Centro region, Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória at Batalha: a King’s promise to the Virgin Mary

Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória at Batalha: a King’s promise to the Virgin Mary

Santa Maria da Vitória Monastery, Batalha

In 1383 King Fernando I of Portugal died without a male heir, leaving the door open for the King of Castile to sieze the Portuguese throne. However, only two years later the Portuguese throne was safe and plans for a monastery at Batalha were begun, in celebration of the decisive battle where Fernando’s illegitimate half-brother defeated the Castilian army and ensured that Portugal would remain independent for almost two hundred years.

At the time of Fernando’s death his daughter, Beatriz, was married to King Juan I of Castile and after Fernando’s death she was named Queen of Portugal, but many Portuguese people were not happy with the situation as they feared the Castilians would take control of their country. Juan proved them right by entering Portugal with an army and marching towards Lisbon. Opponents of Beatriz began to support the illegitimate son of King Pedro I, João (1357-1433), who formed an army led by the great military commander Nuno Álvares Pereira to fight against the Castilians. The two armies met on 14th August 1385 on a battlefield at São Jorge on the outskirts of Aljubarrota and the Castilians were defeated at what became known as the Battle of Aljubarrota. João was proclaimed King João I of Portugal and began plans to build a monastery at Batalha to fulfil a promise that he had made in 1385 during the Battle of Aljubarrota, in which he vowed that if the Portuguese troops defeated the Castilians he would build a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary of the Victory (Santa Maria da Vitória). (Outside the monastery, opposite the main portal, is a large statue honouring the real hero of the Battle of Aljubarrota, Nuno Álvares Pereira, sitting proudly on his horse with his sword at his side.) The town of Batalha (which means ‘battle’ in Portuguese) was founded at the same time.

Statue of Nuno Álvares Pereira in front of Santa Maria da Vitória Monastery, Batalha

The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória at Batalha is one of the best examples of Gothic and Manueline architecture in Portugal and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The exterior of the Dominican monastery is of a light gold limestone decorated with spires, gables and ornamental crenellations that overwhelm the eye. It was begun in 1386 by the architect Afonso Domingues, who designed the Gothic arches in the Royal Cloister (to which the Manueline decorations of ropes, exotic flowers and crosses of the Order of Christ were added later by Diogo de Boitaca, who also decorated the cloister at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém) and the nave of the church.

The more flamboyant elements of the church were added by the architect Huguet, who took over from Domingues in 1402, including the high ceilings and the intricate late-Gothic-style main portal, which includes statues of the apostles on either side, God on his throne above the entrance and at the very top a depiction of the crowning of the Virgin Mary.

Huguet was also responsible for the Founder’s Chapel (which João ordered to be built as a royal pantheon for the House of Aviz and in which are the tombs of João and his wife, Queen Philippa of Lancaster (1360-1415), in the centre of the chapel, placed side by side holding hands, and the tombs of their four younger sons, in niches, including Prince Henrique (1394-1460, better known in English as Henry the Navigator, the man behind Portuguese exploration in the first half of the 15th century). Above the tombs of João and Philippa is a delicate octagonal lantern ceiling, with coloured-light-reflecting stained-glass windows, which acts as a symbolic canopy over them.

The church was one of the first churches in Portugal to have stained-glass windows as part of its design and it became a centre of stained-glass production throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, however, very little remains of the original stained glass that was put in in the mid-15th century. The two main artists responsible for the original stained glass were Luís Alemão and Francisco Henriques, who was the court painter to King Manuel. There was a major restoration of the building carried out in the 19th century and most of the stained glass was replaced by Mouzinho de Albuquerque during this time and since then further restoration work has been carried out by the National School of Arts and Crafts of Batalha. Through this programme the monastery has been able to preserve what UNESCO refers to as its authenticity.

Huguet was also commissioned to build a royal mausoleum, separate from the main church, by King Duarte (1391-1438, João and Philippa’s eldest son) in 1434, but it was never completed, as his grandson King Manuel I (1469-1521) moved the royal pantheon to the Jerónimos Monastery in the early-1500s. As a result, the seven chapels in the open-roofed octagonal space are known as the Unfinished Chapels. They house the tombs of King Duarte and his wife, Queen Leonor of Aragon (1402-1445). Work on the Unfinished Chapels was taken over by the Manueline architect Mateus Fernandes at the beginning of the 16th century and the space is most notable for his 15-metre high portal with Manueline motifs dating from 1509. The portal is topped by an Italianate Renaissance balcony added in 1533 by Miguel de Arruda.

Huguet’s other great achievement in the monastery is the audacious unsupported ceiling in the Chapterhouse, of which there are several legends, including one that says that the original ceiling, designed by Afonso Domingues, collapsed twice killing many people, so it was finally rebuilt based on a design by Huguet and prisoners were used to do the work with the promise that they could go free if it didn’t collapse. Another version of this story is that Huguet had to sleep in the Chapterhouse under the ceiling for several nights to prove that it wouldn’t collapse. The Chapterhouse nowadays houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb contains the bodies of two soldiers from the First World War, which are guarded by two soldiers and watched over by the Christ of the Trenches crucifix, on which Christ has lost a hand and the bottom half of both legs. The symbolic importance of this crucifix to Portuguese soldiers dates back to the First World War as it is all that remains of the crucifix from a church in Neuve-Chapelle which was destroyed in a battle of 1918 and it was later donated to Portugal by the French government in recognition of the Portuguese soldiers’ bravery during this battle. The only other object in this vast room is the Flame of the Nation sculpture, designed by António Gonçalves and forged in iron by Lourenço Chaves de Almeida in 1924, depicting three soldiers from different eras of warfare (one with a spear, one with a sword and one with a bayonet) and with an eternal flame burning at the top.

The former refectory which is just off the cloister is now used as a small military museum and outside the refectory is an ornate fountain dating from 1450 where the monks would wash their hands before eating.

Due to the careful conservation and restoration programmes, the monastery has retained most of the original features from its original inception, when King João I made his promise to the Virgin Mary. I think he would be pleased.

