to the rebelliousness of the meeting of the two rivers. In 1836 Queen Maria changed the name to Constância, due to the constancy of the villages inhabitants in support of the liberal cause. Constância was taken from the Moors in 1150, and given the status of a town in 1571. In 1809 the English army met here before marching to Spain, on their way to the Battle of Talavera, where Wellington defeated the French.

The town has narrow, winding, hilly streets, with whitewashed houses accented in yellow. A climb to the town’s highest point provides views of the area.

The two markers on the wall of the building below, show the levels flood water reached in 1978 and 1979.

Castelo de Bode lake

North of Constância is the Castelo de Bode Dam, located on the Zêzere River, it’s 402 metres wide and 115 meters high, and supplies water to 3 million people, including Lisbon. Opening in 1951 it was one of Portugal’s first hydro-electric power stations. Castelo de Bode lake is the largest body of fresh water in Portugal.

16 March 2019

Lisbon, Portugal

I’ve been saving my visits to the many museums the city has, for rainy days, however this winter has been so mild and dry that I find spring looming and I haven’t been inside a museum for weeks. This was rectified recently when I had a guided tour of the Museu da Farmácia, (Pharmacy Museum). An odd choice, you may think, it was really interesting, with some really good exhibits.

The museum opened in 1996 with the aim of preserving the history of the profession. There are exhibits from around the world, displays showing the development of the European Pharmacy from the middle ages to 1929 and a display of the portable pharmacies dating from Roman times. The exhibits are behind glass, so not ideal for taking clear photos.

The museum has pharmaceutical chests ranging from one used by surgeons of Roman armies dating from the 1st century to the drug pouch of the Portuguese army dating from 1900-1920.

Drug pouch, 1900-1920

These male and female chastity belts are made of iron, the male one dates from the 19th century and the female one from the 17-18th century.

There’s an interesting collection of old advertising posters, and these beautiful sculptures hanging high up in the entrance of the museum. The entrance hall also has a small tribute exhibition to Odette Ferreira (1925-2018), a pharmacist, university professor and researcher who was part of the Luso-French team that discovered and identified HIV-2 in the mid-1980s. Between 1992 and 2000, Odette Ferreira was the coordinator of the National Commission for the Fight Against AIDS, a position she held on the appointment of the Minister of Health, having developed projects with a significant impact on the prevention and dissemination of the disease. She died in October 2018, aged 93, the same year Portugal was considered by the WHO ‘as an example in prevention, diagnostic, treatment and care of HIV patients’, much of this due to Odette. The exhibition advises, ‘Odette battled against a conservative society and fought against fear, ignorance and prejudices, in an always renewed attempt at saving human lives.’

We have had a very mild winter here and these are random shots of the city taken whilst out walking.

9 March 2019

Lisbon, Portugal

Random Lisbon stuff today. These three photos were taken on my walks around the city. It’s not often one sees a tram without advertising, so this was the main reason for taking this shot, the tram dates from the 1930s, there seems to be little difference in this scene between now and then. I never tire of the view across the River Tagus, this one was taken in the morning.

Praça do Comércio

We’ve had a really mild winter so far, hardly any rain at all, the photo here was taken on a rare rainy day, turning the pavements into mirrors. This view of Praça do Comércio today, was built after the earthquake of 1755, which completely destroyed it. I recently discovered a representation of what the area looked like pre 1755, on a azulejo panel at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia.

Praça do Comércio pre 1755

It’s a while since I wrote about urban art in Lisbon, ‘Lisa’ is by Tami Hopf, undertaken as part of the Paratissima contemporary art festival in July 2016. The entrance to the public toilets near the Miradouro das Portas do Sol, have an interesting depiction of the history of the city up to the 25 April 1974, the day of Carnation Revolution.

Cavaleiros da Posta Real

Illustrator Nuno Saraiva created Cavaleiros da Posta Real, the inspiration came from Etienne-Jules Marey’s horses, the 19th century photographer who was one of the pioneers of animated film. The goal is to recall the commotion that once surrounded the neighbouring Correio Velho Palace.

