Food and drink, Sangria - the sweet taste of summer in a glass

Sangria – the sweet taste of summer in a glass

0001 (641)

In recent years sangria has gained a bit of a negative image through its association with the ‘sun, sea and sangria’ package holidays in Spain and Portugal. But the origins of sangria go back to Roman times when water was often unclean and people added alcohol to it to make it safe to drink.  In the wine-growing regions of the Iberian peninsula red wine was also added to the mixture to improve the flavour. The drink evolved over the centuries, with the addition of orange juice, lemonade and fruit, in part to make some of the unpalatable wines drinkable. The resulting drink was the colour of blood and so became known as sangria (from the Spanish and Portuguese word for ‘bleeding’). Since 1991 a European Union law has decreed that sangria can only be produced in Spain and Portugal and must be within the boundaries set out in the law, which says that sangria should be wine to which the extract or essence of citrus fruits is added and, optionally, citrus-fruit juice, pulp and/or peel, spices and a carbonated drink, but with no artificial colouring, and that the volume of alcohol must be between 4.5% and 12%. Outside of this decree anything goes and in Portugal there are many varieties of sangria, including white wine sangria, sparkling wine sangria, sangria with ginjinha, and sangria with tropical fruits or red berries and currants. However, here is one of the classic recipes:
1 bottle of red wine (750ml)
500ml orange juice
500ml fizzy lemonade, orangeade or soda water
330ml lager
50ml of a spirit, such as rum or brandy
1 orange, sliced or chopped
1 lemon, sliced or chopped
1 apple, sliced or chopped
150g sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
ice cubes
a sprig of mint

It is so refreshing on a hot day that it is easy to forget that it is alcoholic, but for me it will always be the taste of a Portuguese summer.


History, Lisbon, The Marquês de Pombal – the liberal despot who rebuilt Lisbon

The Marquês de Pombal – the liberal despot who rebuilt Lisbon

picture 00001 (0403)If you stand on the viewing platform at the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa in Lisbon there is a wonderful view of the Baixa district below with its grid-like streets and spacious squares, and it is hard to image that it wasn’t always like this. But before 1755 the district was made up of narrow winding streets situated behind the large Ribeira Palace (the former royal palace in what is now the Praça do Comércio, which can be seen in the famous panorama of Lisbon c.1700 in the Azulejo Museum).

picture 00001 (559)-Rua de Santa Justa, Castle and Graca Church
Rua de Santa Justa, Graça church and St George’s Castle from Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon
picture 00001 (325)
Ribeira Palace and the Baixa district c.1700 (from a panel in the Azulejo Museum, Lisbon)

In 1755 an earthquake that is said to have reached up to 9 on the Richter scale hit Lisbon on the morning of 1st November, followed by a tidal wave. Then fires brokes out all over the city, believed to have been started by candles in the churches lit for All Saints’ Day. Much of the city was completely destroyed, particularly the Baixa district and the Ribeira Palace. Although it is unknown how many people died, it is estimated to be between 30,000 and 90,000; many as a result of the famine that ensued.

At the time, the country was ruled by King José I, who was not interested in governing and was happy to let his Prime Minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), better known as the Marquês de Pombal (which he became in 1770), run the country. The Marquês de Pombal is a controversial figure in Portuguese history, as he was a liberal who brought about many reforms, but dealt harshly with anyone who opposed him. He had a no-nonsense response to the situation after the earthquake, summed up in a quotation attributed to him, saying that they needed to ‘bury the dead and take care of the living’. He immediately ordered the precarious buildings in the Baixa to be demolished and, with architects Eugénio dos Santos and Manuel da Maia, set about designing and rebuilding the area in a grid pattern, with low-rise functional buildings, wide streets and large squares, all designed to withstand future earthquakes. He also introduced a sewerage system and wells for clean water to prevent disease spreading. He is even responsible for introducing the calçada (cobbled pavement) to Lisbon. He wanted the Baixa to be the commercial area of the city, with the shops grouped together according to their trade. Today streets in the Baixa still retain the names of these trades, such as Rua do Ouro (Gold Street), Rua da Prata (Silver Street) and Rua dos Sapateiros (Shoemakers Street). The squares of Praça Dom Pedro IV (also known as Rossio), Praça da Figueira and Praça do Comércio were built during this period. The redesign also included retaining the ruins of the Carmo Church as a memorial to the earthquake. The naked gothic arches against the skyline are still one of the most dramatic and sobering images in Lisbon.picture 00001 (0552)

His style of town planning and architecture brought a new adjective, ‘Pombaline’, into the language and with this style he is said to have modernised Lisbon.

