Assumption Day, 15th August, Festivals

Assumption Day, 15th August

Photo (125)
Church of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes, Armação de Pêra


Dia da Assunção de Nossa Senhora (Assumption Day) is a religious festival that takes place on 15th August which celebrates the Catholic Church’s belief that the Virgin Mary, at the end of her earthly life, did not die but instead her body and soul were assumed into heaven.

Throughout the country there are processions of the statue of the Virgin Mary through the streets, followed by a Mass. But for many people the national holiday falls right in the middle of the summer holiday season and is an excuse to head to the beach!

Banks, post offices and other public services are closed on this day (this includes some museums) and public transport runs to a reduced timetable. However, large shopping centres and shops in tourist areas should be open as usual. Churches will be closed to tourists while Mass is taking place.

Centro region, Nazaré: place of sea mists and big waves

Nazaré: place of sea mists and big waves

Picture 1502 0001

Nazaré was a most welcome sight after a long day of travelling from Leiria to Batalha and then to Alcobaça to visit two of the most famous monasteries in Portugal. A rather fraught journey by public bus from Alcobaça to Nazaré had left me feeling stressed and in need of a beer and a comfortable bed, the latter of which was waiting for us as we had booked two nights in Nazaré, a seaside resort on the Costa de Prata (Silver Coast), for rest and recuperation halfway through our week-long trip around western Portugal. After dropping off our bags at our hotel we went for a walk along the promenade, marvelling at the long expanse of golden sandy beach, which seemed to go on forever, and the imposing cliff to the north of the town, with the funicular track and eye-catching mural, topped by the neighbourhood of Sítio da Nazaré. We were too tired to investigate the town any further that evening and went off in search of a nice bar, which we found in the Praça Souza Oliveira, just off the sea front.

Picture 1325 0001
Praça Souza Oliveira, Nazaré

After a good night’s sleep and a light breakfast we headed to Sítio da Nazaré, which was the original village of Nazaré until the eighteenth century, as until that time what is now the seaside resort of lower Nazaré was under the sea. Being at the top of the cliff, 110 metres above sea level, also meant that the inhabitants were less likely to be attacked by the pirates that roamed the seas. We took the modern funicular (Ascensor da Nazaré) which runs on a track built in 1889 to the top of the cliff where we stepped out near the Miradouro do Suberco, a wonderful viewpoint overlooking the sea, beaches and town of Nazaré below.

Sítio da Nazaré is dominated by the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré), a beautiful Baroque church which houses a small black wooden statue of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus, rumoured to have been carved by Saint Joseph (the father of Christ) and painted by Saint Luke. The statue is believed to have been brought to Spain from Nazareth in the fourth century (it is from this that Nazaré got its name) and then brought to Sítio da Nazaré in the eighth century where it was hidden in the rocks during the period of Moorish rule. The statue and church are connected to a famous legend which tells of Dom Fuas Roupinho, a nobleman, who in 1182 was hunting deer on the cliff. A sea mist came down and the deer he was chasing ran over the edge of the cliff. Dom Fuas’ horse was about to follow it over the edge when Dom Fuas cried out to the Virgin Mary and she appeared and made the horse stop at the very edge of the precipice thus saving Dom Fuas’ life. Dom Fuas built the Ermida da Memória (Chapel of Remembrance) as a shrine to the miracle and to house the little statue of the Virgin Mary.

It is said that the hoof prints of his horse can still be seen at the Bico do Milagre (Point of the Miracle) where it happened. The statue now has pride of place in the altar of the church which was built in her honour in the fourteenth century by King Fernando I and visitors can have the unusual experience of climbing up stairs behind the altar to see the statue close up and being able to look out over the nave from there. Also in the area behind the altar is a small chapel with beautiful eighteenth-century azulejos and an area of votive offerings to Our Lady of Nazaré, including replicas of children and limbs in wax and models of boats. For me, the highlight was a naïve painting near the entrance of the nave depicting the miracle of Dom Fuas.

Attached to the church is the small Museu de Arte Sacra (Sacred Art Museum) which has a collection of religious artefacts, such as robes, votive offerings and statues, including the affecting carving of Nossa Senhora das Dores (Our Lady of Sorrows). The church is located in a large square which has a pretty bandstand in the centre and stalls selling souvenirs and local products including knitwear and dried fruit and nuts.

Many stalls are run by women wearing traditional costume, which consists of coloured blouses and headscarves, embroidered aprons, gold earrings, long woollen socks, mules and the famous seven skirts of Nazaré, a narrow-waisted full skirt which has a thick outer layer and six or so thinner under layers. In the past there was a practical reason for wearing this type of skirt combined with an element of superstition which goes back to the mid-twentieth century when women would sit on the beach waiting for their menfolk to return from a fishing trip. The outer layer of the skirt was used as a shawl protecting the head and shoulders while the other layers covered their legs and it is also said that the women used the skirts to count the waves, believing that waves travel in sets of seven and hoping that their menfolk’s fishing boat would come to shore safely before the seventh and biggest wave. Although nowadays this costume tends to be worn on festival days and by women working in the tourist industry, older women watching over the fishing drying on the beach can still be seen wearing it.

Just behind the church, hidden away in the Rua Brito Alão, is a small peach-coloured theatre, Teatro Chaby Pinheiro, an eclectic building which includes art nouveau elements designed by the architect Ernesto Korrodi in 1907, and which is worth seeing for the eye-catching theatrical mask surrounded by musical instruments on the gable. A short walk from the centre is the bullring, which is still used for bullfights, but was not open to tourists on the day we visited. In fact, there were no tourists around in this part of the town; despite being so close to the centre it was a typical Portuguese neighbourhood with facilities for the locals, including a small grocery shop selling the cheapest bottle of water I have ever bought in Portugal!