Half Bear and Half Fox are by Bordalo II, a Lisbon born artist who makes art using trash, I’m becoming a fan of his work. He states, ‘I create, recreate, assemble and develop ideas with end-of-life material and try to relate it to sustainability, ecological and social awareness’. My latest discovery of his is the Half Fox on the side of a house.

Half Fox

Last weekend was Carnaval and as part of the celebrations the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa, performed a Concerto de Carnaval, all members of the orchestra wore fancy dress, some of the audience wore masks or dressed up, there were streamers to throw and a confetti cannon signalled the end of a brilliant concert.

2 March 2019

Lousã, Portugal

Lousã is a municipality in the middle of Portugal, about two hours car drive north of Lisbon, I was here to hike up this mountain, I took my camera with me so I could share this with you! Along the route were schist villages, which was my main reason for wanting to do the hike. People settled permanently in the schist villages of the Lousã mountain in the second half of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century.  Until then, occupation was only seasonal, in the spring and summer. We started our hike just after 10 in the morning from Castelo da Lousã and quickly got quite high up.

It didn’t take long to get to the ruins of a schist village. Unlike Gondramaz, the only way to get to here is by the very steep footpaths up the mountain. The old stone pathways taking one further up hill are still useable, and are a relief from some of the rougher paths used to get to this point.


Talasnal is one of the renovated villages, and also a spot for a quick break, there are no permanent residents here. The houses have been converted into second homes, visitor accommodation or shops.


Walking away from Catarredor towards the final part of the hike, we used the old walkways that were the only access to the villages when they were built.

We had really good weather, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, primroses were among the spring flowers just coming into bloom, we often had the sound of water tumbling along water courses, to accompany us, and at one point there was a scary part where it felt like rock climbing rather than hiking. The terrain was varied, and it was challenging, but also really enjoyable.


Candal is regarded as one of the most developed and accessible, and so the most visited of the schist villages, it helps that it has good transport links. Candal had 129 residents in 1911, rising to 210 in 1940. They were shepherds, charcoal burners, tree planters, road menders, and farmers, mainly of subsistence agriculture. The village only had electricity and the telephone in the 1970s. This was our final destination, 6 hours and 18 kilometres later, so time for a well earned sit down and some snacks, while we waited for lifts back to the castle.

Back at the castle we said our goodbyes to each other and to the sun as it slipped down behind the hills, before we set off home to Lisbon.

23 February 2019


Gondramaz, Serra da Lousã, Portugal

Gondramaz is a ‘schist village’ (the name derives from the stone used in the construction of the houses, which is abundant in the area) situated on the western slope of Serra da Lousã, surrounded by forest, including chestnut and oak trees. Schist is a type of crystalline, metamorphic stone, easily split, creating a flat surface, making it suitable material to create weatherproof buildings.

Gondramaz is one of 27 schist villages spread across the Lousã and Açor ranges, that have been, or are in the process of, being restored. Many schist villages were abandoned due to their isolated locations, with younger residents moving to more accessible towns and cities. The refurbishment project has not only improved the lives of village residents and encouraged people to move back to the villages, but also provided a focus for tourism. We arrived at Gondramaz by car, weaving up the side of the mountain.

The village is arranged around the main street, with a network of narrow lanes leading from this. Gondramaz has three permanent residents, one who has lived in the village all her life.

There is one restaurant in the village, open only at weekends during the low season. Some of the buildings have been converted into hotels, the village is a popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Gondramaz is known for stone sculpture, which, if you look carefully at some of the photos, you will see dotted around the village.

Castelo de Lousã

Castelo de Lousã, also known as Arouce Castel, sits on the bank of the River Arouce. Castles tend to be built on high ground, however this castle was part of the defences created in the 11th century, to control the southern access to Coimbra.

