Porto has port, Lisbon has ginjinha and, as I discovered on a recent trip to Evora, the Alentejo region has a liqueur little known outside of Portugal called poejo. Poejo (the Portuguese name for pennyroyal) is a slightly minty sweet liqueur made from the herb pennyroyal. It is served at the end of a meal, as it is said to be a good digestive. While the flavour reminds me of a sweet minty mouthwash, that’s not a criticism, as, when served with ice it is very refreshing, especially after a heavy meal on a hot day – perfect for those Alentejo summer nights! However, it is best drunk in small quantities, as it is made from a base spirit to which pennyroyal, water and sugar are added, resulting in a fairly high alcohol content of around 20%!
Italy has lasagne, Greece has moussaka and Portugal has bacalhau com natas (cod with cream). While the three dishes are very different, there are a few things that unite them: they are all baked in the oven, have a creamy sauce and are a comforting dish on a cold day. As cod is the national food of Portugal, it is not surprising that it features in Portugal’s main ‘comfort food’ dish and, as with all traditional dishes, everyone has their own recipe and it is hard to find a definitive one. The key ingredients are dried salted cod, onion, garlic, potato and double cream and many recipes also include a béchamel sauce, grated cheese and/or breadcrumbs, while the potatoes may be cubed or finely cut like matchsticks. All the ingredients are cooked in a frying pan, the mixture is then poured into a ovenproof dish and cooked in a hot oven. Chef Miguel Mesquita’s recipe on the Teleculinaria website shows how easy it is and (as someone who is not a big fan of salted cod) I can attest to how delicious it is!
Paula Rego is unarguably the most famous Portuguese artist outside of Portugal, particularly in the United Kingdom where she has mainly lived since 1951. She was born in Lisbon in 1935 and grew up in a wealthy family during the years of the dictatorship. Her father was a liberal and Anglophile who decided to send her to England to attend a finishing school and in 1952 to the Slade School of Art, where she studied under Lucian Freud and L.S. Lowry, among others. It was here she met her future husband, the artist Victor Willing (1928-88), with whom she divided her time between Ericeira in Portugal (a coastal town north-west of Lisbon) and London in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s before permanently settling in London.
Her early works were overtly political in theme, criticizing the rightwing dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, and throughout the 1960s she created a number of, often impenetrable, works in which she experimented with collage and mixed media. In the surrealist painting entitled Salazar Vomiting the Homeland (1960) the dictator is depicted as a shape on the left of the picture being sick while in the centre of the painting is another shape of a woman made up of what appears to be pubic hair and holding a shield. The equally abstract triptych, When we had a house in the country we’d throw marvellous parties and then we’d go out and shoot negroes (1961), is a satirical reaction to Portuguese colonialism during the dictatorship and depicts a party scene in a white colonial house while outside white soldiers are killing the indigenous people as much for sport as for war. Using cut-out paper stuck on a blue background Regicide (1965) conveys the chaos that ensued during the assassination of the Portuguese King Carlos I and his eldest son, who were shot as they rode through the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon in a carriage in 1908. The carriage is the most recognisable item in the confusion. The Firemen of Alijo (1966) is an abstract reaction, using collaged fragments from other drawings stuck on a deep red background, to the extreme poverty Rego witnessed in northern Portugal one very cold winter, including seeing a group of firemen standing barefoot in the snow. In the picture she depicts characters comprised of human and animal body parts. Surprisingly, many of these controversial works were shown in an exhibition in Lisbon in 1965.
In 1998 Rego created a socially and politically motivated serious of paintings and drawings around the theme of abortion. These works came after Portugal had held a referendum about whether to legalize abortion or not in which people had not gone out to vote and so abortion remained illegal. Rego, who openly admits to having had abortions herself during her time at the Slade, as well as witnessing the desperate circumstances of poor women in Ericeira in the 1950s and 1960s, who would beg for money to have backstreet abortions, wanted to make people aware of the reality of abortion and made etchings of the paintings and drawings so that they could be shown throughout the country and seen by people who wouldn’t normally see art. In the paintings and drawings Rego deliberately avoided showing blood and gore, but instead focused on the complex emotional impact on the women; in each work there is a solitary woman shown in a room of a house during or just after a backstreet abortion; some of the woman have a look of pain while others look numb and other defiant. A second referendum was held in 2007 and in the lead up to the referendum the etchings appeared in some newspapers. This time the referendum was successful and abortion was finally legalized.
In 2009 Rego took on another taboo theme, that of female genital mutilation, creating nightmarish etchings with aquatint which depict monster-like women performing acts of violence on girls, such as Mother Loves You (2009), where the perpetrator is shown with jaw-like genitals with sharp teeth and Night Bride (2009) where two women hold the girl down while another is about to violate her.
Rego created War (2003) after seeing a photograph of a girl in a white dress running away from an exploding bomb in Basra, Iraq. The picture, done in pastel, contains violent images including the central image of a human figure with a rabbit’s head wearing a blue dress carrying a smaller figure wearing a pink dress, whose head is that of a rabbit covered in blood. In the foreground is a stork about to pierce the neck of another rabbit dressed in a pink girl’s dress and there is a miniature woman in a soldier’s uniform holding a stick, while in the background is a dog fighting an ant of the same size. This painting embodies a lot of the themes and imagery that Rego has used throughout her career.
In contrast to the political works, Rego’s art is often personal, with scenes based on memories from her childhood or aspects of her adult life. It is not surprising to learn that she has been having Jungian psychoanalysis since 1973 and based on the idea that images from childhood are deeply buried in the subconscious she uses stories to access these images and make sense of the world. The surrealist Self-portrait in Red (1962) (shown above) contains autobiographical elements far removed from traditional self-portraits. The background is bright red with a collage of fragmented images painted or glued on, including a figure of a young girl in the centre surrounded by images of grotesque children’s story-like characters. The very personal Depression Series (2007) was created during a bout of severe depression that Rego suffered in 2007 and the works were finally put on public display in 2017. Done largely in black pastel, they are a powerful and frank depiction of the darkness of depression and, as with the abortion and female genital mutilation series, Rego hopes to make the public aware of the issue and remove the stigma of depression.