In the other direction from the square is a path that leads to one of the most famous surfing beaches in the world, Praia do Norte, and the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo. The fort is famous for a rebellion against the French invadors in July 1808 when a local resistance group made up of townsfolk, using any weapons they could get hold of, took back the fort where the French were quartered. Nowadays the invaders are tourists who come to enjoy the views of the coast. At the entrance to the beach is a striking sculpture in marble and steel called ‘Veado’ (‘Deer’, 2016) by Agostinho Pires and Adália Alberto, which shows a human body with a deer’s head holding a surfboard, combining the two things that Sítio da Nazaré is famous for, surfing and the legend of Dom Fuas. Praia do Norte holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever surfed (at 24.38 metres) by the Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa on 8th November 2017. A photograph in the small surfing exhibition in the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo shows a wave rising high above the fort, as if to engulf it. Luckily the sea looked very calm on the late September day that we were visiting and there were no surfers on the beach; they come in search of the big waves in the winter months.

There is an explanation in the fort as to why Nazaré gets such high waves; it is due to a 5km-deep underwater canyon. In very simple terms, the deep water of the canyon crosses the shallower continental shelf and the difference in depth, combined with a build up of water in the cove which then meets a current coming from the other direction, creates very high waves which break when their height is equal to the depth of the water. Due to the currents, even on a calm day the sea off Praia do Norte is not a safe place to swim and there is great respect for the fishermen who go to sea off this coast in vulnerable fishing boats. It is not surprising that there are so many monuments around Nazaré dedicated to the people of Nazaré, including the bronze statue ‘Mãe Nazarena’ (‘Nazarene Mother’) on Avenida Manuel Remígio, which depicts a Nazerene woman carrying a representation of the cliff and Sítio da Nazaré on her head, harking back to the days when the women carried heavy items on their heads, and holding two children in representation of her role as mother and fisherman’s wife. Also on Avenida Manuel Remígio is ‘Monumento aos Náufragos’ (‘Monument to the Survivors of Shipwrecks’), which is an emotive statue in marble showing a woman holding a drowned man with his head resting on her lap. In Largo dos Cedros is a fountain (sadly in a state of disrepair), ‘Monumento à Mulher da Nazaré’ (‘Monument to the Woman of Nazaré’), which has azulejo-panelled segments depicting scenes of village life in the past including a fishing boat being pulled onto the beach by oxen, men mending their nets, women carrying water in containers on their head and washing their clothes in a stream. Nowadays the fishing boats depart from the harbour to the south of the town, but traditional fishing boats from the past are exhibited along the top of the beach with information panels about them and rows of frames with fish drying in the sun watched over by the older women of Nazaré show that fishing is still an important part of Nazaré’s identity.

A gentle stroll from Sítio da Nazaré down the zigzagging path back into lower Nazaré took us past a huge mural, painted on the side of the cliff by Erick Wilson, of the fort and lighthouse with a huge blue wave behind it, which can be seen from miles away. On the seafront road we passed by two small, pretty, azulejo-covered chapels hidden among the abundance of modern hotels, restaurants and gift shops: Capela de Santo António na Nazaré (Chapel of Saint Anthony in Nazaré), built in the late-nineteenth century with donations from the fishermen, and Capela de Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos (Chapel of Our Lady of the Afflicted), dating from 1760.

Leaving the seafront we headed into the backstreets of the fishermen’s district, which retains a traditional feel with narrow cobbled streets of whitewashed houses and washing hanging from the balconies. From here we continued up to the fishing harbour at the far end of the town, which is a reminder that Nazaré still is a working fishing town and that the fish served in the local restaurants is freshly caught.

Picture 1525 0001
Fishing harbour, Nazaré

All day we had noticed a sea mist over the town that continuously moved around, at one point completely obscuring Sítio da Nazaré and later covering the area to the east of Nazaré. However, by the late afternoon it had started to envelope lower Nazaré and as we sat at a seafront café we watched the beach and town slowly disappear in the same kind of mist that nearly killed Dom Fuas all those centuries ago.

Picture 1568


Picture 1570
Azulejo panel of Nazaré (1929) at Valado do Frades station

Nazaré is accessible by bus from Alcobaça, Caldas da Rainha, Peniche, Leiria, Lisbon and Valado dos Frades (where there is a train station on the Linha do Oeste regional line). A taxi from Valado dos Frades to Nazaré costs approximately €9.

Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo: €1 entrance. Open every day 10am-6pm.

Ascensor da Nazaré: €1.20 one way. Runs June to mid-July and mid-late September 7.30am-midnight; mid-July to mid-September (and a few other holidays) 7.30am-2am; October to May 7.30am-8.30pm.

Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, Largo de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, Sítio da Nazaré: Open April to September 9am-7pm; October to March 9am-6pm.

Museu de Arte Sacra in the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré: €1 entrance. Open July to September 10am-7pm; October to June 10am-1pm and 2pm-6pm.