Practicalities

Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, Largo de Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha

Opening hours
16th October to 31st March 9am-5.30pm; 1st April to 15th October 9am-6.30pm (closed 1st January, Easter Sunday, 1st May, 25th December)
Ticket: €6

Public transport
Bus: the Rodoviária do Lis interurban bus service runs between Batalha, Figueira da Foz, Leiria, Marinha Grande, Ourém, Pombal and Porto de Mós, but be warned that we tried to travel to Batalha from Leiria by bus at the most disorganized bus station I have ever encountered. Giving up on getting any useful information from the bus station staff, we finally decided to cut our losses and take a taxi.
Bus fare from Leiria to Batalha €2.15
Taxi from Leiria to Batalha €14 and from Alcobaça to Batalha €21

A walk around Carvoeiro and Algar Seco, Algarve

A walk around Carvoeiro and Algar Seco

I’d like to share with you two videos of Carvoeiro that we filmed in July 2019: one of Algar Seco and Boneca Bar and another showing a walk via the boardwalk from Algar Seco to Rua do Barranco in the centre of Carvoeiro.

The western area of the Algarve has a coastline of limestone cliffs which have been eroded by the wind and sea. Algar Seco (meaning ‘dry sinkhole’) is one of these. It is a stunning rock formation one kilometre east of the town centre. There are steps leading to rocks which consist of grottoes and sinkholes. At dusk the colours of the rocks change as the sun sets. There is a lovely bar and restaurant hidden among the rocks at Algar Seco, called Boneca Bar, named after one of the rock formations that is thought to look like a doll (‘boneca’ in Portuguese) – it looks more like a giant’s head to me! The walk down a steep flight of steps is worth it to sit with a glass of wine and look at the sea.

The walk along the boardwalk which goes over the cliffs from Algar Seco to the pretty white church of Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, where the boardwalk ends, takes you by the Escadinhas (steps) which, although steep in places and with dangerous drops, are worth climbing down to see the rock formations. The steps go through the cliff and lead to caves and narrow pathways. From the church, which is the best place in Carvoeiro to watch the sun set, we walked down the steep Rampa da N. Sra. da Encarnação to the town square by the town beach, which has several excellent bars and where there is live music every evening throughout the summer. The town is a former fishing village which was built around this square and the five roads leading off it, which nowadays house the majority of restaurants and bars. The walk finishes on one of these roads, Rua do Barranco (also known as the ‘out road’, as it is the road that leads to Lagos and the A22 motorway). As you will see, the town has retained a lot more of its charm than many of the other resorts on the Algarve, as the white buildings built on the hills around the town centre have remained low-rise and in keeping with the traditional buildings of the area. I hope you enjoy watching this walk as much as we enjoyed doing it!

History, Lisbon, Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon: an homage to those who perished in a war that should never have happened

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon: an homage to those who perished in a war that should never have happened

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

The Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar (Monument to the Overseas Combatants) is an important war memorial which pays homage to all those who died in the Portuguese Colonial War which ran from 1961 to 1974 and it is the Portuguese equivalent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (both honour the people who died in controversial wars). The Colonial War (also known as the Overseas War) was a dark time in recent Portuguese history in which the right-wing dictatorship led by António de Oliveira Salazar (who was Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968) wanted to maintain Portuguese control of the African colonies, namely Angola, Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) and Mozambique, against the growing independence movements in these countries. Salazar’s reason was two-fold: the income from the colonies helped to support a financially impoverished Portugal; and through the idea of the Empire he aimed to remind people of Portugal’s glorious past and divert attention away from the difficult situation at home where his economic policies had left many people in poverty. In order to suppress the rising African nationalist movements Salazar embarked on a bloody and expensive war that would involve, at its height, approximately 217,000 members of the armed forces (mainly young men who were conscripted for three years military service, totalling over the 13 years of the the war almost 1 million conscriptees) and resulted in the death of around 10,000 of them (the large majority of whom were in the Army). There was a growing opposition to the war, but any signs of dissent were met with arrest, torture and often deportation. Portugal was also being sanctioned by other countries that opposed the war (and in some cases even supported the nationalist movements). The war finally came to an end in April 1974 when a group of army rebels comprised of left-wing officers from the MFA (Armed Forces Movement) held an almost bloodless revolution that overthrew the dictatorship. The new government almost immediately withdrew the military from the African territories and agreed to give these countries independence.

The Monument to the Overseas Combatants, which was inaugurated in 1994, is located next to the Combatant Museum at the Forte do Bom Sucesso in Belém. It was designed by a team of architects led by Francisco Guedes de Carvalho and is marked by its peacefulness and simplicity. The main focus is a striking abstract triangular sculpture made of stone, metal and mirrored glass, which sits over a pool of water and in the centre of the sculpture is a burning flame. There are two small guard huts in front of the sculpture which are manned by various sectors of the armed forces. At six o’clock every evening there is a simple but moving changing of the guard where the guards honour the dead servicemen. In 2000, plaques with the 10,000 names of all the people who died in the conflict were added to the walls that surround the monument, separated out into year and alphabetical order within each year. It is quite sobering to see how many people died as the names continue around the three sides of the Monument. The memorial wall also includes names of people who died in peace and humanitarian operations and there is also a separate sculpture commemorating these people to one side of the Monument. On Portugal Day (10th June) former combatants of the Colonial War gather at the monument to remember their fallen comrades.

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Memorial wall, Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to Combatents of Peace Missions at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

Behind the Monument is the Capela do Combatente (Combatant’s Chapel), a small chapel which is accessed through a doorway in the memorial wall. The chapel has a simple marble altar, above which is the ‘Mutilated Christ’, a wooden sculpture that survived a battle of 1916 in France and on the back wall there is a replica of the maimed ‘Christ of the Trenches’ crucifix in which Christ has lost a hand and the bottom half of both legs (this watches over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Batalha Monastery and the symbolic importance of this crucifix to Portuguese soldiers dates back to the First World War, as it is all that remains of the crucifix from Neuve-Chapelle which was destroyed in a battle of 1918 and was later donated to Portugal by the French Government in recognition of the Portuguese soldiers’ bravery in the battle). A small passageway leads to a room lit by natural light from a skylight. This room houses the tomb of an unknown soldier whose body was brought back from the Colonial War in Portuguese Guinea and over the tomb is a suspended Christ, symbolically risen from the dead.