A dominant, recurring theme in Rego’s work is family relationships. These works depict scenes heavy with symbolism that leave a sense of unease and conflicting emotions. She painted two of her most significant works in the late eighties, The Maids (1987) and The Family (1988). In her later works she uses a more figurative style in which women are often portrayed with manly features and the themes of domination, sexuality, fear and grief recur. The Maids is based on a play, Les Bonnes (The Maids, 1947) by Jean Genet, in which the maids murder their mistress. Rego’s painting sets the scene in a mid-twentieth century Portuguese middle-class bedroom laden with symbolic imagery, where the maids’ actions are ambiguous, but give rise to a sense of menace. In the unsettling painting entitled The Family, painted as Willing was dying, the mannequin-like man is seated on the bed being dressed, undressed or even sexually abused by two of the three females in the room. The characters are distorted and complex emotions, ranging from tenderness to anger, are suggested.
Rego has described herself as a ‘feminist’ artist and in her art she is not afraid to reveal the female condition through her female central characters. They are often depicted as large women with male features, as in the female painter in Joseph’s Dream (1990), a painting which reverses the traditional role of male painter and reclining female model; the central figure of The Cake Woman (2004); and Dancing Ostriches (1995), in which, influenced by Walt Disney’s animal dance sequence in Fantasia, Rego portrays stocky women in black tutus attempting balletic poses. She often uses the same sitter, Lila Nunes, as her model.
Other female characters, painted as glamorous women in fashionable clothes and with expensive hairstyles, are based on the middle-class women Rego remembers from her childhood and they represent the wicked mother or step-mother who is trying to arrange a suitable marriage for her daughter, as in Snow White and her Stepmother (1995), where the daughter is subjected to the humiliation of the stepmother removing the girl’s knickers, presumably in preparation for marriage. In 1999 she painted a series inspired by Hogarth’s mid-18th century depiction of an arranged marriage, ‘Marriage à la Mode’, but relocated it to a 1940s or ’50s middle-class Portuguese setting. Rego’s work is divided into three parts, The Betrothal, in which two well-dressed women plan the marriage of their respective children; Lessons, showing the mother, sitting under a hairdryer in a beauty salon, giving her daughter (still a child) lessons in marriage; and The Shipwreck, which shows the married couple years later living in obvious poverty with the wife holding the enfeebled husband on her lap.
In the 1980s she began to use anthropomorphic animals in her paintings, which allowed her to convey parts of her private life. In the ‘Red Monkey’ series she reveals the complications of her marriage through the characters of a monkey (representing Willing), a bear (representing the writer and close friend of Rego, Rudolf Nassauer) and a dog (representing Rego), such as in Red Monkey Offers Bear a Poisoned Dove (1981) and Wife Cuts of Red Monkey’s Tail (1981). Later in the decade she began the ‘Girl and Dog’ series, which was done around the time Willing was ill with multiple sclerosis and in which he is depicted as a dog being cared for or threatened, such as Two Girls and a Dog (1987).
In the 1990s she began the ‘Dog Women’ series, in which she depicted women in dog-like poses, although she had been using this dog imagery since her time at the Slade School, for example, Dog Woman (1952). The ‘Dog Woman’ series, done in chalk pastels, represents the relationship of animal and master, where women are depicted in dog-like poses. In Bride (1994), the frame is dominated by a reclining woman dressed in a beautiful white silk wedding dress who is looking directly at the viewer as if to ask them to rub her tummy, while in Lush (1994) and Sleeper (1994) a sleeping female figure dominates the frame. There is an intimacy to the portrayal of the woman in Lush, who is dressed in a petticoat and is sleeping with her legs apart, while in Sleeper there is an ambiguity to whether the way the woman is sleeping (lying on a man’s jacket) is a sign of loyalty to her master or a punishment. Sit (1994) is a more unsettling picture, as the pregnant woman is shown seated in an armchair with her arms behind her, her feet crossed uncomfortably and her head turned at an awkward angle.
Many of Rego’s works are reinterpretations of myths, works of literature and children’s stories. In 1989 (during which time (1989-1990) she was Associate Artist at the National Gallery in London) Rego created a series of etchings with aquatint in which she subverted the seemingly innocent subject matter of nursery rhymes and created something much darker, such as in Polly Put the Kettle On (1989), where two women, who fill the space of the etching, serve tea to a group of doll-like soldiers.
In 1997 she created a series of paintings inspired by the famous Portuguese novel by Eça de Queiros, O Crime do Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro, 1875) which tells the story of a priest who falls in love with the daughter of his landlady. Ideas inspired by the novel, rather than depictions of scenes, include The Cell (1997), in which Father Amaro lies on a campbed under which is a figure of the Virgin Mary and over which he appears to be masturbating; The Company of Women (1997), which conveys a memory Father Amaro has of being cosseted as a boy by the housemaids, but here he is shown as a man and the adoration of the women takes on a sexual tone as Amaro looks knowingly out at the viewer; and one of Rego’s most famous paintings, Angel (1998), in which Rego creates an avenging angel holding a sponge in one hand and a sword in the other to exact retribution for the death of one of the characters.
In 2001-2 she created a series of unorthodox lithographs, with sexual subtext, based on another classic 19th-century novel, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), six of which were turned into British postage stamps in 2005.
Rego’s work often disturbs or shocks whether as political and social comment or through her inward-looking and autobiographical content, but throughout there is always a sense of defiance. Highly respected in Portugal and the United Kingdom, she received the Grã-Cruz da Ordem Militar de Sant’Iago (Grand Cross of the Military Order of Saint James of the Sword) from the President of Portugal in 2004 and was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2010 for her services to art. Many of her paintings, etchings and drawings, along with paintings by Victor Willing, are now permanently housed in the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego in Cascais, which opened in 2009. The collection is housed in a distinctive red building with twin pyramid-shaped towers designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura.
Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Avenida da República, Cascais. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm. Entrance: €5.