As a liberal he wanted to give more power to the middle classes and increase the number of bankers and merchants, in part to finance the rebuilding of the Baixa, but mainly to diminish the power of the aristocracy and the church, in particular the Jesuits. His liberal reforms included abolishing slavery, reforming education, the law, agriculture, industry and trade and giving equal rights to New Christians (former Jews who had converted to Christianity). However, his liberalism didn’t extend as far as people who opposed him; in that respect he ruled like a dictator. He was ruthless in eliminating his enemies, to the extent of implicating some of his opponents in an attempt on the King’s life and having them killed for treason. Political and religious dissenters were imprisoned, he introduced censorship and he was merciless in his suppression of the Jesuits, expelling them from Portugal in 1759 and even having 10 Jesuit priests burnt in one of the final auto-da-fés in Portugal. His period of governance came to an abrupt end in 1777 when King José I died and his daughter, Maria, became queen. He was sacked (not surprisingly, as he had schemed to remove Maria from the line of succession) and then charged with serious offences committed during his 27 years in government. He managed to avoid going to prison due to his advanced years. Despite Queen Maria I’s dislike of him, his legacy of reform mainly survived, except for his religious reforms, which she repealed.

The statue on the Praça do Marquês de Pombal roundabout, built between 1917 and 1934 by the architects Arnaldo Redondo, Adães Bermudes and António do Couto, along with sculptors Francisco dos Santos and (after his death) José Simões de Almeida and Leopoldo Neves de Almeida, is a fitting tribute to the man and his reforms (although it overlooks his darker deeds!). Positioned at the end of the Avenida da Liberdade near the Parque Eduardo VII, the bronze statue of the Marquês de Pombal standing alongside a lion looks down the avenue towards the Baixa area that he created.

At the top of the 40-metre pedestal on which he stands are medallions of men who worked with him: Machado de Castro, Luís da Cunha, Eugénio dos Santos and Manuel da Maia and below them are a list of his reforms.picture 00001 (0393) Lower down the monument are sculptures depicting his main areas of reform, dominated by two large sculptures: on one side an ox pulling a plough alongside agricultural workers, one of whom is carrying a basket of grapes, to represent the agricultural industry; and on the other a horse and a group of manual workers pulling a boat loaded with port barrels and draped with a fishing net to represent the port and fishing industries. The scale and attention to detail is breathtaking.picture 00001 (0043) 0001picture 00001 (0394) 0001 At the back of the monument in front of the mausoleum is a bronze figure of the Roman goddess Minerva symbolizing education. At the front is the prow of a ship with the Lisbon coat of arms and on either side of it are two powerful images of a collapsing building and a tidal wave depicting the earthquake.

Above the prow of the ship is a semi-nude female figure representing the new Pombaline Lisbon. picture 00001 (0396)The fact that the statue was inaugurated in the early years of Salazar’s Estado Novo (New State) can’t be ignored and it played to the nationalist values of the dictatorship. Comparisons can be drawn between the two men, particularly in their fierce intolerance of anyone who opposed them. However, while Salazar’s policies had left Portugal as a backward country at the time of the 1974 revolution, the Marquês de Pombal will always be remembered as the man who rebuilt Lisbon and through his liberal reforms brought Portugal into the modern era.

Art, Lisbon, The Azulejo Museum, Lisbon: a celebration of a Portuguese art form

The Azulejo Museum, Lisbon: a celebration of a Portuguese art form



The azulejo (decorative tile) is without doubt the art form synonymous with Portugal and it is fitting that it should have a museum dedicated to it, but the great thing about azulejo art is that it can been seen all over Portugal: on the facades of buildings, on walls of churches and palaces, and even in Lisbon metro stations. The word azulejo originates from the Arabic az-zuleij which refers to the smooth polished stones they used to create mosaic-patterned tiles and the azulejo art form in southern Europe originated with the Moors, who brought it to Spain in the eighth century. The Azulejo Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) in the Xabregas district of Lisbon charts the history of tile-making in Portugal from the early Hispano-Moresque tiles to the present day and shows the changes in techniques and styles throughout the centuries, beginning in the early-sixteenth century when tiles made in Valencia and Seville were imported to Portugal. These were designed in an Islamic style comprising colourful geometric patterns and so that the colours didn’t run into each other during firing two techniques were developed: the corda seca (dry cord) method, in which a groove was carved into the damp clay; and the aresta (ridge) method, in which ridges were produced in the damp clay.

picture 00001 (218)
Hispano-Moorish tiles (16th century)

In the mid-sixteenth century, Italian artists came to live in Lisbon and brought with them a method of painting directly onto the clay using a tin oxide coating to stop the colours running and this allowed the tile to have a smooth surface rather than the grooves and ridges of the Hispano-Moresque tiles. This method, known as majolica, was adopted in Portugal and hence the Portuguese azulejo was born. Early Portuguese azulejo panels depicted religious imagery and one of the most beautiful examples is the retable of Nossa Senhora da Vida (‘Our Lady of Life’, attributed to Marçal de Matos, c.1580), which includes images of the adoration of the shepherds and St John.

picture 00001 (220)
Retable of ‘Nossa Senhora da Vida’ (c.1580)

The seventeenth century saw a great variety of styles developing in the azulejo art form. Azulejos de Padrão or Tapetes (rugs) were so named as they resembled Moorish rugs hanging on a wall. They usually comprised repeated patterns in blue, yellow and white and often had an inset panel depicting a religious scene. In this century the wealthy were decorating their houses with secular azulejo panels, often depicting battles from Portuguese history, episodes from the Discoveries, scenes from mythology, and hunting scenes. Techniques used to create Dutch delftware were adopted by the makers of azulejos and allowed artists to include more detail in their pictures. It was also popular to use exotic patterns on altar frontals, inspired by those on printed textiles imported from India, rather than traditional religious imagery.