16 February 2019

Lisbon, Portugal

At a time when coffee drinking was looked down on in Portugal ‘A Brazileira’ venues opened up around the country, with the with the aim of introducing and teaching the art of drinking coffee. Adriano Telles, originally from Portugal, made his fortune in Brazil in the coffee business and when he returned to Portugal, he wanted to promote drinking coffee amongst the Portuguese. He opened two A Brazileira in Lisbon in 1905, although only the one in Chiado is still in operation. The building was renovated in 1908,  making the ground floor into a place for drinking coffee, with the aim of selling coffee by the cup, something unheard of until then, and because this was so unusual, Adriano Telles decided to give out cups of coffee for free, so for 13 years, drinking coffee at A Brasileira was free. It is not known when the ‘z’ in Brasileira changed to an ‘s’.

With coffee culture becoming part of a Lisboetas way of life by the 1920s, A Brasileira in Chiado became a popular meeting place for intellectuals and artists. One of these was Fernando Pessoa, possibly the most widely recognised name in Portuguese literature, and beloved in Portugal, more about him later. In 1988 a bronze statue of Pessoa, by Lagoa Henriques, was erected outside A Brasileira.

Fernando Pessoa

Café Restaurante Martinho Da Arcada

What is now known as Café Restaurante Martinho Da Arcada, the oldest café in Lisbon opened in 1782, and was called Casa da Neve, selling drinks and ice. It has had a variety of names until 1829, when the new owner, Martinho Bartolomeu Rodrigues, gave it his name. Café Martinho played an important role in the cultural and social life of the city and many artists and intellectuals, including Fernando Pessoa, came here. Inside, the table where Pessoa always sat is still reserved for him, and the walls display photos of him in the café.

Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888, he is described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century. His father died when he was 5 years old, and when his mother remarried, the family moved to Durban, South Africa, where Fernando’s step father was the Portuguese consul. Pessoa returned to Lisbon when he was 17, and spent 2 years at university before dropping out to study by himself at the National Library. He started writing when he was a child, he wrote his first poem when he was seven. He published his first essay in literary criticism in 1912, his first piece of creative prose in 1913, and his first poems as an adult in 1914, however he didn’t publish very much while he was alive, even though he was a prolific writer.  Respected in Lisbon as an intellectual and a poet, he regularly published his work in magazines, but his literary genius went largely unrecognized until after his death.

This statue stands outside the house where Pessoa was born, and lived until he moved to South Africa, a plaque on the wall states his home was on the forth floor of the building.

Fernando Pessoa

Pessoa was convinced of his own genius, and lived for writing. He created over a hundred literary figures, which he called ‘heteronyms’, the most well known were Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos, which had distinct biographies, temperaments, philosophies, appearances, and writing styles. Pessoa explained that, ‘the pseudonymous work is by the author in his own person, except he signs it with another name; the heteronymic work is by the author outside his own person, it is the work of an individual  completely fabricated by him, as if they were the words of any character in any of his dramas’. He said ‘This tendency to create around me another world, just like this one but with other people, has never left my imagination’. When he died a chest in his bedroom had over 25,000 manuscript sheets of poetry, prose, plays, philosophy, criticism, translations, linguistic theory, political writings, and horoscopes written in Portuguese, English and French. Pessoa wrote in notebooks, on the backs of letters, envelopes, scraps of paper, advertisements and handbills, and on stationery from the firms he worked for and from the cafés he frequented,

The apartment where Pessoa spent the last 15 years of his life is now a museum, housing the private library of Pessoa, some 1300 books, half of which are written in English. Many of these books have notes, comments, questions or even an entire poem written by Pessoa. He also translated, underlined and wrote in the margins of these books, exactly what the reasoning, characters and words of other writers aroused in his own thinking and in his writing practice. All of these books are available on line, (casafernandopessoa.pt). The museum also has artists representations of Pessoa, a quiet and private man, he only sat for one portrait in his lifetime. The photographs of him were taken by street photographers.

The only portrait Pessoa sat for

Fernando was taken to hospital on the 29 November 1935, where he now famously wrote, ‘I know not what tomorrow may bring’. He died the next day. He was only 47 when he died, his death is thought to be due to cirrhosis of the liver. Eighty five years after his death, Pessoa’s huge legacy of work has still not been completely charted by researchers, and a significant part of his writing is still waiting to be published.