Festivals, Lisbon, The Festival of Saint Anthony in Lisbon: a celebration of weddings, parades and the humble sardine

The Festival of Saint Anthony in Lisbon: a celebration of weddings, parades and the humble sardine

Picture (2142)
Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony’s church, Lisbon

The festival of Saint Anthony on 12th and 13th June is the party of the year in Lisbon. It has the same importance in Lisbon as the festival of Saint John has in Porto, but it is celebrated in a very Lisboan style. Saint Anthony, along with Our Lady of the Conception, is the patron saint of Portugal and is the unofficial patron saint of Lisbon along with the official patron saint, Saint Vincent. He was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in what is now Saint Anthony’s church in Lisbon in 1195 and died on 13th June 1231, which is why his feast is celebrated on this day. He is a saint associated with many things including sailors, fishermen, farmers, travellers, the poor, the oppressed, the elderly, financial problems, lovers, marriage, the home and family, pregnant and childless women, single women, missing people and lost objects. The party-like celebrations take place on the 12th June, including the Saint Anthony weddings and the Marchas Populares, and the religious celebrations take place on 13th June.

The Saint Anthony weddings (Casamentos de Santo António) are one of the most endearing parts of the festival of Saint Anthony celebrations. In a tradition dating from 1958 (despite a 30-year pause after the 1974 revolution), the city council of Lisbon pays for the wedding of 16 couples who get married en masse at Lisbon city hall or in Lisbon cathedral on 12th June. The original idea for the Saint Anthony weddings was to help couples whose families couldn’t afford to pay for their wedding and while this may no longer be the case, couples (of which one member of each has to live in Lisbon) have to apply and be selected and in return the city council, through the sponsorship of various companies, provides them with the bride’s wedding dress, shoes, bouquet, hairdresser and make-up artist, the groom’s suit, the wedding rings, photographs, wedding car, honeymoon and money towards furnishing their new home. The weddings are covered throughout the day on Portugal’s national television station, RTP. With careful planning we were lucky enough to see both sets of couples appear after their respective weddings. The first couples to get married were the five couples who had a civil wedding in the city hall in the Praça do Município around midday. This was a simple but moving wedding followed by the couples appearing on the balcony where they were serenaded by the VenusMonti tuna group, made up of students from Lisbon University Faculty of Law. The couples then came down to the square where they danced to more music from VenusMonti, including Se Tu Soubesses (‘If You Only Knew’).

Picture (1082)
Saint Anthony brides and grooms on the balcony of Lisbon City Hall, Praça do Município, Lisbon
Picture (1137)
Saint Anthony brides and grooms dancing outside Lisbon City Hall, Praça do Município, Lisbon
Picture (1052)
VenusMonti tuna group, Praça do Município, Lisbon

After they had gone back into the city hall it wasn’t clear what was going to happen next, but half an hour later (at around 2pm) the 11 brides who were getting married in the cathedral appeared with their maids of honour walking towards the waiting classic cars. One-by-one the cars headed to the cathedral where the brides met their waiting fathers and entered the cathedral.

There were already crowds of people waiting outside the cathedral and as the service, which lasted over two hours (made longer by nine couples who had got married in 1968 renewing their vows), went on more people kept arriving. Even though there was nothing to see, except a man setting up a confetti machine, a brass band arriving and warming up, and the wedding service being broadcast through loudspeakers almost as background noise, people were determined to stand and wait for the newly-weds to come out of the cathedral. After what seemed an eternity, the couples finally appeared to the sound of the Banda de Música da Carris brass band playing Coldplay’s ‘Viva la Vida’ and Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ and we were able to say ‘Vivam os noivos!’ (‘Long live the bride and groom!’).

After the obligatory photos they walked down to the neighbouring Saint Anthony’s church where each couple placed a sunflower on the statue of Saint Anthony, who is known as the holy matchmaker and, as noted above, is the patron saint of lovers and marriage, and more photos were taken.

The couples then walked down the hill and through the Baixa to the Praça do Município, where they met up with the other five couples for more photos on the pillory in the centre of the square, before being driven in the classic cars to the Estufa Fria in Parque Eduardo VII for the copo-d’agua (reception). You would think that the couples would be allowed to enjoy the reception, but as the reception is broadcast on RTP the couples have to give interviews during the evening. After the reception, the couples still have one more engagement: at 11pm they make an appearance, still in their wedding attire, at the Marchas Populares on the Avenida da Liberdade where they are photographed with the President of the Republic. After that they are free to go on their honeymoon, although they are not given the chance to spend much time alone, as all the couples go on the honeymoon as a group.

The Marchas Populares (People’s Parades) are a highlight of the Saint Anthony celebrations on the night of 12th June and it felt like the whole of Lisbon had left the cathedral after the weddings were over and come down to line each side of the Avenida da Liberdade to watch the districts of Lisbon compete in a distinctly Portuguese parade which is a singing and dancing spectacular with colourful costumes and movable scenery. The first Marchas Populares were held in 1932 when the districts of Lisbon were invited to take part in a competition based on their traditional celebrations of the popular saints festivals. Over the years things have changed, but the key elements remain the same: people wearing costumes based on traditional clothes sing and dance to an accompanying marching band. The women wear very flared skirts and march on the spot with their hands on their hips while swinging their hips and shoulders. The men also march on the spot, but not as animatedly. Each year the Marchas Populares have a theme set by the organizers, the Empresa de Gestão de Equipamentos e Animação Cultural (EGEAC), and in 2018 the theme was the very famous and much-loved film A Canção de Lisboa (The Song of Lisbon, 1933) and the equally well-loved actor who starred in it, Vasco Santana (1898-1958). (The film is musical comedy about a medical student (Vasco Santana), whose studies are being paid for by his two wealthy aunts who live in the north of the country. Vasco prefers wine, women and song to studying and when he fails his final exam he lies to his aunts that he has passed the exam and got a job as a doctor. However, things start to go wrong when his aunts arrive in Lisbon wanting to see the doctor’s surgery where he has said he works.) As well as the original songs that each group composes, there had also been a competition earlier in the year to write a song that has become the parades’ theme song, that all the teams have to include in their routine. The winning song for the 2018 parades was a very catchy song, Vasco é Saudade’ (‘Vasco is saudade’: a word that doesn’t easily translate as it conveys a notion of yearning and nostalgia for what is lost, whether it be a place, a person or a way of life, and for what will never be attained). Each group is represented by a madrinha and padrinho (sponsors), minor celebrities who do the obligatory RTP interview and give gifts to the President of the Republic and the Mayor of Lisbon. The Marchas Populares are not for the faint-hearted, as they start at 9pm and don’t finish until 1am, when the 23 competing teams, plus a few other groups, including a group of children representing an educational charity, A Voz do Operário (The Voice of the Worker) and a group of market traders, finish performing.