Altar of chapel at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the chapel at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

The Monument is surprisingly close to the very popular Belém Tower, where large groups of tourists gather all day long, but thankfully they don’t tend walk as far as the Monument to the Overseas Combatants and it remains a tranquil place to pay homage to the 10,000 people who died in a war that should never have happened.

Practicalities

Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar, Forte do Bom Sucesso, Avenida de Brasília, Belém
Open daily, free access.
Public transport: Tram 15; Buses 714, 727, 729, 751

Architecture, ‘Other cities in the city’: a social history walking tour of Porto, Porto

‘Other cities in the city’: a social history walking tour of Porto

Rua de Álvares Cabral, Porto

By the end of a week in Porto, most tourists will have seen the ‘must-see’ places, including the Palácio da Bolsa, Sāo Bento station, the Clérigos Tower, the Cathedral, the Majestic Café and even the Livraria Lello (which must be one of the few bookshops in the world where you have to pay to go in!), but these buildings, as beautiful as they are, don’t show you the ‘real’ Porto and how the ordinary ‘Tripeiros’ (the nickname of people from Porto) lived. To do that you need to get away from the tourist zones and walk around the neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city. At first glance they may appear to be just residential streets with rows of ordinary houses, but scratch below the surface and there is a rich social history just waiting to be discovered. By pure chance, I discovered a walking tour company that offers tours around these areas. Run by a group of socialist architects who found their work had dried up as a result of the economic crisis that began in 2008, the self-deprecatingly named Worst Tours was started to offer walking tours that combined their knowledge of architecture and their love for the city of Porto.

Our tour started at the Praça do Marquês de Pombal in the north of the city, a pretty square with fountains, a bandstand and a café selling coffee at non-tourist prices, surrounded by 19th-century townhouses. Approximately ten of us were greeted by Pedro, who arrived holding a large folder containing a plan of Porto which he referred to throughout the tour.

Pedro from The Worst Tours, Porto

The Praça do Marquês de Pombal dates from the mid-19th century and was built on what was formerly one of the entrances to the city and where goods were taxed as they entered the city. The houses around this square reflected the social status and wealth of the occupants and as well as the rows of tall, narrow middle-class houses in the middle of each street around the square, there was a large house on each corner owned by someone of a higher status.

Praça do Marquês de Pombal, Porto

From here we crossed over to the Rua do Bonjardim, a long road formed in the mid-18th century as part of the urbanization plan, that leads directly into the centre of Porto. Only a short way down the road we stopped outside a large distinctive mansion, which was very different to the surrounding architecture. Known as a ‘Brazilian house’ it is a typical example of how wealthy people, often people who had made a fortune in Brazil (hence the name), built houses that were large and flamboyant. This particular house was built in 1906 in a mixture of Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau styles and was covered with green tiles, topped by a distinctive hexagonal turret and surrounded by a garden which contains plants not native to Porto, such as palm trees. Looking at it, I felt the house had a sense of abandonment and Pedro confirmed that the house was no longer occupied and was standing empty. He also explained that there are no squatter’s rights in Portugal and that almost everyone respects the fact that even abandoned properties have an owner. This has resulted in a lot of empty properties in the city that no one can do anything with. As a result property developers try and find ways around this. Pedro pointed out to us an official-looking notice attached to the wall, which suggested that the property developer had applied for a planning application, but when we looked more closely the notice had not been completed with any information and any development of the property would be illegal.

‘Brazilian’ house, Rua do Bonjardim, Porto
‘Brazilian’ house, Rua do Bonjardim, Porto

In total contrast to the ‘Brazilian house’, our next stop was at an area completely hidden away behind the main roads, known euphemistically as ‘Ilhas’ (Islands), a name given to the working-class slums of Porto. In the mid- to late 19th century there was a large influx of people from the rural areas which resulted in a need for cheap housing and the Ilhas were created to meet this need. They were very small dwellings that were built onto the back of a large middle-class house. The middle-class house would face onto the main road and, in what would have formerly been the garden at the back of the house, a row of terraced houses (often back to back) that were accessed by a narrow passage, were built. Each of these houses was approximately 16 metres square and consisted of a living room, kitchen and bedroom. Diseases such as cholera and typhoid were rife, as there was little ventilation or natural light, no running water or sewers and all the families in the terrace shared one communal toilet. The majority of the Ilhas were demolished in the 1940s and the families were rehoused in areas on the outskirts of Porto, a long way from the centre, but some of the Ilhas still exist, as we discovered in a small alleyway in the Lapa district.

An ‘Ilha’, Lapa district, Porto
The back of an ‘Ilha’, Lapa district, Porto

Nearby, next to the Lapa metro station, is an example of a 1970s social housing project developed as a solution to the problems of the Ilhas, known as the Bouça Housing Complex. It was designed by the architect Álvaro Siza after the 1974 revolution, when, along with other architects and engineers, he worked for an association known as SAAL (Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local (Local Ambulatory Support Service)), to design community housing projects for families who were being rehoused from the slums. His design was based on light and space, both interior and exterior. The four-storey complex comprised of homes which extended over two floors, with balconies, exterior staircases and walkways, built around a long central courtyard. Unfortunately the government money dried up and a result building materials ran out and the complex wasn’t fully completed until 2007. Its position near to the centre of the city means that local residents can easily get to the centre for work or recreation, unlike many who have been forced out to the suburbs due to the gentrification of the former working-class neighbourhoods of Porto.

Bouça Housing Complex, Lapa district, Porto

Only a short walk, but another world away from the Bouça Housing Complex, is Rua de Álvares Cabral, a long street that leads to the Praça da República. This street is one of the best examples of 19th-century Neo-classical townhouses typical of Porto and the buildings on this road are listed as a group of buildings of public interest due to their coherent architectural features. In the second half of the 19th century new housing was planned in blocks rather than as individual houses and as a result there is a uniformity to the houses on this street. They are narrow and extend over several floors (including the truncated ground floor which was originally intended to be a storeroom) and built around a central stairwell. A skylight was built in the roof to allow natural light to come in to the stairwell. There is also a garden at the back and each house would have been occupied by one family. Even today, it is still apparent that every house in a block has the same basic exterior features: standardized factory-made tiles on the wall, a uniform large decorative panel above the front door and a double front door. However, each owner often added individual elements, such as in the ornate details of the balconies and the skylights.