9 February 2019

Manteigaria Silva

Lisbon, Portugal

The first ‘Lojas com Historias’ this week is Manteigaria Silva. In 1890, the area where the salt cod store is today, opened its doors for the first time, under a different name. Next door, the area where the grocery store is now, was originally a slaughterhouse, which catered to the old market on Praça da Figueira, which no longer exists. In 1922 the shop changed hands and became a Manteigarias, a butter shop, Silva was the family name of the proprietors. Only shops classified as manteigarias were allowed to sell butter and dairy products, and in Lisbon there were only about twenty of them when this shop opened. At the time, butter was an important and expensive product, which came from the Azores in blocks and was sold by weight, in small packages. Butter and its by-products were the only items for sale at this store.

The shop was extended in the 1930s to the size it is today, one side of the shop selling salt cod, and the other side a grocery store specialising in regional products and delicacies, like hams, sausages, cheeses, dried fruits and wines.

Espingardaria Central A Montez opened in 1902 and the shop is always described as being where the weapon that triggered Portugal’s transition from monarchy to republic in 1910 was purchased. The firearms used in the assault on King Carlos were bought at the shop, including the Winchester that killed the king. The seller was a young shop assistant,
António Montez, who later became the shops owner, naming the shop after himself, it has remained in the family. Montez represented Portugal at the Paris Olympics of 1924, coming 30th in the 25 metre rapid fire pistol shooting event. The spelling of ‘Revolwers’ refers back to a time when the ‘w’ was still part of the Portuguese alphabet, today ‘K, W and Y’ are only used in foreign words.

Espingardaria Central A Montez

Chapelaria Azevedo Rua, a hat shop, was founded in 1886 by Manuel Aquino de Azevedo Rua. He was a producer of Port wine, but had to leave his Douro vineyards when disease ruined his vines. The business has always remained in the family, with the fifth generation now running the shops.

Livraria Ferin is the second oldest bookshop in Portugal, founded in 1840. The name of this bookstore originates from the nickname of the Belgian family that settled in Portugal during the Napoleonic wars. The shop has remained in the same family, with the sixth generation of the family now running the store.

Casa Pereira da Conceição opened in 1933 and sells a wide range of teas and coffees. They have their own blend of coffee, beans are ground in the old machines on the counters. It also sells coffee making machines and accessories; chocolates; almonds, and hand fans.

Franco Gravador, does engraving, and personalised date and number stamps, opened in 1916, and was located in Rua da Prata before it moved to Rua da Vitória, in 1944. The founder, Joaquim Cândido Franco, passed it on to his daughter, who in turn passed it on to her daughter, Dulce Franco Matos, who currently manages the shop.

Alfredo Pinto da Cunha, a goldsmith from Porto, purchased Joalharia do Carmo from its founder Raúl Pereira in the late 1920s, and it has remained in the same family ever since. In 1925 the architect Norte Júnior produced the design for the iconic Art Nouveau façade, which remains unchanged. The jewellers is known for stocking exclusive Portuguese items.

2 February 2019

Lisbon, Portugal

One of the things I enjoy about living in Lisbon is there is so much to learn about the city. I have recently discovered the ‘Historic Shops Project’, set up by the City Council in February 2015, in recognition of the role these establishments have in the  city’s identity and character, and to ensure the conservation and revitalisation of this heritage. The project states,
‘One of the priorities of the city of Lisbon is to work with the traditional and historic businesses in the city with a view to conserving and protecting them and their material, historic and cultural heritage and energising and reinvigorating the commercial activities essential for their existence. It was with this objective in mind that Lisbon City Council launched its programme, which is a first in Portugal.’

Dotted all over the city centre, these shops can be identified by the ‘Lojas com Historias’ sign located somewhere on front of the building. They all have their own unique stories, I thought you might like to know about some of them.