The age of the Portuguese explorations is a brief but glorious period when Portugal dominated the sea routes and trading points in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and South China Seas and which saw the discovery of parts of Africa, India, Asia, Brazil and even Canada, before the ‘glorious’ era gave way to the blot on Portugal’s past: the trading of slaves and a long period of colonial rule. Infante Dom Henrique (Prince Henrique the Navigator (1394-1460)), the third son of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster, was the man behind Portuguese exploration in the first half of the 15th century. He sponsored the expeditions, financed by his brother King Duarte (who reigned from 1433 to 1438) and later his nephew, King Afonso V (who reigned from 1438 to 1481), that led to the discovery of Madeira in 1418, the Azores in 1427, Cape Verde in 1444 and Guinea (present-day Guinea-Bissau) in 1460. Despite being known as ‘the Navigator’, ironically he never embarked on any of the expeditions himself, although it is believed by some historians that he started a school of navigation in Sagres at the south-western point of the Algarve (where he lived up to his death), in which he had the best nautical and scientific minds of the age. There is no evidence to prove that the school did exist, but whether it did or not, scientific and technological advances during his lifetime aided the success of the voyages, the most important of which was the design of the caravel; a small, easy to steer ship, based on the design of fishing boats, with triangular lateen sails which allowed it to sail against prevailing winds. It was in a caravel that Gil Eanes was able to sail around Cape Bojador in 1434, which had been impassable to European sailors up to then, thus marking the beginning of the exploration of the west coast of Africa. After Prince Henrique’s death the explorations continued under King João II (who reigned from 1481 to 1495) and King Manuel I (who reigned from 1495 to 1521), with the discovery of Elmina (present-day Ghana) in 1471 and São Tomé and Príncipe (off the west coast of Africa) in 1475, Congo and Angola in 1483, the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, Natal (South Africa) in 1497, Calicut (present-day Kozhikode, in western India), Goa (on the south-western coast of India), Mozambique (East Africa) in 1498, Madagascar (off the coast of East Africa), Terra Nova (present-day Newfoundland in Canada) and Porto Seguro (in Brazil) in 1500, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in 1505, Ormuz (present-day Hormuz Island, an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf) in 1507, Daman (in western India) and Malacca (in Malaysia) in 1509, Pegu (present-day Bago in Myanmar) in 1511, the Maluku Islands (also known as the ‘Spice Islands’, in present-day Indonesia) and Timor (present-day East and West Timor, in south-east Asia) in 1512, the River Plate (in South America) and the Canton River (the present -day Pearl River in China) in 1514 and the River Ganges (India and Bangladesh) in 1516.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) is one of the most famous landmarks in Belém, a district to the west of Lisbon, located on the bank of the River Tejo. It was built in 1960, during the Salazar dictatorship, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Prince Henrique the Navigator and, typical of other fascist architecture, it is an imposing structure designed to stir up feelings of patriotism and what better subject matter than the golden age of the Portuguese Discoveries?
The 56-metre-high monument, designed by the architect José Cottinelli Telmo and the sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, is built in the shape of a caravel. At the stern, above the entrance, is an enormous sword representing the House of Avis, with the Portuguese coat of arms either side of the upper part of the sword. At the prow stands Henrique the Navigator, holding a small caravel in his hand and looking out across the water. Lining both sides of the monument are people associated with the Discoveries. On the western-facing side, kneeling behind Prince Henrique is Prince Fernando (1402-1443, one of Henrique’s younger brothers, also known as Fernando o Infante Santo (Fernando the Holy Prince), due to the fact that he was captured during the Siege of Tangier in 1437 and his captors demanded the strategic port of Ceuta in exchange for his freedom. The Portuguese refused to surrender Ceuta and Prince Fernando died in captivity.) Behind him are the Portuguese navigators, João Gonçalves Zarco (c.1390-1471, who discovered Madeira in 1418), Gil Eanes (active c.1433-1445, who successfully sailed beyond the dangerous Cape Bojador on the West African coast in 1434) and Pêro de Alenquer (c.1480-c.1514, who was on the ship captained by Bartolomeu Dias that sailed around the Cape of Good Hope for the first time in 1488 and was a pilot on Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India in 1497-98). Behind them, holding an armillary sphere, is Pedro Nunes (1502-1578, a mathematician who revolutionized navigation and cartography by applying the principles of mathematics), followed by Pêro de Escobar (active c.1470-c.1500, a Portuguese navigator who discovered São Tomé and Príncipe in c.1475 and later was on Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India in 1497-98 and Pedro Álvares Cabral’s voyage where he discovered Brazil in 1500), Jácome de Maiorca (1360-1410, a renowned cartographer from Majorca (whose real name was Jehudà Cresques), who it is said, Prince Henrique procured to train the Portuguese map-makers), Pêro da Covilhã (active 1487-1525, an explorer who travelled to India overland in 1487, sent by King Joāo II to investigate setting up the trading of spices, and headed back to Portugal via Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), where he was made a governor of a district) and Gomes Eanes de Zurara (c.1410-c.1474, a writer and chronicler who wrote Crónica do Descobrimento e Conquista da Guiné (Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea) in 1453), describing the early Portuguese voyages.
Behind them, shown holding a paintbrush and palette, is Nuno Gonçalves (active c.1450-c.1491, who was the court painter to King Afonso V. His most famous painting is Painéis de São Vicente (Saint Vincent Panels c.1470), in which he puts a religious subject in a contemporary setting making it an important record of Portuguese society in the mid-fifteenth century. It was originally part of an altar in Lisbon Cathedral and is now one of the prized exhibits in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. There are six panels, the larger two central ones both show Saint Vicent, the patron saint of Lisbon, in the foreground dressed in red and gold robes and surrounded by the nobility and other important members of Portuguese society, including the royal family and the Archbishop of Lisbon. In the other four panels other sectors of Portuguese society are represented, including knights, monks, a fisherman, a Jewish scholar, a beggar and a city official. However, it is debated who the actual members of the royal family are and in particular the figure in black to the right of the Saint in the third panel, who is generally thought to be Prince Henrique, as it was painted during Portugal’s golden Age of Discovery, but there is a convincing argument that it is his brother King Duarte and that Henrique is in fact the kneeling figure in the fifth panel and that depicting him kneeling was a political attempt to humiliate him).