Rua de Álvares Cabral, Porto

Skylights of various levels of grandeur can be seen in buildings all over Porto and one particular good example of an ornate skylight can be seen in the large mid-19th-century former mansion, the Palacete das Águias (Eagles’ Villa) (dominating one of the corners of the Praça da República, overlooking the pretty Jardim de Teófilo Braga), which is now the headquarters of the Regional Council of the Porto Bar Association.

Skylight on Conselho Regional do Porto da Ordem dos Advogados, Praça da República, Porto
Conselho Regional do Porto da Ordem dos Advogados, Praça da República, Porto

From here it was quite a long walk to our penultimate stop at the Neo-Arabian-style Mostruário da Fábrica de Cêramica das Devesas (Devesas’ Ceramic Factory Showroom) on Rua de José Falcão. Built in 1901, this distinctive building, decorated with beautiful Art Nouveau-style tiles, was the showroom for tiles and other ceramics items produced by the Devesas factory, the most important producer of exterior tiles in Portugal up to the 1980s, in Vila Nova de Gaia. The location of the showroom meant that customers could view the tiles in the centre of Porto rather than having to cross the river to visit the factory.

Our final stop was the Avenida dos Aliados, right in the heart of Porto. I had always assumed that the avenue was built in the late-19th century, as the buildings are a mixture of ornate fin-de-siècle Neo-classical and Beaux Arts styles, so I was very surprised to learn that the majority of the buildings were built in the 1920s and ’30s. The avenue was begun by the English architect Barry Parker and completed by José Marques da Silva, who was influenced by the French School of architecture. These grand buildings are nowadays mostly banks and hotels, but the avenue is dominated by one particular building, the stately Neo-classical City Hall with its distinctive clock tower, which is located at one end of the avenue in the Praça do General Humberto Delgado. It was built in 1920 from a design by the architect António Correia da Silva. Here we said goodbye to Pedro and paid him what we thought it was worth, which was a reasonably generous amount, as far from being the worst tour, this was one of the best tours I have been on.

The Worst Tours are run on the principal of paying what you think it is worth at the end and a suggested price is that of what a cleaner in your country would be paid for the equivalent time. When I booked the tour via the Worst Tours website I was asked some initial questions to find out how well I knew Porto and what I was interested in. Based on my reply, that I had visited Porto before and had seen the touristy sights and that I wanted to see the ‘real’ Porto through the eyes of a local and learn more about the social history of the city, Pedro suggested the most suitable tour from their choice of four and promised to show me ‘other cities in the city’. He also warned me beforehand that the tour lasts between three and four hours, with a stop at a café halfway through, and to wear comfortable shoes and dress for all weathers, as the tours go ahead, even if it is raining!

Architecture, Porto, The Serralves Villa: one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in Portugal

The Serralves Villa: one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in Portugal

In the grounds of the Serralves Estate in Porto (home to the Contemporary Art Museum) is what is considered to be one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in Portugal, the Serralves Villa. The estate is on what was originally the Quinta do Lordelo estate, which was owned by Carlos Alberto Cabral, the 2nd Count of Vizela, a wealthy businessman who regularly travelled around Europe and who was inspired by the art and architecture saw there. Cabral inherited the estate in 1923 and two years later began planning a new house, while extending the grounds of the estate. Initially he commissioned the architect José Marques da Silva to modify the existing house, but eventually the plans changed to have a completely new house built on the site, designed by the French Art Deco architect, Charles Siclis and developed by Marques da Silva; while the interior was designed by the French Art Deco interior designer, Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann with some decorative touches from other major designers of the time, including Edgar Brandt, Ivan da Silva Bruhns, René Lalique, Jules Leleu, Jean Perzel, Alfred Porteneuve and Raymond Subes. The house was finally completed in 1944 and Cabral and his wife Blanche lived, what I imagine must have been a glamorous lifestyle, there until financial difficulties forced them to sell the house and estate in the early 1950s. At the time of the sale a condition was written into the contract stipulating that the house could not be altered in any way, and thank goodness it was, as the house we see today is virtually the same as it was in the 1940s.

The first thing I noticed as I approached the house is that it is pink, very pink (thanks to Alfred Porteneuve, who was said to have been inspired by one of the galleries in the Machado de Castro Museum in Coimbra), with lots of large windows. It is a streamlined geometric design, with two main facades: the front entrance, which is a semi-circular shape with round columns, and the back entrance which has rounded corners and large vertical windows that give uninterrupted views of the beautiful garden below. As I entered the house, I was slightly disappointed that it is unfurnished, so that all that remains of the original house are the fixture and fittings, restored lovingly in 2004 by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira (who also designed the neighbouring Contemporary Art Museum, which was completed in 1999), and I had to use my imagination and what I knew of these types of houses from films set in Hollywood mansions of the 1920s and ’30s to picture what it must have looked like in its heyday. But a few things have survived.

A large wrought-iron gate, entitled ‘Les Danseurs’, designed by the French metalsmith Edgar Brandt, decorated with Art Deco-style figures playing musical instruments, opens into two of the main ground-floor rooms, the Hexagonal Room and the Marble Room. Other rooms on the ground floor include the Dining Room, Billiard Room and Library, in addition the chapel, which was the original 19th century chapel with an Art Deco exterior built around it, and the basement which housed the kitchen, pantry and utility areas.

Chapel
Hexagonal room
Dining room

A large black-marble-topped table, designed by Raymond Subes, is affixed to a wall in the Dining Room. A sleek, curved staircase leads to the upper deck of the former library on the ground floor. In some rooms the floor is made of exotic hardwood, in others, marble. Details on the door handles are clearly Art Deco. Rooms have large mirrors on the walls and on cupboard doors to maximise the amount of light. The rooms on the first floor include the Fireplace Room, the Countess’ Bedroom, the Count’s Bedroom, the Guest Room and the bathrooms.