Judging of the competition is done in two stages: the first is held in the Altice Arena at the beginning of June and the second on the night of 12th June and teams are judged on criteria such as choreography, music, lyrics, costume design and set design. In 2018 the Alfama district was the overall winner. The groups perform at points along the Avenida da Liberdade, the main one being opposite the monument to the First World War and knowing this we positioned ourselves near there before the parades started. However, we soon realized that in order to see the dancing we needed to be sat in one of the stands in front of which the groups perform and those stands are not available to the general public. Therefore all we managed to see on the night were the groups walking down the avenue before and after they had performed. There are a few small TV screens on the back of the stands where we could watch what was being broadcast on RTP, but we decided it would be better to watch it later on catch-up TV and went off in search of the traditional arraiais (street parties) which are held in different neighbourhoods.

On the night the streets are decorated with brightly coloured streamers, the unmistakable smell of sardines being grilled fills the air and loud music can be heard everywhere, particularly songs dedicated to the popular saints such as the strangely titled Marcha do Pião das Nicas (‘March of the Punchbag’) by Carlos Paião, the chorus of which goes:
Viva o Santo António, viva o São João!
Viva o dez de junho e a Restauração!
Viva até São Bento, se nos arranjar!
Muitos feriados para festejar!
(‘Long live Saint Anthony, long live Saint John! / Long live the tenth of June and the restoration! / Long live even Saint Bento, if it can be arranged for us! / So many holidays to celebrate!’)

On our walk around we came across various parties ranging from an informal gathering on the steps of the Calçada do Lavra, to streets with improvised food and drink stalls and live music that were so crowded with people we couldn’t get down them and a big food fair selling all kinds of food and drink at the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. In true Saint Anthony style we chose to have a simple but delicious grilled sardine on a slice of bread and a glass of beer served in a plastic cup.

As well as the street parties a feature of the Saint Anthony celebrations is the giving of a manjerico plant (a type of basil) in a pot decorated with a carnation and a small flag with a quadra (a four-line verse) on it. Many of the famous quadras were written by Fernando Pessoa, one of Portugal’s most famous twentieth-century poets. In the past a young man would give the plant to his girlfriend as a commitment to marriage. The giving and receiving of the pot of basil is not so binding nowadays, but the recipient is expected to look after the plant for the next 12 months, when it is replaced with a new one. Traditionally single women received a plant with a pink carnation and married women received one with a red or orange carnation, but nowadays any colour goes!

Picture (1235)
A manjerico plant

The main event on 13th June is the procession of Saint Anthony which starts at 5pm at Saint Anthony’s church from where the statue of Saint Anthony is carried through the streets of the Alfama stopping at the cathedral to collect the relic of the saint and at other churches to collect icons of other saints on the way, and returning to the cathedral at 7pm for a religious ceremony before carrying the statue back to Saint Anthony’s church. The procession is followed by thousands of people, many carrying candles or carnations which can be bought from a stall outside the church.

Picture (1571)
Procession of Saint Anthony, Lisbon

In the entrance to the church we spotted a stall selling very small bread rolls wrapped in paper, the pão de Santo António (Saint Anthony’s bread). These rolls are sold at 30 cents each by the church during the week of the festival of Saint Anthony to raise money for the poor.

The tradition originates from a story that when Saint Anthony was a friar he gave all the monastery’s bread away to the poor and as a result there was none left to feed the monks. The monastery’s baker, believing the bread had been stolen, told Saint Anthony who advised the baker to check again and on doing so the baker found a plentiful supply of bread. Other legends tell of people who over the years have prayed to Saint Anthony and promised to give bread to the poor if he could answer their prayers: one concerns a baker who was unable to unlock the door to her shop until Saint Anthony intervened; and another concerns a mother whose child is believed to have drowned but after praying to Saint Anthony she finds the child is alive.

It is clear from the celebrations that Saint Anthony is a much-loved saint in Lisbon, even if he isn’t the official patron saint of the city, but as a Lisboan told me, if a saint is born in Lisbon he automatically becomes a patron saint in the hearts of the people.

Viva o Santo António!