Then comes Luís Vaz de Camões (c.1524-80, who is known as the Portuguese Shakespeare He was a colourful character if everything that has been written about him is to be believed (which it isn’t!). The facts of his life are sketchy, which has resulted in various myths developing about him. He was a member of the lower ranks of the aristocracy and after being exiled from Lisbon joined the army and fought in Morocco, where it is said he lost an eye. A few years later he was sent to India as a soldier to avoid a jail sentence and during this time was shipwrecked, where legend has it that he swam ashore holding the manuscript of his most famous poem, Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), above the water to save it. Os Lusíadas (published in 1572) is an epic poem which has many layers to it, written with reference to classical epic poems such as The Aeneid and The Odyssey. Its central subject is Vasco da Gama’s voyage to and discovery of India in 1497-98. By the time Camões was in India, Portugal’s domination was in decline and it could be argued that Os Lusíadas was partly written to restore national pride. He is depicted holding sheets of verse from Os Lusíadas Canto 7, verse 14: Mas, entanto que cegos e sedentos Andais de vosso sangue, ó gente insana, Não faltarão Cristãos atrevimentos Nesta pequena casa Lusitane: De África tem marítimos assentos; É na Ásia mais que todas soberana; Na quarta parte nova os campos ara; E, se mais mundo houvera, lá chegara.
(But, while you blindly thirst For the blood of your own, oh insane people, There will be no lack of Christian daring In this little Lusitanian house: In Africa Portugal has coastal bases; And in Asia great sovereignty; In the fourth part, the New World, the land is being cultivated; And, if there are more lands to be found, they will go there.)).
Towards the rear of the western-facing side are Henrique de Coimbra (c.1465-1532, a Franciscan friar and bishop who
was on one of the ships on Pedro Álvares Cabral’s voyage where he
discovered Brazil in 1500, and who later became a missionary in Africa and
de Carvalho (a 15th-century Dominican friar who spread
Catholicism in India and later Congo), Fernão Mendes Pinto (c.1509-1583, an
explorer and writer whose most famous work is the Peregrinaçāo
(Pilgrimage, 1614), which, with dubious
historical accuracy, describes his voyages to India, the Middle East and the
Far East), Queen Philippa of Lancaster
(1360-1415, Prince Henrique’s mother, who was the daughter of John of Gaunt,
cousin of King Richard II of England and sister of Henry IV of England and her
marriage to King João I was important in that it sealed the Anglo-Portuguese
Alliance against the Franco-Castilian axis and prevented a potential challenge
to João’s reign) and Prince Pedro
(1392-1449, another of Prince Henrique’s brothers who was Prince Regent to the
six-year-old King Afonso V until he came of age).
On the eastern-facing side, directly behind Prince Henrique, is King Afonso V (1432-81, Prince Henrique’s nephew and patron of the explorations led by his uncle), followed by Vasco da Gama (c.1460-1524, one of the most famous navigators, who in 1497 led an expedition from Lisbon, around the Cape of Good Hope, onto South Africa and East Africa, discovering Natal and Mozambique and finally arriving in Calicut, India in 1498, thus opening up an important trade route between Portugal and India). Behind him are the navigators Afonso Baldaia (c.1415-1481, an early navigator who, along with Gil Eanes, explored the coast of the Western Sahara south of Cape Bojador in 1435-36), Pedro Álvares Cabral (c.1467-c.1520, who discovered Brazil in 1500, landing in Porto Seguro in the northeast of the country), Fernão de Magalhães (c.1480-1521, also known as Ferdinand Magellan, who in 1520-21 (sailing for the King of Spain), crossed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Magellan (named after him) and onto the East Indies (where he died), which marked the first circumnavigation of the globe), Nicolau Coelho (c.1460-1504, who captained one of the ships on Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India in 1497-98 and on Pedro Álvares Cabral’s voyage where he discovered Brazil in 1500), Gaspar Côrte-Real (1450-1501, who led the voyage in 1500 to find a Northwest Passage to Asia, which resulted in the discovery of Newfoundland) and Martim Afonso de Sousa (c.1500-1564, who commanded an official expedition to Brazil in 1530 and founded the settlements of Sāo Vicente and Sāo Paulo in 1532, becoming the first Royal Governor of Brazil).
Behind them, holding a sheet of paper is João de Barros (1496-1570, a
writer and historian who wrote three volumes of a work entitled Décadas
da Ásia (Decades of Asia) between 1552 and 1563, which describe the
experiences of the Portuguese in India and Asia). He is followed by Estêvão da Gama (c.1505-1576, a fleet
commander, and son of Vasco da Gama, who, like his father before him, became
Viceroy of India in 1540), and behind him, raising a padrão (a pillar the explorers
would to leave on land they had discovered to mark Portuguese possession) between
them, are Bartolomeu Dias
(c.1450-1500, who was the first European to sail around the Cape of Good Hope
(the southernmost point of Africa) in 1488 and opened up a sea route into the
Indian Ocean), Diogo Cão (c.1452-c.1486, who discovered
the Congo River in 1482, the north-west coast of Angola in 1484 and Namibia in
1485) and António
de Abreu (c.1480-c.1514, who was part of the fleet led by Afonso de
Albuquerque that conquered the island of Ormuz in 1507 and Malacca in 1511 and discovered
Timor in 1512). The bearded figure behind António de Abreu is Afonso de Albuquerque (c.1453-1515, who
is considered to be one of the greatest Portuguese naval commanders, by militarily
and administratively contributing to the building of the Portuguese Empire,
including closing the naval passages from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic to
other countries and developing a sea trade with China). At the rear of the
eastern-facing side are Francisco Xavier
(1506-1552, a Jesuit who worked as a missionary in Asia and India) and Cristóvão da Gama (c.1516-1542, a fleet
commander, son of Vasco da Gama and brother of Estêvão da Gama, who sailed to India
in 1532 and later was involved in several battles against the Muslims in
Ethiopia in 1541 and 42, where he died in captivity).