A major change in the style of the azulejo occurred in the late-seventeenth century, influenced by blue and white porcelain imported from China, which had become fashionable in Portugal. Artists began painting pictures solely in blue paint on the white background of the tile and it is still the style most associated with the azulejo and is one reason some people erroneously assume the word azulejo comes from azul (the Portuguese word for ‘blue’). By the eighteenth-century Portugal had become the largest producer of tiles and in this decade panels depicting scenes of daily life, such as people on a terrace or a lady at her dressing table, and others decorated with colourful vases of flowers, known as Albarradas, became popular. The influence of the Baroque and Rococo movements resulted in azulejo panels gaining ornate flourishes, such as colourful borders of cherubs, shells and plants. After the earthquake of 1755 it also became common to cover the exterior of buildings with azulejos, to protect it as well as decorate it. To meet the demand an earthenware factory opened in the Rato district of Lisbon which produced tiles with simple repetitive designs for the walls of kitchens and hallways.


The mass-production of azulejos in the mid-nineteenth century meant that ordinary people could afford them and they were no longer just for the elite. However, one of the highlights of this period is a series of self-indulgent azulejo panels telling the rags-to-riches story of António Joaquim Carneiro, a wealthy Lisbon hatmaker. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries fashions continued to evolve, from art noveau works by the notable late-nineteenth-century artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, through the early-twentieth-century Art Deco movement to later-twentieth- and twenty-first-century works such as ‘Lisbonne aux Mille Couleurs’ (1937) by Paolo Ferreira, ‘Os Reis Magos’ (‘The Three Kings’, 1945) and ‘A Pintura e a Escultura’ (‘Painting and Sculpture’, 1954) by Jorge Barradas, ‘Camões’ (1988) by Júlio Pomar (from a panel in the Alto dos Moinhos metro station), and ‘Albarrada’ 2001 by Bela Silva (an homage to the eighteenth-century fashion for panels depicting vases of flowers).


The Azulejo Museum is housed in the former Madre de Deus convent which was founded in 1509 by Queen Leonor (wife of João II and sister of Manuel I who succeeded João II). It was built in the Manueline style, but much of it was damaged during the 1755 earthquake and it was rebuilt in the eighteenth century. However, some Manueline elements can still be seen on the façade and in the cloister with the Saint Auta fountain and geometrical tiles (although these tiles date from the nineteenth century). The church and the Chapel of Saint Anthony are wonderfully Baroque, with opulent gold decoration, panels of azulejos depicting biblical scenes and scenes from the life of Saint Anthony, ornate altars and paintings on the walls and ceilings. The café is also worth visiting for its eighteenth-century azulejo panels depicting fish and animals hanging up waiting to be prepared for cooking.


The pièce de résistance, on the top floor of the museum, housed in a room of its own, is a 23-metre-long panorama of Lisbon dating from around 1700 (attributed to the painter Gabriel del Barco). It gives a detailed view of how the city, from Xabregas to Algés, looked before the devastating earthquake of 1755. It is fun to try and find at all the recognisable buildings that survived, such as Saint George’s Castle, Lisbon Cathedral, the Madre de Deus Convent, the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower, but it is also fascinating to see the buildings that didn’t survive the earthquake, such as the Dukes of Braganza Palace and the Ribeira Palace (the former royal palace in what is now Praça do Comércio). It acts as an important historical document of what daily life was like in Lisbon in the early 1700s, with scenes of activity in the Ribeira market and on the river.

picture 00001 (321)
Panorama of Lisbon (c.1700)


In the past the process of creating an azulejo panel was labour-intensive. A clay square was fired and then covered with a glaze onto which a picture was drawn and then painted with a special paint. Larger panels were painted as a whole and then each tile was numbered before the panel was taken apart and reassembled after firing. Nowadays the majority of azulejos are made in factories where each tile is printed by a machine. However, some are still hand painted and are keeping this most Portuguese of art forms very much alive, as the museum makes testament to.


Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Rua da Madre de Deus, Lisbon

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm (closed Mondays, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June, 25 December, 1 January)

Entrance: €5

Bus: 718, 742, 794 and the open-top buses

On foot: it is a 20-minute walk from Santa Apolónia station. Ensure you walk in a north-easterly direction along Rua Caminhos de Ferro  (with the railway lines on your right) – we made the mistake of walking to the right of Santa Apolónia station and found ourselves in an unsavoury area underneath the flyover and not sure if we would be able to get across the railway lines (thankfully we were able!).