The guest bathroom, in white marble, is the more tasteful of the two bathrooms, with a large marble bath and washbasin, while the master bathroom (designed by Alfred Porteneuve) is done in pink marble and looks a bit more ostentatious.

In the Fireplace Room, on the first floor, two armchairs (the only furniture in the entire house) are placed in front of the balcony to give us an idea of what it must have been like to sit that room in front of the balcony windows and get a perfect view of the two-tiered garden below. The garden echoes the Art Deco style of the house, marked by two straight pink tiered paths with a water channel flowing between them into the pond at the end of the garden. From the pond the eye is led back to the house. The garden is now used for art exhibitions and on the day we visited there was a display of Joana Vasconcelos’ work which, although far removed from Art Deco style, blended in perfectly with the surroundings.

The villa can be hired for business and private events, including wedding receptions and I wonder if the Art Deco theme is extended to the tables, chairs and tableware at these events. I really hope it is!

Practicalities

The Serralves Villa is part of the Serralves Foundation, Rua D. João de Castro, Porto

Opening hours: April to September: Monday to Friday from 10am-7pm; Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays: 10am-8pm. October to March: Monday to Friday: 10am-6pm; Saturday, Sunday and public holidays: 10am- 7pm. Closed 25th December and 1st January (24th and 31st December closes at 4pm).

Full entrance ticket €18. Entrance to the Serralves Villa and park only €12

Bus: 201, 203, 502, 504 On foot: it is possible to walk from the centre of Porto to the Serralves Estate. We did it, but it is quite a long way (from the Palácio da Bolsa to Serralves is approximately 5km and takes around an hour). We walked from the historic centre of Porto via the riverfront road, turning right a few metres after the Arrábida Bridge and cutting through a pretty park (Parque da Pasteleira). We walked back to the centre of Porto via the Avenida da Boavista, which leads to the Casa da Música and the Praça Mousinho Albuquerque.

Lisbon, The Pillar 7 Experience: getting a close-up view of Lisbon's 25 April Bridge

The Pillar 7 Experience: getting a close-up view of Lisbon’s 25 April Bridge

One of the most iconic sights in Lisbon is the distinctive 25 April Bridge which crosses the River Tejo linking Lisbon with Almada on the South Bank. As it is a road and rail bridge it is not possible to cross it on foot, but a relatively new visitors’ centre, opened in 2017 to (belatedly) celebrate the 50th anniversary of the bridge, means that it is now possible to go up one of the pillars and come face to face with the traffic on the top deck of the bridge from the safety of a glass platform that hangs over the road below (although, I must say that on the day we visited, the glass could have done with a clean!).

Pilar 7 (Pillar 7) is located on the riverfront road, Avenida da Índia, in the Alcântara district of Lisbon (not far from the LX Factory shopping and restaurant complex). The visitors’ centre is state of the art, including an airport-type security check.

Large information discs embedded into the ground contain information about the project and lead to various sections of the visitors’ centre, which include an area with a scale model of the bridge, showing its entry and exit roads, and with information about its history (the bridge opened on 6 August 1966 and was originally called the Salazar Bridge).

There are also lots of bite-sized facts that fans of engineering might enjoy, such as the fact that the bridge is 2277 metres long; it is composed of 82,000 tons of steel; there are 11,248 steel wires per main cable; and there are 600,000 square metres of painted surface. On the first stop of the lift we got out into a large, dimly lit warehouse-sized space (known as the Workers’ Room) with bare concrete walls onto which photographs and videos of the construction of the bridge were projected on all four walls, along with more bite-sized facts. From there we went into an area where we got an intimate view of the main moorings of the support cables.

We were then whisked up in a glass lift to the viewing platform on the 26th floor at the top of the pillar, 66 metres above ground level.

The viewing platform has joined the list of Lisbon’s famous miradouros (scenic viewpoints), with views towards Belém to the west, Ajuda to the north-west, Monsanto to the north and along the south bank of the river, where there is another iconic structure, the monument of Cristo Rei. Information of what was in our eyeline was marked on the safety glass panels. However, we were visiting it on a sunny but misty day in late December and the views were somewhat compromised.

There was something futuristic about the site, from the scale of the white concrete, geometric-shaped buildings that seemed to engulf us as we walked from the entrance to the lift, to the eerie darkness inside the Workers’ Room, the stomach-churning depth of the lift shaft and the proximity of the traffic on the bridge, making it a slightly uncomfortable experience. It probably wasn’t worth €6 for the view alone, as there are better free panoramic views from other parts of Lisbon, but it was a unique opportunity to get an insight into this famous bridge.

Practicalities

Entrance costs €6. Open daily (except Christmas Day): May to September 10am-8pm; October to April 10am-6pm.
Tram 15; buses 714, 727, 732, 751 (nearest stop Rua da Junqueira e Alcântara); train from Cais do Sodré or Cascais (Alcântara station)

Chafariz D'El Rei: the melting pot of 16th-century Lisbon, Lisbon

Chafariz D’El Rei: the melting pot of 16th-century Lisbon

The Chafariz D’El Rei is a fountain in the Alfama quarter of the Santa Maria Maior district of Lisbon (on Rua de Cais de Santarém, halfway between the Casa dos Bicos and the Fado Museum) that is intrinsically linked with the social history of the city. It is a large limestone structure which was originally built in the 13th century to supply spring water from the Alfama to the boats in the nearby harbour. It was renovated under the orders of King Dinis in 1308, when its name was changed from the São João da Praça dos Canos Fountain to Chafariz d’El-Rei (The King’s Fountain). A plaque next to the fountain summarizes the history of the fountain:
CHAFARIZ D’EL REY EDIFICADO NO SECULO XIII
FOI REFORMADO PELO REI D. DINIS
RECONSTRUIDO NO ANO DE 1747
REPARADO DEPOIS DE 1755
E MELHORADO NOS MEADOS DO SECULO XIX
(‘D’EL REY FOUNTAIN BUILT IN THE 13TH CENTURY
IT WAS RENOVATED BY KING DINIS
RECONSTRUCTED IN THE YEAR 1747
REPAIRED AFTER 1755
AND ENHANCED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE 19TH CENTURY’)

By the 16th century it was the main source of drinking water in the city, but in the 1740s part of it collapsed necessitating it being rebuilt in 1747 and again in 1755 after the famous earthquake that destroyed Lisbon. The structure of the current fountain was completed in the 19th century, including the addition of a second level and the enhancement of the decor on the façade of the fountain with decorative stone vases and three stonework friezes depiciting the Portuguese coat-of-arms in the centre and, to the left and right of this, the Lisbon coat-of-arms (two ravens on a ship).