On the ground in front of the monument is a 50-metre replica of a wind rose; a map used by the navigators in the 15th and 16th centuries showing the directions of the eight principal winds at various locations. The map, which was a gift from South Africa and designed by the architect Luís Cristino da Silva in black and red limestone, depicts the routes and dates of the discoveries, marked by icons of ships, and decorated with images of Neptune, a mermaid and a sea creature.
It is best seen from the top of the monument, which can be reached by a lift or by the 267 steps, and from where you can enjoy views of the Jerónimos Monastery, Maritime Museum, Archaeological Museum, Belém Tower, Belém Cultural Centre, the River Tejo, 25th April Bridge and the Cristo Rei monument on the other side of the river.
Either side of the monument are two large armillary spheres. The armillary sphere was an important navigational instrument during the Age of Discovery (used to calculate distance) and it became the symbol of Portugal, appearing on the Portuguese flag. King Manuel I, during his reign, adopted it as his personal symbol and it features in a lot of Manueline architecture.
The best time to see the monument is towards sunset, when the sun is softer and gives it a golden glow.
Monument to the Discoveries, Avenida do Brasília, Belém
Open: March to September 10am-7pm daily; October to February 10am-6pm
(closed Mondays); also closed 1 January, 1 May and 25 December
Entrance : €5 (as of 2019)
Public transport from Lisbon: tram 15; buses 728, 714, 727, 729 and
751; trains from Cais do Sodré stop at Belém station
I had first heard of the Hotel Astória long before visiting Coimbra through a language course I was studying which was set in Coimbra. The words ‘Hotel Astória’ were among the first Portuguese words I learnt and as such had stuck in my head. So, when we decided to spend a few days in Coimbra the Hotel Astória was the natural choice. On further research I discovered that it is one the best Art Nouveau buildings in Coimbra and the decision was made. We approached the wedge-shaped five-storey building, with a rotunda at the narrow end, from the railway station, a short walk along the riverfront road (Avenida Emídio Navarro) where it is situated. The building was designed by the architect Adães Bermudes, who included ornate balconies and Art Nouveau decorative features on the exterior walls, but the highlight is the ornate dome on the rotunda which wouldn’t look out of place on a church. The ground floor has large arched Modernist windows and a glass canopy over the entrance. Everything looked like it must have done when the hotel first opened in 1926.
After walking in through an iron and glass revolving door I felt that I had stepped back in time. We entered a beautiful lobby, designed by Francisco de Oliveira Ferreira, in grey and pink marble with wood panelling and Art Nouveau decor in wrought iron. There is a private phone booth next to the reception desk and above the small seating area is a balcony with further seating, some books to read and even writing desks.
There were also lots of black and white photos from the first half of the twentieth century on display showing this hotel and other luxurious hotels. I was particularly interested in one showing the railway running in front of the Astória.
The lounge with its beautiful parquet floor, pink marbled, wood-panelled and mirrored walls, chandeliers and plush furnishings conjures up images of a bygone age when people would write postcards or even letters on the writing desks located in the room. There is also a small balcony above the lounge with a stunning Art Deco design in wrought iron and stained glass and I wondered who would have stood up there looking down on the people below – a Jay Gatsbyesque character, perhaps. I felt decidedly underdressed.
The dining room, where the breakfast buffet is served, is a light airy space built in the rotunda so there are large windows on three sides plus wood panelling on the walls, with carved leaf patterns overlaid, and two large pillars in the middle of the room. There is another small balcony above it.
The pièce de résistance has to be the original cage lift, which has been slightly modernized, but retains the original features, including a glass and wood interior with a leather seat inside, and is still fully functional.
It’s true that our room had none of the charm of the communal areas, it was very basic with ugly wood panelling, uncomfortable functional furniture, slightly worn carpets, a CRT TV and an old-fashioned bathroom (admittedly some of these may have been original features, but they had none of the historical interest of the items downstairs),
but the views from the rooms at the front of the hotel of the River Mondego, the Santa Clara Bridge and the Santa Clara-a-Nova Convent on the opposite side of the river and from the rooms at the back, of the hilltop university, make up for that.
The Astória’s glory days may be over (it is now only a three-star hotel owned by the Alexandre de Almeida hotel group, where the average price for a standard room with breakfast is €75 per night) and it may have lost its prestigious status to the five-star Quinta das Lágrimas hotel on the other side of the river, but it remains a living monument to the Art Nouveau style of the 1920s and gives a taste of how it might have been in the days when the rich and powerful passed through its doors.
I discovered how delicious octopus can be in a small restaurant in Porto. Initially I was slightly scared of the strange-looking tentacles (or arms as they should correctly be referred to) with suckers which, as a Northern European, I had never seen on a plate before, and I expected them to be rubbery. However, I had ordered polvo à lagareiro (which literally means ‘octopus à la olive presser’) in which the tentacles are boiled and then roasted in garlic and olive oil (hence the name ‘à lagareiro’) to make them very tender. They are served with batatas a murro, small potatoes baked in their skins which, at the end of the cooking time, are pressed down on to break the skin (‘murro’ literally means ‘punch’) and added to the oil that the octopus is cooking in to soak up the flavours. I have always associated this dish with summer holidays, but in the Trás-os-Montes region in the north-east of Portugal it is eaten on Christmas Eve. As with many Portuguese dishes the secret is in the freshness and quality of the ingredients and the simplicity of this recipe is testament to that fact.