I’m starting with Caza das Vellas Loreto, which is one of Lisbon’s oldest shops. It is has been in the same building, owned by the same family, producing and selling the same products, candles, since 1789.

Caza das Vellas Loreto

The Luvaria Ulisses, a glove shop, was founded in 1925 by Joaquim Rodrigues Simões. The shop’s tiny interior, it is the size of a cupboard, was created by Carlos de Alcântara Knotz, a wood carver, and the original interior is still maintained today. Made-to-measure gloves in seven different sizes are sold here, they are made in a nearby workshop in Travessa do Almada.

Ferragens Guedes was founded in 1922 by Luís Guedes da Silva, who sold the items he produced in his foundries, in this shop. The shop is lined with cupboards containing the item attached to the outside, it has just about every item that one may need to complete a piece of furniture, open or close a door, a window or even a safe.

Pequeno Jardim, (Little Garden) founded in 1922, is an example of the ‘shop under the stairs’, literally it’s a shop installed in a building’s entrance hallway, so it is very small, which is why the flowers and plants are displayed on the pavement.  The iron-framed, Art Nouveau inspired shop window, has a painted glass shop sign on the façade naming the shop’s founder. Florists are quite rare in the centre of Lisbon, so it’s a joy to have this pop of colour on the street.

The Ginjinha Sem Rival shop was founded towards the end of the 19th century by the current proprietors’ grandfather, João Lourenço Cima. The original interior had the Art Deco influenced work added after 1920. It opens from 8 in the morning until midnight, selling Ginjinha, (also called ginja). The original recipe for Ginjinha was created by a monk, who was inspired to ferment Morello cherries in brandy, with lots of sugar, water and cinnamon. Ginja is served in small glasses, costing around €1.40 a shot, one can drink it with or without the cherries at any time of the day, and usually while standing on the pavement, because the traditional ginja shops, like this one, are quite small and only have a serving counter, not table and chairs. It is a very popular tipple in Lisbon and one often sees queues at ginja shops.

This shop makes it’s own ginja and also supplies other ginja houses too. If you have visited Lisbon and either drank or bought a bottle of Ginja Sem Revival, this is where it was made. The shop also makes and sells a liqueur called Eduardino, named after the clown pictured on the bottle’s label, (just seen on the counter on the above photo). The clown, who performed in a theatre near the shop, was a regular customer here and liked to drink a concoction of ginja, herbs and spices. It became so popular it was produced and bottled, with the trademark registered in 1908, and as the sign states, it is the only place where you can drink Eduardino.

The sign above this tiny little shop front states that this is a hairdressers, ‘Cabelleireiro’, spelt with double ‘L’, is the old way of spelling hairdresser, it is actually a barbers, Barbearia Campos. Founded in 1886, by the Campos & Costa company, the business was taken over by José Augusto de Campos, when the company was dissolved in 1920, and has remained in his family since then. Apart from a temporary move to another premises when the building was being renovated, the business has operated at this site since 1886, and is the oldest barber shop in Portugal.

The shop still has some original features, the marble sinks and counter, and the tiled floor. The chrome chairs were a 20th century addition. Displays of original tools used in beard and hair care sit along side contemporary tools. The huge board has details of some of their famous customers.

26 January 2019

Quinta da Regaleira

Sintra, Portugal

Regaleira Palace

Sintra has several unique places to visit and Quinta da Regaleira is one of them. It was named after the Viscountess da Regaleira, who bought the estate in 1840 to use as a summer retreat. When António Monteiro purchased it in 1893, he added adjacent plots of land, and hired the Italian architect Luigi Manini, who added Manueline, Roman, Renaissance and Gothic architectural features to the 4 hectares of Quinta da Regaleira, completing the project in 1911. It remained in private ownership until 1997, when the Municipality of Sintra bought the estate, and after extensive renovations, opened it to the public in June 1998. This site is included in the Cultural Landscape of Sintra classification as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Regaleira Palace
The Hunting room

The Regaleira Palace has five floors, but only had a couple of rooms on the ground floor were open, as the rest of the palace was being renovated when I visited.