Although nowadays there are only holes where the three remaining water spouts along the bottom of the fountain were, in the sixteenth-century there were six spouts, the use of which was regulated by a bylaw of 1551 that separated various ethnic and social groups, arguably to stop fights breaking out. The first spout was for male African slaves and non-white freemen, the second was for North African galley slaves from the ships, the third and fourth were for white working-class men and servants, the fifth was for female African slaves and non-white freewomen and the sixth was for white working-class women and girls and female servants (the wealthy people did not collect their own water). Despite this segregation, I like to think the area around the fountain must have been a lively melting pot of the different groups that made up Lisbon society, an estimated 10 percent of which by the mid-16th century was black. A 16th-century painting by an anonymous Flemish artist c.1570-80, entitled Chafariz d’El Rey (which is part of the Berardo Collection), captures this melting pot in front of the fountain, as it appeared then, in an everyday scene which includes people from different races and classes, including a black nobleman on a horse and what appears to be a black man dancing with a white woman.

In the 18th century three more spouts were added to deal with demand for water. The fountain is attached to the former Palácio das Ratas (now the Neo-Moorish-style hotel Palacete Chafariz D’El Rei), which can be clearly seen rising above the fountain. The hotel is located on Travessa do Chafariz d’El Rei, the street behind the fountain, from where the water tank was accessed, although the fountain is now dry. Despite it no longer being used to supply water to the city, it is considered an important historical building and in 2012 the fountain was given the status of Monument of Public Interest.

History, Lisbon, The Lisbon Massacre: a 16th-century Portuguese pogrom

The Lisbon Massacre: a 16th-century Portuguese pogrom

Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506, Largo São Domingos, Lisbon

A small unassuming monument in Largo São Domingos is a memorial to a tragic series of events committed against the Jewish population in Lisbon in the early-sixteenth century. The events are known as the Lisbon Massacre and, what in effect was a pogrom, has its roots in Portugal’s relationship with Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In 1492, during the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain (and during the period of rule of the notorious Dominican friar and Inquisitor General, Tomás de Torquemada), thousands of Jews who refused to convert to Christianity had been expelled from Spain and many had taken refuge in Portugal. By the late 15th-century it is estimated that up to 100,000 Spanish Jews had fled to Portugal. The Portuguese King, João II (who reigned from 1481-95), promised to allow the Jewish refugees to stay in Portugal for eight months in return for a payment and also agreed to provide ships for them to continue their journey to other parts of Europe. Unfortunately João II failed to keep his promise to provide ships within the agreed timeframe and those who were unable to leave the country were forced into slavery, while their children were taken from them and shipped (those who survived the journey) to the island of São Tomé off the West African coast.

Things initially seemed to improve for the Jews during the reign of King Manuel I. He restored their freedom when he came to the throne in 1495 and acknowledged the importance of the Jewish families that worked in the area of finance, medicine and print, offering them protection. Several Jewish areas (Judaria) were already established in Lisbon: in the area around Largo do Carmo, near the Praça do Comércio in the Baixa and, in 1457, a third Jewish quarter was created in the Alfama district. However, when it was arranged that Manuel would marry the extremely anti-Semitic Isabella, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, she only agreed to the marriage if he expelled all the Jews from Portugal. As a result, from December 1496 all Jews in Portugal had to either convert to Christianity and become ‘New Christians’ (known as conversos) or leave the country. It is estimated that 20,000 agreed to convert to Catholicism, although many of the ‘New Christians’ continued to practice Judaism in secret.

The Portuguese Catholics distrusted the ‘New Christians’ and in 1506 things were made worse by the fact that there was a drought in the country and the plague was rife. People wanted someone to blame and the Jews, as so often in history, became the scapegoats. In April 1506 things came to a head. It began in the São Domingos de Lisboa Convent on Easter Sunday when a ‘New Christian’ in the congregation questioned a miracle involving a candle giving the appearance of the face of Jesus. The doubter was taken outside and beaten to death. This paved the way for more acts of anti-Semitic violence led by two Dominican friars who promised absolution of sins for anyone who killed the ‘heretics’. A mob (which included foreign sailors from the ships in the harbour) rounded up any Jews they could find, killed them and burnt their bodies or even burnt them alive, while looting their houses. This massacre continued over the following two days, until the King sent the royal guard to stop it. It is estimated that between 1000 and 4000 converted Jews died over the three days.

São Domingos church and the Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506, Largo São Domingos, Lisbon

King Manuel later issued punishments to those involved, including burning the two Dominican friars at the stake. However, the seeds of anti-Semitism had been sown and continued to grow, resulting in the Portuguese Inquisition being set up in 1536 (under King João III). The Inquisition lasted until 1821 (although the last public auto-da-fé took place in 1765) and I would recommend reading the wonderful 1982 novel Memorial do Convento (or to give it its English title, Baltasar and Blimunda) by José Saramago, in which the threat of the Inquisition is ever present. During this time many Jews were forced to flee Portugal going to countries like England, Germany and the Netherlands. The impressive Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam is a testament to the thriving Sephardic Jewish community that lived there, before the horrors that occurred in the first half of the twentieth century that decimated the Jewish population.

Portuguese Synagogue, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506 in front of the São Domingos church was inaugurated in 2008 (around the time of the 500th anniversary of the massacre), marking the spot where the violence began. It is a semi-spherical shape sculpted in stone by Graça Bachmann with a large Star of David in the centre. The inscription on the Star reads:
‘1506-2006
Em memória dos milhares de Judeus vítimas da intolerância e do fanatismo religioso assassinados no massacre iniciado a 19 de Abril de 1506 neste largo.’
(‘In memory of the thousands of Jewish victims of intolerance and religious fanaticism murdered in the massacre which started on 19 April 1506 in this square.’)