Enduring love and political intrigue: the story of Pedro and Inês, History

Enduring love and political intrigue: the story of Pedro and Inês


Picture 0398 0001
Sculpture of Pedro and Inês, Santa Clara-a-Velha convent museum, Coimbra

The most famous love story in Portuguese history takes us to Coimbra and Alcobaça to learn more about the intense passion between Prince Pedro, the heir to the Portuguese throne, and his mistress, Inês de Castro, and Pedro’s enduring love for her after her death. The story is often described as the Portuguese Romeo and Juliet, but there are also elements of obsessive love and political intrigue reminiscent of Henry VIII’s relationship with Anne Boleyn. The story begins in 1340 when Pedro married Constança Manuel of Villena and she brought her cousin, Inês de Castro, to Portugal with her as her lady-in-waiting. Inês was illegitimately connected to the Castilian royal family and had spent her childhood in Albuquerque Castle in Estremadura in Spain, during which time Afonso Sanches, the illegitimate half-brother of King Afonso IV of Portugal (Pedro’s father), was taking refuge in the castle to escape his brother’s death threats. This connection with Afonso Sanches became a problem when Pedro fell madly in love with Inês and they began a passionate affair. When Pedro’s father found out about their relationship he expelled Inês from Portugal. She returned to Albuquerque Castle where she stayed until Constança’s death in 1345, when she came back to Portugal and resumed her affair with Pedro. Pedro declared that she was his one true love, but King Afonso IV refused to let them marry. The King was distrustful of this relationship partly due to Inês connection to Castile and the possibility that Portugal would become involved in the civil war that was taking place there in which the insurrection against the King of Spain was being led by the son of King Afonso’s arch enemy, the aforementioned Afonso Sanches, further complicated by Pedro declaring himself pretender to the Castile throne in 1354; and partly because if Pedro and Inês were to marry their children would have a legitimate right to the throne which the King wanted to avoid. Despite this opposition, Pedro lived with Inês in Coimbra and they had three children together. However, on a January day in 1355 Inês was arrested and taken to Santa Clara-a-Velha convent where she was beheaded by three assassins acting under the King’s orders.

Picture 0413 0001
Santa Clara-a-Velha convent, Coimbra

After her murder Pedro’s immediate reaction was to declare a rebellion against his father, which he ultimately did not go through with and they were reconciled by the time of the King’s death in 1357. However, the story does not end there, for once Pedro was crowned King Pedro I he confessed that he and Inês had got married in secret, allegedly at the Igreja de São Vicente in Bragança. But the marriage could not be proven and the Pope refused to recognize it, thus preventing their children from having a legitimate right to the throne.

Not surprisingly various legends have developed around the story of Pedro and Inês over the centuries and while they may not be true they have given it a mythic quality. One legend is that King Pedro I had Inês’ decomposed corpse exhumed and then crowned her Queen of Portugal, insisting that everyone in his court kiss her hand. Another legend is that when Pedro had her assassins arrested he then tore out their hearts and ate them. The myth has been perpetuated through the centuries in art, literature, music and film. There is an Inês de Castro Foundation dedicated to historical research, art and cultural events related to her and Alcobaça has a Pedro and Inês route around the city with ceramics made by local factories depicting episodes from the Luís Vaz de Camões version of the story from Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads, 1572).

Picture 1302 0001
Sculpture of ‘Thrones of Pedro and Inês’ by Thierry Ferreira and Renato Silva, Jardim do Amor, Alcobaça

Canto III, verses 118-136 of Os Lusíadas tells the story of Pedro and Inês, with some artistic licence on the part of Camões, and verse 135, which describes the legend of the Fonte das Lágrimas (Spring of Tears) in the Quinta das Lágrimas in Coimbra, is carved on a plaque at the place where Inês is reputedly said to have been murdered and where, after her death, a spring created by her tears as she was dying allegedly rose.

Picture 0265
Verse from Os Lusíadas, Fonte das Lágrimas, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

‘As filhas do Mondego a morte escura
Longo tempo chorando memoraram,
As lágrimas choradas transformaram.
O nome lhe puseram, que inda dura,
Dos amores de Inês, que ali passaram.
Vede que fresco fonte rega as flores,
Que lágrimas são a água e o nome Amores.’

(‘The nymphs of Mondego long mourned the memory of that dark death, And, in eternal memory, the tears were transformed into a clear spring. The name they gave it, that still endures, came from the love of Inês who spent time there. See the cool spring watering the flowers, whose tears are the water and whose name is Love.’)

A further legend says that her blood still remains on the stones of the channel that is fed by the spring.

Picture 0247 0001
Fonte das Lágrimas, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Nearby is the fourteenth-century Fonte dos Amores (Spring of Love), where Pedro and Inês carried out their love affair. This is a peaceful place in the grounds of the Quinta das Lágrimas, which is entered through a nineteenth-century gothic arch.

Picture 0243 0001
Gothic arch, Fonte dos Amores, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra
Picture 0255 0001
Fonte dos Amores, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Before walking through the arch there is a wooded area with ribbons hanging from the trees. It has become a tradition to write the name of a loved one on the ribbon and attach it to a tree.

Picture 0242 0001
Ribbons of love, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Pedro’s love for Inês did not fade and after ascending the throne in 1357 Pedro ordered tombs for him and Inês to be built at the Santa Maria de Alcobaça Monastery.

Picture 1181 0001
Santa Maria de Alcobaça Monastery, Alcobaça

Inês’ body was moved from Coimbra to her tomb in Alcobaça and after his death in 1367 Pedro was interred in his tomb. The tombs are in the transepts of the church and are made of white marble in an elaborate gothic style. They are unusually placed facing each other rather than side-by-side and both are carved with the phrase ‘Até ao Fim do Mundo’ (‘Until the End of the World’), which is believed to refer to Judgement Day when the first sight they will have will be of each other. Recumbent statues of Pedro and Inês lie on top of their respective tombs and both are supported by angels. Pedro has a dog at his feet to represent fidelity and on the side of his tomb is the Portuguese coat of arms and scenes from the life of his patron saint, Saint Bartholomew. On the end is a wheel of life showing scenes from Pedro’s life and depicting his love for Inês. The tomb stands on lions.