We ran all the way from the bus station to the Colégio do Espírito Santo (Holy Spirit College), the wheels of our suitcases bouncing behind us on the cobbled streets. We had missed the bus we had intended to get from Lisbon and the next one had arrived at twenty to five. Our guidebook informed us that the famous university building closed at 6pm on Saturdays, so time was of the essence. We needn’t have rushed as the guidebook was wrong; the college closes at 8pm on Saturdays and after leaving our luggage with the porter we were able to have a leisurely look around the university building that was originally built as a Jesuit seminary in 1551 by Cardinal Henrique (who later became Cardinal-King Henrique). The Jesuit symbol IHS with a cross and three nails can still be seen on the building. The college became part of the University of Évora in 1559, the second university to be established in Portugal (the first being the University of Coimbra in 1537), however, it was closed in 1759 by the Jesuit-hating Marquês de Pombal, when he expelled the Jesuits from Portugal and for the next two centuries, although it was used for various educational purposes, it was no longer part of the university and it wasn’t until 1973 that it was reintegrated with the university. The college is built around a cloister, the Pátio dos Gerais (Generals’ Courtyard), which is bordered by Italian Renaissance-style marble columns, has a pretty fountain in the centre and is dominated on one side by an 18th-century marble portico. On the ground floor is the Sala de Atos (Great Hall), a former 17th-century Baroque chapel, which is now used for graduation ceremonies. It is an impressive room decorated with azulejo panels, stucco and at the far end are portraits of King Sebastião and Cardinal-King Henrique. Also on the ground floor are the older classrooms, each of which still has a pulpit. Each classroom also has azulejo panels on the walls which depict various themes including the Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, and scenes linked to the subjects that were taught. There is another former cloister with marble columns which is now the refectory. Upstairs, are azulejo-lined corridors, more classrooms, the library, with its early-18th-century ceiling decorated with an image of the Virgin Mary and lots cherubs, and the octagonal central intersection known as ‘The Centre of the World’, decorated in Baroque style with azulejo panels, sculptures, paintings and at the central point, a dome depicting the four elements of earth, air, water and fire. I was so happy we had made the effort to see this beautiful building, which we more or less had to ourselves at this late hour.
After dropping our bags off at the lovely Vitória Stone hotel,
a modern hotel on the southern outskirts of the town, and enjoying a wonderful meal in the hotel restaurant, comprising typical Alentejo dishes cooked with local ingredients, we walked to the famous Roman temple in the Largo do Conde de Vila Flor at the top of the town, which is part of the Historic Centre of Évora UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple which was built between the 1st and 3rd Centuries AD is said to be one of the best preserved Roman buildings in south-west Europe. What remains of the former temple is a granite platform with 14 granite columns, whose capitals and bases are made of white marble from nearby Estremoz. Excavations have revealed that the temple would have been surrounded by water on three sides and a staircase would have led to the entrance (the remains of a staircase is still visible) and a small model of the temple as it might have looked can be seen in the Museum of Évora. The temple is erroneously known as the Temple of Diana due to a myth started in the 17th century that it was dedicated to the goddess Diana (the goddess of hunting), a myth that has been disputed by archaeologists. What isn’t under dispute is that the temple has had a chequered history: it was walled up and incorporated into Évora Castle in the Middle Ages (this largely accounts for why it survived so well); used as an execution ground during the Inquisition; and at various points in history used as an armoury, a theatre and a slaughterhouse. The temple is floodlit at night and the area takes on a mystical atmosphere.
Pousada Convento de Évora, Church of St John the Evangelist and Cadaval Palace
Also in the Largo do Conde de Vila Flor is the Pousada Convento de Évora (also known as Pousada dos Lóios) (pousadas are luxury hotels owned by the Pestana Group which are generally located in historic buildings) in the former convent of Os Lóios, which was begun in 1487 by Rodrigo de Melo (the First Count of Olivença), who was Head of the Royal Guard for King Afonso V and from whom the Duke of Cadaval line can be traced. In the current pousada the restaurant is in the former cloisters and the rooms are the former convent cells. Next door to the pousada is the Igreja de São João Evangelista (Church of Saint John the Evangelist), which was also commissioned by Rodrigo de Melo as a private church and family tomb. The church is still owned by the House of Cadaval and contains tombs of generations of Dukes of Cadaval, including one of Francisco de Melo sculpted by Nicolau Chanterene in the 16th century. The church is part of the Palácio Cadaval (Cadaval Palace), which is the family home of the current Duchess of Cadaval, although part of it is open to the public and they also hold temporary exhibitions on the first floor of the church. On the Saturday night when we were there we intrigued by the African music coming from the courtyard garden outside the palace restaurant, Cinco Quinas (named after the five shields on the Portuguese coat of arms). We entered through the big barred gate, bought two glasses of wine from the restaurant and sat at one of the tables in the courtyard to listen to the lively music in the relaxed surroundings. Soon many other people had joined us and were up dancing. It was a lovely way to end the evening.
City walls and Évora
We began the next day wandering around the old town, entering through the imposing city walls, which were originally built by the Romans and added to during the Middle Ages. These were superseded by new walls built in the 14th century which were fortified in the 17th century (in preparation for an attack by the Spanish). The previous day we had entered through one of the most famous gates, the Porta de Alconchel (to the west of the city, near the bus station)
and on this day we walked along the outside of the 16th-century wall with watchtowers that surround the Jardim Público de Évora (Évora Public Park). We began by walking through the park, which as well as a charming 19th-century bandstand and duck pond, also has a former palace, the Palácio de Dom Manuel (King Manuel Palace), where the royal family would come and stay throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. It originates from the late-15th century and was part of the Convent of São Francisco, however, a lot of the building was destroyed and rebuilt in the 19th century. The main part of the former palace still standing today is the early-16th-century Galeria das Damas (Ladies’ Gallery) which comprises a mixture of architectural styles, including Manueline, Gothic and Renaissance (and is most notable for its distinctive arches with what looks like a pattern of spearheads around them), built during the reign of King Manuel. It was the home of the royal court until 1580, when Cardinal-King Henrique died and King Philip II of Spain seized the throne and had no interest in coming to Évora. (The palace is now owned by the local council and used for official ceremonies and cultural events.) In the park there are also remains of a Medieval wall and a 19th-century folly known as the Ruínas Fingidas (Fake Ruins), which comprise the remains of buildings from around the city. There is a statue of José Cinnatti, the Italian designer who created the park in the late-19th century and, as it is believed that the great Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, received his commission to lead an expedition to find a sea route to India at the palace, there is a statue commemorating him in the grounds of the park which was given by the South African people to commemorate his discovery of Natal in 1497.