Underneath are the Hebrew years (1506-2006): 5266-5766
On the base of the monument is a quotation from the Book of Job 16.18
‘Ó terra, não ocultes o meu sangue e não sufoques o meu clamor!’
(‘O earth, cover not thou my blood and let my cry have no place!’)

Lisbon, Queluz Palace: the summer playground of the Portuguese Royal Family

Queluz Palace: the summer playground of the Portuguese Royal Family

I have to confess to a great fondness for Queluz Palace above all the other Portuguese royal palaces, not only because of its beautiful Rococo design, but also because both inside the Palace and in the formal gardens there is a strong sense of the generations of the Royal Family who used it as their summer residence. Despite being occupied and pillaged during the French invasion in the early-19th century and being badly damaged by a fire in 1934, the rooms are tastefully furnished with rugs, furniture, pictures and ornaments which give a sense of the fashions at the height of the Palace’s glory days from the mid-eighteenth century to the early-nineteenth century.

Stepping out of Queluz-Belas train station, however, I first wondered if we had got off at the wrong stop, as the ugly modern blocks of flats were incongruous with the location of a royal palace. We looked for a signpost directing us to Queluz Palace, but there was nothing, which again made me question whether this was the right place, but after a quick check on the map we turned left into Rua Dona Maria I which led us to a section of the Águas Livres Aqueduct (which from 1769 branched off to supply water to the Palace), where we turned right and then left into a long, unassuming street called Rua Dr. Manuel de Arriaga.

Aqueducto das Águas Livres, Queluz

When we finally reached the end we could see the distinctive bell tower and the pastel blue exterior of the Pousada ahead. The contrast between the Largo do Palácio de Queluz and the nearby suburb of Queluz-Belas is surprising in the extreme and may explain why many people arrive at the Palace by tour bus. On one side of the square is the Pousada Palácio de Queluz – Hotel Dona Maria I, which formerly housed the Royal Guards when the Royal Family was resident at the Palace. On the other side of the square is the long low-rise Palace, which was formerly pink but now, as with the Pousada, is a pleasing pastel blue, in front of which is a large 1797 monument to Queen Maria I by João José de Aguiar, in which Maria is depicted as Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, flanked by four statues representing the four continents. The Palace was bequeathed to the country by King Manuel II in 1908, two years before the country was declared a Repulic.

The Palace was originally built as a summer residence for the Royal Family in the mid-eighteenth century. Prince Pedro (a younger son of King João V) and, later, Pedro’s son, King João VI, bought several small estates in the area 13 km north-west of the centre of Lisbon to form the Quinta Real de Queluz (Royal Estate of Queluz). In 1747 Pedro commissioned the architect Mateus Vicente de Oliveira to create a Rococo palace using the Palace of Versailles as his inspiration and it was completed in 1752. In 1760 Prince Pedro married his niece, Maria (who was to become Queen Maria I in 1777), the eldest daughter of King José I, and what was just a summer residence needed to become more palatial.

Two men are associated with the creation of the Palace that we see today. The aforementioned de Oliveira and the French architect Jean-Baptiste Robillion. In the first phase of construction, de Oliveira (who also designed the Estrela Basilica and the Church of Saint António in Lisbon) developed the section that includes the Music Room and the Chapel, as well as the exterior Ceremonial Facade that overlooks the gardens. The Music Room, which is adjacent to the Throne Room, was completed in 1759 and used for music recitals performed by Maria I’s chamber orchestra and a portrait of Queen Maria I above the piano (attributed to the Italian court painter Guiseppe Troni in the late-18th century) dominates the room. In any room in the Palace it is worth looking up at the ceiling decor and the Music Room is no exception, as it has a Rococo ceiling designed by Silvestre de Faria Lobo in which, if you look carefully, you will see small musical motifs reflecting the room’s purpose.

The octagonal domed Chapel, in the same section of the Palace and also designed by de Oliveira, dates from the early 1750s and is a wonderful Rococo mixture of gilt carved wood (created by Silvestre de Faria Lobo) with marble and lapis lazuli-effect on the walls and ceiling. Hopefully, at some point in the future, the late-18th century organ, attributed to António Xavier Machado e Cerveira and currently under restoration, should be returned to the upper choir.

De Oliveira was called back to Lisbon to help rebuild the city after the devastating earthquake of 1755 and at the time of Pedro and Maria’s marriage in 1760 the Palace was extended and Robillion was commissioned to design it and make it fittingly regal. Many of Robillion’s designs are still visible today including the stunning Throne Room (or Great Room), which was created in 1768 for official receptions and was clearly inspired by the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles with gilded mirrors and large windows lining the long room. Golden figures by Silvestre Faria Lobo, positioned below the ceiling at each corner, as if supporting the room, caught my eye in this Rococo-style room.

The Corridor of Sleeves, which leads from the main part of the Palace to the west wing, is Neo-classical in style and decorated with blue and white azulejo panels by Manuel da Costa Rosado in 1764 depicting hunting scenes and scenes from daily life and polychrome azulejo panels by Jorge da Costa added in 1784 depicting scenes from classical mythology, the four seasons and the four continents. On display in the corridor is an original carriage that was used to transport the Royal Family around the grounds. The corridor’s intriguing name is said to come from the glass tubes (‘sleeves’) that protected the candles from draughts.

Robillion excelled himself in his design of the Ambassador’s Room (or Vases Room) which was used for diplomatic audiences and concerts is dominated by two thrones at one end of the room, which were naturally for the King and Queen. Each throne has a large porcelain vase next to it and there are mirrored columns which support a canopy over the thrones. In this room the ceiling decoration is as important as that of the wall with an exceptional Trompe l’oeil painting on the ceiling showing the Royal Family during the reign of King José I (1750-1777) attending a music recital.