The scenes on Inês’ tomb are more unsettling, with episodes analogous to her violent death, including the crucifixion of Christ and the Last Judgement, where the innocents are shown going to Heaven, the guilty going to Hell and Pedro and Inês reunited in Paradise. Her tomb is supported by figures that are half-men and half-beast, representing the men who murdered her.

Despite damage over the centuries, particularly in the early-nineteenth century when French troops pillaged the church, the tombs are beautiful and both Pedro and Inês look as if they are peacefully sleeping and waiting until the end of the world when they will be together again.

Fado Museum, Lisbon, Lisbon, Portuguese music

Fado Museum, Lisbon

Photo 01522
‘Carlos Paredes’ by Pedro Guimarães, Fado Museum, Lisbon

Fado is the music of Lisbon. In effect it is the Lisbon equivalent of the blues, but with a uniquely Portuguese quality summed up in the term saudade, a word that doesn’t easily translate as it conveys a notion of yearning and nostalgia for what is lost, whether it be a place, a person or a way of life, and for what will never be attained and is particularly felt by Portuguese émigrés, who feel something more powerful than homesickness for Portugal. In fado music the singer is the conveyor of the message, both through the lyrics and more importantly through the emotion they express in their dramatic performance, often looking wistfully into the distance as Camané does or even bursting into tears mid-song as Mariza has done. The singer is accompanied by two seated musicians, one playing the viola (a six-string Spanish guitar), which acts as the rhythmic accompaniment and one playing the guitarra (Portuguese guitar), a 12-string pear-shaped guitar (based on the citra, which was introduced into Portugal in the eighteenth century, just before the birth of fado) and, with its steel strings, has a resonant melancholy tone.

The Museu do Fado (Fado Museum) is located in the Alfama district in the Edifício do Recinto da Praia, a former water pumping station.

Photo 01525
Fado Museum, Lisbon

It opened as a museum in 1998 to document the history of fado from its beginnings to the present day through photographs, posters, periodicals, paintings, music scores and lyrics, archive film, audio recordings, instruments and even a scale model of a brothel! The museum has an auditorium where a film of the leading fadistas (fado singers) talking about what fado means to them is shown and a listening room where you can listen to a variety of fado songs. If you like what you hear you can buy a CD in the gift shop!

The origins of fado (which means ‘fate’) are a little vague, but some theories say it originated from African or Brazilian dance forms, which evolved into song, while others say it came from North Africa or even from the sailors’ sea shanties. The truth is probably a mixture of all of them.

Photo 01472
The origins of fado, Fado Museum, Lisbon

It developed in the working-class districts of Alfama and Mouraria, and was mainly performed in insalubrious brothels and bars. The songs told stories of the lives of people on the edge of society and from 1860 some of the songs took on a political theme. The most famous fado painting in the museum’s temporary exhibition, ‘O Fado’ by José Malhoa (1910, on loan from the Museu da Cidade), captures the underbelly of these districts perfectly, as it depicts a poor and dirty prostitute listening with rapture to a man playing the guitarra. In order to get authenticity Malhoa used real people as models, a petty criminal called Amâncio and a prostitute called Adelaide da Facada (named after a scar she had on her left cheek).

Photo 01478
‘O Fado’ by José Malho, Fado Museum, Lisbon

In contrast to the seedy setting of this painting, a model of a brothel deceptively made in the style of a doll’s house depicts a rather genteel version of this profession (these types of discrete brothels were tolerated by the Salazar regime until 1962). It was made by the fadista Alfredo Marceneiro (a former cabinet maker) and is named Casa da Mariquinhas(‘Mariquinhas’ House’) after a song he recorded in 1961.

Photo 01477
‘Casa da Mariquinhas’, Fado Museum, Lisbon

The first fadista to gain fame and notoriety was the gypsy singer Maria Severa (1810-36), who led a short but intense life. She was a prostitute who was famous for a love affair she had with a nobleman and who died at the very young age of 26. Not surprisingly, a film of her life was made in 1931 (based on a 1901 play by Júlio Dantes) and she lives on in the memory of female fadistas, many of whom wear a black shawl as homage to her. By the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries fado had started to become popular in mainstream society with theatres hosting fado performances and periodicals dedicated to it, and in the mid-twentieth century it became widely popular due to radio and TV broadcasts and films featuring fado. The spread of its popularity was largely due to the singer and film star Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), nicknamed ‘The Queen of Fado’, who performed in concerts in Portugal and in many countries abroad and introduced fado to an international audience.

Photo 01500
Archive film of Amália Rodrigues, Fado Museum, Lisbon

Despite its bohemian origins, fado had so become popular with the masses by the 1920s that the Salazar regime encouraged it, believing that fado, football and Fátima (religion) would keep the working classes quiet. Not surprisingly, from 1927 fado was regulated by the government meaning that lyrics were censored and fado was only allowed to be performed in licensed venues, which included the setting up of fado houses, which still exist today.