The paths, above ground, weave around the extensive gardens, leading one to water features, wells, and castle like structures. There are underground tunnels leading to grottos, caves, and to the Initiation Well.

Garden Bench
Portal of the Guardians
Initiation Well

The Initiation Well is 27 meters deep, walk down the stone steps to the well floor and there are tunnels that lead to other parts of the gardens.

12 January 2019

Lisbon, Portugal

My walk today took me down to the River Tagus, where I watched a sleepy sun rising into a cloudless sky. The ground is freckled with dots of glitter and sparkles from the new year’s eve celebrations, reminding me we are already 12 days in to this new year. This early in the morning the city is still waking up, coffee shops are putting tables and chairs outside, ferries are taking people to work, and the seagulls are making the most of the low tide, to have their breakfast on the beach.

The sunlight at this time of the day, gives an orangey glow to everything. I was pleased to see the cranes, which rather rudely, ruined photos of the Praça do Comércio, have now gone. While I’m on the subject of morning walks, these are a couple of shots I took walking along the Avenida da Liberdade, I think Lisbon is a beautiful city.

The Algarve

At the risk of boring you with sun themed shots I thought I’d share some photos I took of the few days I spent in the Algarve, over Christmas. It was very quiet at Vilamoura Marina, so a joy to walk around, we walked there one evening in time to watch the sunset before we had dinner. The combination of water, boats and the sunset made it a very pleasant pre dinner walk.

Watching the sun set after Christmas lunch in the Algarve

There are great views from the apartment I was staying in, on this morning I got up early enough to see the mist rolling across the golf course.

23 December 2018

Lisbon, Portugal

It is just me or has this year gone by at super fast speed? It doesn’t seem twelve months since I was telling you I was moving from Asia to Europe, and here I am, almost a year later, feeling very settled in Lisbon. I’ve had a really good year, although I still feel I have only scratched the surface of the delights this city, and country, can offer. I think with places, like people, arts, food, etc., one either likes or doesn’t like them, and from the first week I arrived in Lisbon it felt good to be here, this city is my home.

This Christmas I won’t be feeling anxious about moving half way across the world to start again. I’m spending a relaxed Christmas in the Algarve with a very lovely, dear friend and then coming home to Lisbon to meet up with some more of my favourite humans, who are flying here to join me in the new year celebrations. I am blessed to have such good humans in my life.

This time of year, for me, is always a time of reflection, looking back on what I’ve done over the last twelve months and looking forward to the plans, hopes and aspirations I have for the coming months. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope this festive season is whatever you want it to be, and wish you health, happiness, and that 2019 is everything you want and hope, it will be. Boas Festas.

15 December 2018

 Alcácer do Sal, Portugal

Alcácer do Sal is a municipality in the Setúbal district, the small town is 90 kilometres south of Lisbon and gets it name from the Moorish Castle of Alcàcer, which, situated on the highest point, dominates the landscape. Excavations in the 20th century revealed evidence of human occupation here dating back to the late Neolithic Age. The Archaeological Crypt of the castle has the ruins of a Roman house, during the Roman occupation of Alcàcer do Sal it became an important trade centre for wool and salt.  

Rice is grown in Portugal, a fact I didn’t know until my visit here. The River Sado flows through the town, the flat lands and climate make Alcàcer do Sal perfect for growing rice. The climb up the hill to the castle provided views of the rice fields either side of the river. The air was filled with the smell of wood smoke, it was a beautiful still autumn day and I got there in time to watch the sun set.

Rice fields
Rice fields
Views of River Sado as the sun sets
Footbridge over the Sado
Igreja de Santiago
Igreja de Santiago

The Igreja de Santigo, known as much for the resident storks nesting on the twin bell towers as it is for the 18th century azulejos, that cover the inside of the building.

When the sun had set I went for a cruise on the river in the Galeão do Sado, a traditional boat that was originally used to carry the salt that was produced here. Salt production stopped years ago, so the restored boat is now used for tourist trips. It provides a different view of the delightful town of Alcàcer do Sal. 

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.