Praça do Giraldo
At several points during our time walking around the city we found
ourselves passing through the main square, Praça do Giraldo, thought to be
named after Giraldo Sem Pavor (Gerald
the Fearless), a Christian knight who fought in King Afonso Henriques army
during the time of the reconquest of Portugal from the Moors. He is said to
have climbed up the town walls on a ladder of swords and distracted (or killed)
the sentries in the watchtower allowing the Christian soldiers to capture the
town. The square is large with a 16th-century fountain (marking the
spot where water was first brought to Évora by the aqueduct) dominating the
centre; the Igreja de Santo Antão
(Saint Anthony’s Church) is at one end and the Bank of Portugal is at the other
end and there is a colonnaded shopping arcade on one side. It is a popular
place to sit at one of the pavement cafés and watch the world go by and it is
hard to believe that in the past it was the site of executions and burnings
during the Inquisition.
Porta de Moura
Drawn like a magnet back to the historic centre, we
zigzagged our way through the narrow streets of the city, passing through the Largo da Porta de Moura (Moorish Gate
Square), in the centre of which is a uncharacteristically 16th-century
marble fountain made up of two large rectangles with a large globe with water
jets on the top. The square was the original entrance to the town and in the 15th
century was a prestigious part of Évora in which to live and the former manor
houses that surround it are still standing, including the Casa Cordovil with
its mixture of Manueline and Moorish architectural styles.
Garden of Diana and
We returned to the Roman temple to see it in daylight and to
the pretty garden next to it named Jardim
Diana (Garden of Diana) with lovely views of the famous aqueduct and the
Alentejo countryside. The Aqueduto da Água de Prata (Silver Water
Aqueduct) was completed in 1537 by the architect Francisco de Arruda (who also
designed the Belém Tower in Lisbon) to bring water from the Ribeira do
Divor (to the north of Évora) into the town (initially to the aforementioned fountain
in the Praça
do Giraldo). The original aqueduct was 18 kilometres in length, but it suffered
damage in the 17th century during the Restoration War and now it
only extends for 9 kilometres, but it is possible to walk along the top of most
of it starting at Rua do Cano in Évora where houses and shops are built
into the arches. The aqueduct has the honour to be mentioned in Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) by Luís Vaz de Camões (1572) in Canto
III, verse 63:
a nobre Cidade, certo assento
Do rebelde Sertório antigamente,
Onde ora as águas nítidas de argento
Vem sustentar de longo a terra e a gente,
Pelos arcos reais, que cento e cento
Nos ares se alevantam nobremente,
Obedeceu por meio e ousadia
De Giraldo, que medos não temia.
(Behold the noble City, the former seat
Of the rebel Sertorius,
Where now the clear silvery waters
Come from afar to sustain the earth and the people,
Through regal arches, that in their hundreds
Rise nobly in the air,
It yielded through the audacity
Of Giraldo, who had no fear of fear.)
The small Jardim Diana is dominated by a statue in homage to Francisco
Barahona, a local philanthropist, by Simões de Almeida and Alfredo Costa Campos
(1908), and there are also some modern sculptures dotted around the
garden dating from 1981 (when the International Symposium of Stone was held in Évora).
Museum of Évora
From here it was a short stroll to the Museum of Évora, housed in a 16th-century former Bishop’s Palace. I wasn’t expecting much, having visited various Portuguese town museums which often have a random collection of broken pots and local artefacts, but I was very impressed by the large collection of art and sculpture along with Portuguese furniture and decorative arts and Roman, Moorish and medieval remains. Highlights included sculptures by Teixeira Lopes, Simões de Almeida, Bernardim Ribeiro, Alberto Nunes, Costa Mota and Aristides Fontana and paintings by Flemish and Dutch masters, the highlight of which was a late-15th-/early-16th-century polyptych depicting ‘The Life of the Virgin’, and Portuguese artists including Josefa de Óbidos, Gregório Lopes, Frei Carlos and the Mestre do Sardoal (Master of Sardoal).
Next door to the museum is the imposing granite Gothic-style
de Évora (Évora Cathedral), which is also part of the UNESCO World
Heritage Site. The original cathedral dates from 1186, when Évora
was reconquered from the Moors, but it was rebuilt in the 13th and
14th centuries and added to over the subsequent centuries, resulting
in the building standing today with its crenellated walls, main portal with statues
of the Apostles (thought to be sculpted by the sculptor Pêro
in the 14th century), asymmetric towers, including one with blue
tiles, and a pretty lantern tower decorated with six turrets which are
miniature versions of the tower. Inside the cathedral there is a mixture of
styles ranging from the main altar of white, pink and black marble built in the
first half of the 18th-century from a design by João
Frederico Ludovice (who also designed the Mafra National Palace), a Baroque
side altar with a 15th century marble statue of a pregnant Virgin
Mary (Nossa Senhora do Ó (Our Lady of the Oh)) facing a wooden
statue of the Angel Gabriel (dating from the 16th century), the
Mannerist altar in the Capela do Esporão with the eye-catching painting, Descida da Cruz (Descent from the Cross) by Pedro Nunes (1620), and a Renaissance
organ. The cloisters contain marble statues of the four evangelists and tombs
of former recent archbishops of Évora and there is a separate chapel
which contains the tomb of Bishop Dom Pedro, who commissioned the building of
the cloister in the 14th century, watched over by statues of the
Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. A number of small stone spiral staircases
lead to a terrace from which there are great views of the exterior of the cathedral,
the Roman temple and the Alentejo landscape in the distance. The cathedral
complex also has a Museum of Sacred Art, which is definitely worth a visit to
see the two main treasures, if nothing else: the 17th-century Cruz Relicário
do Santo Lenho de Évora
(Reliquary Cross of Holy Wood of Évora), which is a silver box with a
cross on the top decorated with 1426 gems including diamonds, emeralds,
sapphires and rubies and said to contain fragments of the cross that Christ was
crucified on; and the 14th-century French ivory triptych known as
the Virgem do Paraíso (Virgin of Paradise, named
after the Convent of Paradise where it was housed), which is a 40cm-high statue
of the Virgin Mary which opens up to reveal nine scenes from her life. The head
of the statue is an incongruous wooden replacement for the original one, added
in the 16th century. Another amusing statue which caught my eye, was
one of St Anthony dressed as a choirboy. The building that houses the museum
was formerly the Colégio dos Moços
da Sé (Cathedral Choir School)
and it is believed that the image of St Anthony dressed as a choirboy (from
Lisbon Cathedral) became the patron saint of the Évora Cathedral choirboys.