Photo 01496
Censored material, Fado Museum, Lisbon

After the 1974 revolution fado, and Amália Rodrigues, fell out of favour in the new democracy, as they were associated with the dictatorship. Nevertheless, when Amália died in 1999 there were three days of national mourning and her body is now interred in the National Pantheon in Lisbon. Fado reinvented itself in the 1990s, with a new generation of fado singers, including Mariza, Ana Moura, Carminho, Camané and Hélder Moutinho, many of whom mix traditional fado with other genres and bring in other instruments in addition to the guitarra and viola. Mariza, possibly the most internationally famous fadista, who introduced modern fado to an international audience when she appeared at the WOMAD festival in 2002, acknowledges the influence of Amália Rodrigues and has included songs made famous by Amália on her albums, such as ‘Barco Negro’ (‘Black Boat’), which was recorded by Amália in 1955 and by Mariza on her debut album Fado em Mim in 2002. The song tells the story of a woman on a beach watching as her lover leaves on a boat. The old women on the beach are telling her that he won’t return, but she refuses to believe them. The lyrics were written by the poet David Mourão-Ferreira, who along with other renowned poets, wrote many fado lyrics in the twentieth-century:

‘São loucas! São loucas! Eu sei, meu amor,/Que nem chegaste a partir,/Pois tudo em meu redor,/Me diz qu’estás sempre comigo.’ (‘They’re crazy! They’re crazy! I know, my love,/That you haven’t really left,/For everything around me,/Tells me that you are always with me.’)

In 2011 fado got full international recognition when UNESCO named it an Intangible Cultural Heritage worth protecting, largely helped by the fadista Carlos do Carmo, who acts as an ambassador of fado.

Photo 01517
Archive film of Carlos do Carmo, Fado Museum, Lisbon

In addition to the permanent exhibits the museum also hosts regular temporary exhibitions associated with fado and we were lucky enough to visit the museum during an exhibition of fado in art, which included the aforementioned ‘O Fado’ by José Malhoa. Other works on display included ‘O Marinheiro’ (‘The Sailor’) by Constantino Fernandes (1913, on lean from the Museu do Chiado – Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea), a triptych which evokes the spirit of saudade through the depiction of a sailor preparing for a voyage, saying goodbye to his family and then, once at sea, listening wistfully to a fellow sailor playing the guitarra.

Photo 01490
‘O Marinheiro’ by Constantino Fernandes, Fado Museum, Lisbon

Família’ (‘Family’) by Arnaldo Louro de Almeida (1947) is in the censored material section of the permanent exhibition as it was seized by the PIDE (Salazar’s secret police) presumably for not showing the working class family in the positive way he would have liked (or it may have been the woman breast-feeding a baby that was so offensive).

Photo 01497
‘Família’ by Arnaldo Louro de Almeida, Fado Museum, Lisbon

Lisboeta’ (‘Lisboan’) by the surrealist Cândido da Costa Pinto (1952, on loan from the Museu da Cidade) shows Lisbon and fado as inextricably linked through the depiction of a female figure with a tragedy mask for her face and a guitarra for her body.

Photo 01499
‘Lisboeta’ by Cândido da Costa Pinto, Fado Museum, Lisbon

However, it is the portraits of the fado stars that dominate, from the intimate portraits by Júlio Pomar to the large-scale works by contemporary artist Pedro Guimarães, alongside photographs of the stars of fado, one of which includes all the classic fado musicians (with labels to identify them).

Photo 01518
‘Carlos Paredes’ by Júlio Pomar, Fado Museum, Lisbon
Photo 01503
Fado stars, Fado Museum, Lisbon

Amália Rodrigues is quoted as saying ‘O fado é um mistério. Nunca ninguém vai conseguir explicá-lo!’ (‘Fado is a mystery. No one will ever be able to explain it!’), and like anything intangible this is true up to a point, but the fado museum goes some way to demystifying it.


Museu do Fado, Largo do Chafariz de Dentro Entrance: €5 (free on Sundays and public holidays) Opening hours: 10am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed 1 January, 1 May, 25 December) The museum runs courses in guitarra and viola playing and fado singing. The museum’s restaurant, A Travessa do Fado, has live fado on some evenings.

Buses: 728, 735, 759, 794; Metro: Santa Apolónia

Entrance tickets, Fado Museum, Lisbon


Aveiro: where bawdy boats meet Art Nouveau, Centro region

Aveiro: where bawdy boats meet Art Nouveau


Central Canal, Aveiro

Aveiro is a small university city located between Porto and Lisbon and when we saw the uninspiring industrial outskirts (including a rather smelly paper factory) as we approached Aveiro by train, we were glad we had decided to make our stopover in the city a short one. However, as we walked out of the very modern railway station we encountered the first of many buildings which made us wish we were staying longer, the original railway station; a pretty whitewashed building with azulejo panels on the exterior depicting scenes of Aveiro.

Former railway station, Aveiro

After dropping our bags off at the Veneza Hotel, a beautiful 1930’s house, with a photogenic staircase,

located near the station, we made our way down Avenida Dr Lourenço Peixinho to the historic centre and Aveiro’s most famous attractions, the moliceiros on the Central Canal. Moliceiros are flat-bottomed boats with a high curved prow and each one is uniquely decorated with colourful, often witty or bawdy, images. They were originally used to collect seaweed (moliço), which was used as a fertilizer. It is this image of Aveiro which has given it the nickname ‘Venice of Portugal’ and like Venice the canal was bustling with boats filled with tourists, but this is where the similarity ends. Aveiro has its own distinct personality.

Mural depicting the collecting of seaweed, Aveiro

It had become a very wealthy seaport by the sixteenth century as a result of the salt industry and the cod-fishing industry. The locally harvested salt was used to preserve the cod caught in Newfoundland as it was transported to Portugal. In the late-sixteenth century the mouth of the River Vouga silted up and the former seaport became stagnant, disease-ridden marshes and the wealth disappeared, until the early-nineteenth century, when the marshes were drained, leaving a shallow lagoon in their place, and a canal was built linking Aveiro to the sea. The wealth that returned to the city is reflected in the Art Nouveau buildings that line the Rua João de Mendonça along the Central Canal and the Praça Humberto Delgado, and elsewhere in the city.