Robillion’s other main input inside the Palace is actually named after him. The Robillion Pavilion was the private quarters of the Royal Family located in the west wing of the Palace next to the Ambassador’s Room. The rooms in the pavilion include the Neo-Classical Dispatch Room, which was used for ministerial meetings and dispatches during the time of Prince João (later King João VI, who was Prince Regent from 1792, after his mother Queen Maria I became too mentally ill to rule (thought to be brought on by the death of her eldest son, José, of smallpox in 1788) until her death in 1816). Large Renaissance-style classical scenes by Giovanni Berardi line the walls of the room and a large painting depicting the ‘Passage of Time’ fills the ceiling.

Dispatch Room, Palácio de Queluz

In contrast the Picnic Room, dating from 1767 and used as a dining room, is a Rococo extravagance with gilt flourishes on the walls, surrounding the paintings depicting the four seasons and rich people having picnics in the countryside, and a gilt honeycomb-effect ceiling with gold roses in the centre of each segment. In the centre of the table is an exquisite British-made silver epergne (a table centrepiece with arms which hold removable baskets for sweets, fruit or flowers) dating from 1780.

The Don Quixote Room in the Robillion Pavilion was the birthplace of the Royal babies during the reign of King João VI and his wife Queen Carlota Joaquina, including Prince Pedro, who later became Emperor Pedro I of Brazil in 1822 and briefly King Pedro IV of Portugal in 1826. During his short life he led Brazil to independence and on returning to Portugal to succeed the Portuguese throne the liberal Pedro became embroiled in a civil war with his absolutist brother, Miguel. Although Pedro ultimately won the war, the effort took a toll on his health and he died in the Don Quixote Room in 1834 at the age of 35. The square room has the illusion of being circular due to the placement of columns, which support the domed ceiling, and due to the circular parquet floor design. The room is decorated in Rococo style with gold ornamentation, mirrors and paintings depicting scenes from the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes painted by Manuel de Costa in 1784.

Queen Carlota Joaquina’s bedroom, which was the bedroom of various royals, as well as Queen Carlota Joaquina herself, is notable for its silver papier mâché decorations, in a Palace where everything else seems to be gold! In the adjacent Queen’s Dressing Room the ceiling has a very pretty basketwork design with delicate papier mâché flowers and this basketwork pattern is reflected in the parquet floor. The walls are decorated with scenes of children playing at dressing-up surrounded by gold ornamentation and mirrors.

Robillion died in 1782 and after his death Manuel Caetano de Sousa took over and designed the Dona Maria Pavilion, which is at the opposite end of the Palace to the Robillion Pavilion. Queen Maria I lived here after becoming mentally ill, until the Royal Family relocated to Brazil in 1807.

Dona Maria Pavillion, Palácio de Queluz

Also around this latter period a number of private apartments built for Princess Maria Francisca Benedita, the younger sister of Queen Maria I, was also added with a decor based on the fashions of the late-18th century, including the French Empire Room and the Dona Maria Room with Pompeian motifs of palms, garlands and sphinxes.

Robillion created a grand staircase to lead from the Robillion Pavilion to the gardens below. The Robillion (or Lion) Staircase was built between 1758 and 1760 and it is decorated with statues of lions, which may be a reference to the fact that during the reign of Maria I exotic animals such as lions, tigers and jaguars were kept in cages in the gardens near the staircase.

Robillion Staircase, Palácio de Queluz

The Robillion Staircase leads to a very pretty tiled canal, which is a 115-metre canal built in 1755. It is now dry, but at the time was filled with water from the nearby River Jamor and decorated with polychromatic azulejo panels depicting landscapes and hunting scenes. In its heyday, the Royal Family sailed along the canal on gondolas while listening to music from the lake house in the centre, where music recitals were held in the summer.

The 15-hectare grounds are much smaller now than in the time of Pedro and Maria and mainly consist of landscaped gardens, along with the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, where the Lusitano horses are trained in dressage and whose stables are accessible to visitors to the Palace. The gardens in the second half of the 18th century must have been quite a sight, as, as well as the wild animal cages, there were cages with exotic birds, horse-drawn carriages in which the Royal Family toured the grounds and festivities were marked by fireworks, aerostatic balloons, musical performances and even horse races. Nowadays the gardens are peaceful areas of flower beds, fountains and (slightly weather-beaten) statues. To the right of the Robillion Staircase, the New Garden was created in 1775 by the Royal gardener, Luís Simões Ressurgido and it is characterized by two water features, the octagonal Medallions Lake designed by Robillion and the Fountain of Neptune, which was sculpted by Ercole Ferrata (a disciple of the great Italian architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini) in the 17th century, but added to the Palace gardens in 1945. In this area of the garden are several lead sculptures by the British sculptor John Cheere, including the dramatic and disturbing Cain and Abel and The Abduction of Proserpina by Pluto dating from the 1750s.

To the left of the Robillion Staircase, past the Robillion Pavilion and Shells Cascade, are the upper gardens of the Hanging Garden and the Malta Garden in front of the appropriately named Ceremonial Facade. These formal parterres designed by Robillion contain flower beds, box-tree hedges, fountains (including the Neptune’s Lake, Nereid’s Lake, Monkey Lake and Shells Lake) and statues, a large number of which were sculpted in lead by the aforementioned John Cheere (including Mars and Minerva at the entrance to the Ceremonial Facade), alongside marble status imported from Italy.

Beyond the upper gardens, at the far end of the Palace grounds is the Grand Cascade, another Robillion addition dating from 1778. It is a man-made waterfall of marble and stone which used water from the aqueduct which was stored in the upper section.

Waterfall, Palácio de Queluz

In contrast to British royal palaces that are expensive, overcrowded with tourists and where visitor are herded around like sheep and not allowed to take photographs, Queluz Palace was pleasantly quiet with freedom to wander and take photos. I hope it can stay like that!

Practicalities

Queluz Palace is located halfway between the centre of Lisbon and Sintra and there are regular trains from Rossio, Entrecampos and Oriente stations in Lisbon and Sintra to Queluz-Belas and Monte Abraão (Queluz-Belas is slightly closer to Lisbon and Monte Abraão is slightly closer to Sintra, but there is not a lot in it). The Palace is approximately 1km from either station.

The Palace is open from 9am to 6pm and a ticket costs €10.

Food and drink, Poejo: pennyroyal liqueur from the Alentejo

Poejo: pennyroyal liqueur from the Alentejo

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%!

Saúde!