Church and the Chapel of Bones
While we were in the ecclesiastical mood, there was one church that we had to visit, the Igreja de São Francisco (St Francis’ Church), which is best known for its Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones). The church, which dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, replaced a former church which was built in 1226 for the Order of Saint Francis. It is a mixture of Gothic and Manueline styles and I was drawn to the Gothic arches at the front of the church which are not uniform in size or shape and the white cone-shaped spires with spirals, which look like Mr Whippy ice cream! Inside the church we were greeted by a vaulted nave of bare bricks, but there are elements of Renaissance and Baroque styles throughout the church, including the 18th-century Sala de Ordem Terceira de São Francisco (Secular Franciscan Order Room) which combines Neo-classical, Rococco, Baroque and Joanine styles. We also visited the small church museum, the highlight of which was a beautiful 18th-century organ built by Pascoal Caetano Oldovino (a Genoese organ builder who set up a workshop in Évora) and the exhibition of nativity scenes on the first floor of the church, from where there are lovely views of the town including the King Manuel Palace opposite the church. However, the main draw is the Chapel of Bones and as we approached the entrance to the chapel we were greeted with the grizzly reminder of our mortality, as above the door is the greeting ‘Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos’ (‘We bones that are here, await yours’) and inside the chapel there are bones, lots of bones, covering every surface. The chapel dates from the late-16th century and was built by three Franciscan monks who wanted to create a place of prayer where they could reflect on the transitoriness of life. They moved the bones of approximately 5000 deceased monks from the many cemeteries, which were taking up precious space in Évora, into this chapel and used them to decorate the walls, pillars and ceiling and despite the materials being bones and skulls, there is a beauty to the way they have been displayed. The most macabre items in the chapel are two mummified corpses of a man and a child, which are now laid to rest in glass display cases, but in the past were hanging from a wall. The legend that accompanies these corpses says that they are father and son and that the son abused his mother and the father did nothing to stop it. As she was dying, the mother put a curse on them as she cried out ‘Que a terra de vossas sepulturas não vos desfaça!’ (‘May the earth not open for your graves’) and so they were not buried. The mood is lightened slightly by a recent addition in 2015 of an azulejo panel by the artist Álvaro Siza depicting the birth of Jesus and Mary and Joseph raising the baby Jesus to Heaven. At the far end there is a small baroque altar in gold and the ceiling is painted in a baroque style, although on closer examination the decorative items in the painting are skulls.
Our Lady of Grace and Chapel of St Blaise
There were two final churches to which we felt it was worth making a quick detour. The first was the renaissance Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça (Church of Our Lady of Grace), built by the architect Miguel de Arruda between 1537 and 1546, in the Largo da Graça to which we wended our way to see the wonderful Meninos da Graça (Boys of Grace), the nickname for the statues of grotesque Atlantean figures holding globes on each corner of the church roof. They represent the four continents of the world and the universal power of King João III (who was king at the time the church was built and during whose reign the Portuguese empire increased).
The second church was the 15th-century Ermida de São Brás (Chapel of St Blaise) on Avenida Dr. Francisco Barahona on the southern outskirts of Évora which we passed on the way back to our hotel. A Manueline extravaganza, it is an early work by the architect Diogo de Boitaca, who is the architect most associated with the Manueline style of architecture (he is most famous for the Jeronimos Monastery in Belém). The exterior consists of crenallated walls, cylindrical towers, conical spires and arches.
World War Monument
Nearby, in the centre of a roundabout, is an impressive First Word War memorial, Monumento aos Mortos da Grande Guerra (Monument to those who died in the Great War), sculpted by João da Silva in 1933. It depicts a winged woman on the top of the pedestal holding aloft a sword in one hand and a laurel wreath in the other and at the bottom of the pedestal is the chilling sight of four bombs.
This marked the end of our short visit to Évora. We had a bus to catch only 24 hours after arriving, but we had seen so much that I felt that we had been there much longer than that. The small city with such a rich history had got under my skin and I promised myself I would come back and next time spend a few days, seeing Évora at the slower pace of life that the Alentejans are famous for.
Colégio do Espírito Santo, University of Évora,
Largo dos Colégiais. Open Monday to Saturday (excluding public holidays)
9am-8pm; entrance (as of 2018) €3
Museu de Évora, Largo do Conde de Vila Flor.
Open Tuesday to Sunday 9.30am-5.30pm (November to March); 10am-6pm (April to
October); entrance (as of 2018) €3
Évora Cathedral, Largo do Marquês de Marialva. Open daily
9am-5pm; entrance: cathedral and cloister €2.50; cathedral, cloister and tower
€3.50; cathedral, cloister and Museum of Sacred Art €4.50
Igreja de São Francisco, Praça
de Maio. Open daily (except 1 January, Easter Sunday, 24 December (afternoon)
and 25 December): 1 June to 30 September 9am-6.30pm; 1 October to 31 May
9am-5pm; entrance (as of 2018) €4
Vitória Stone Hotel, Rua Diana de Lis. We paid €83 for a
double room (including a lovely breakfast) for one night in June 2018.
5amêndoas Restaurant (located in the Vitória
Train: the train station is located 1km south-east of the
town. Trains run from Lisbon and Beja.
Bus: the bus station is located to the west of the city
(outside the city walls). Buses run from several places, including Lisbon, Beja