Many of these former mansions now have pastelarias (cake and pastry shops/cafés) on the ground floor selling the other tourist attraction that Aveiro is famous for, the ovos moles (meaning soft eggs and comprising a mixture of egg yolk and sugar coated with a soft wafer). The shops are full of pretty barrels and baskets displaying them.

The historic centre of Aveiro is small and had we arrived earlier in the morning we would have been able to easily cover it in a day, but due to a lengthy lunch and a lack of itinerary we ran out of time to visit the Museu de Aveiro, which closes at 6pm. The museum building, which we could enjoy from the outside at least, was a former convent dating from the fifteenth century at which Princess Joana (the daughter of King Afonso V and Queen Isabella) lived from 1475 to her death in 1490. She was later beatified and the museum is largely dedicated to her. There is a large statue of Princesa Santa Joana (as she became known) on the traffic island in front of the museum.

Museu de Aveiro

There were plenty of other things in Aveiro to enjoy and as we wandered aimlessly we discovered the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Apresentação (Church of Our Lady of the Presentation) in Largo da Apresentação, a lovely church with a statue of a former Bishop of Aveiro in front of it and two azulejo panels depicting scenes of Christ as a child by Fernando Pereira and Lucínio Pinto dating from 1935 on the facade.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Apresentação, Aveiro

From here we wandered to another charming square, the Praça da República, with jacaranda trees in full bloom and two wonderful buildings, the Igreja da Misericórida (Church of Mercy) and the Paços do Concelho (City Hall), and in the centre of the square, appearing to conduct everything, is a statue of José Estevão Coelho de Magalhães (1809-1862), an Aveiro-born nineteenth-century politician.

Statue of José Estevão Coelho de Magalhães, Praça da República, Aveiro

The Igreja da Misericórdia dates from the seventeenth century and has Mannerist features on the facade, comprising two levels of columns with niches containing statues, including one of Our Lady of the Conception above the main door, and along the top decorations of Manueline crosses and armillary spheres. In contrast, the rest of the facade is unadorned except for a covering of blue and white patterned azulejos dating from the nineteenth century.

The Paços do Concelho dates from 1797 and is an elegant building divided into five symmetrical sections with a turret used as a bell tower in the middle.

From here we made our way to São Domingos Church, the cathedral of Aveiro. The building is on the site of a former fifteenth-century convent, but very little of that remains after being largely destroyed by fires in the nineteenth century. The church is part of the original convent and the Baroque main entrance, with figures of Faith, Hope and Charity above the door, was added in the early-eighteenth century, and the bell tower added in the mid-nineteenth century using the original bell. The interior of the cathedral, which has sections dating from different periods, was rebuilt in the twentieth century in an attempt to unify the parts, including the beautiful eighteenth-century main altar depicting St Francis of Assisi and St Domingos de Gusmão either side of Our Lady of the Conception; in a small chapel, a powerful life-like statue dating from 1900 of Christ falling in agony as he carries the cross on his back watched over by a grieving Virgin Mary, by Carlos Leituga from a design by the sculptor António Teixeira Lopes; and a new organ which was inaugurated in 2013. As a result of the rebuild there is a simple harmony to the cathedral. In front of the cathedral is a late-fifteenth-century gothic cross, the Cruzeiro de Nossa Senhora da Glória (Cross of Our Lady of Glory).

The aforementioned Museu de Aveiro is very close to the cathedral, but as we were unable to visit it on this occasion we had some unexpected free time, so we walked over to the very modern Forum Aveiro shopping centre, which was unremarkable except for the canal and pretty bridges which ran alongside it.

Canal by Forum Aveiro shopping centre, Aveiro

We followed the canal back to the bridge on the Praça Humberto Delgado roundabout, which pays homage to the former workers of the salt industry, with a statue of a worker at either end: O Marnoto, a salt harvester with his traditional tools and A Salineira, a salt worker carrying a basket of salt. They have been beautifully sculpted by António Quintas (1994) and take pride of place above the Central Canal.

Next to the bridge is the stately Hotel Aveiro Palace with arcades running along its lower level and a small square with patterned cobbles, Praça Joaquim de Melo Freitas, beside it. In the middle of the square is the Obelisco da Liberdade (Obelisk of Freedom) a memorial to the people of Aveiro who fought for freedom.

Praça Joaquim de Melo Freitas, Aveiro

Our final meanderings before we went to dinner were around the fishing quarter with its small but charming tiled and brightly painted houses on the narrow street along an arm of the canal. This area is where many of the restaurants are located and most offer fresh fish from the nearby fish market.

We opted to eat at O Arco da Velha in Largo da Praça do Peixe and really enjoyed well-cooked and hearty portions of barbeque chicken and pork with rice and black beans. Afterwards we headed for the canal-side gardens of Largo do Rossio for a nightcap where large TV screens and tiered seating had been set up to show a football match featuring the Portuguese team. The atmosphere when Portugal scored the winning goal in extra time was electric and made a memorable end to an unforgettable day.

Largo do Rossio, Aveiro





Lisbon, Under the shade of a giant cypress tree

Under the shade of a giant cypress tree

Photo 00153In the Praça do Príncipe Real, right in the heart of the Bairro Alto in Lisbon, is a giant Mexican cypress tree (Cupressus Lusitanica). Its trunk has a circumference of 4 metres and its branches span 26 metres in diameter, requiring a large iron trellis to support them. Despite suffering a major fire and acts of vandalism the tree has survived for nearly 150 years and offers Lisboetas a lovely shady spot under which to sit.