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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.