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.

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!


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.


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:

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:
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!


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%!


Bacalhau com natas: the ultimate Portuguese comfort food, Food and drink

Bacalhau com natas: the ultimate Portuguese comfort food

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!

Bom apetite!

Paula Rego: from the political to the personal

Paula Rego: from the political to the personal

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.

Paula Rego, Salazar Vomiting the Homeland, 1960, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Modern Collection, Lisbon
Paula Rego, When we had a house in the country we’d throw marvellous parties and then we’d go out and shoot negroes, 1961, Collection Ostrich Arts
Paula Rego, Regicide, 1965, Private collection
Paula Rego, The Firemen of Alijo, 1966, Tate Britain, London

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.

Paula Rego, Untitled No. 1, 1998, Private collection
Paula Rego, Untitled 1-8, 1998, Marlborough Graphics, London
Paula Rego, from Triptych, 1998, Marlborough Fine Art, London

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.

Paula Rego, Mother Loves You, 2009, Marlborough Graphics, London
Paula Rego, Circumcision Night Bride, 2009, Marlborough Graphics, London

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.

Paula Rego, War, 2003, Tate Britain, London

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.

Paula Rego, The Maids, 1987, Marlborough Fine Art, London
Paula Rego, The Family, 1988, Marlborough International Fine Art, London

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.

Paula Rego, Joseph’s Dream, 1990, Private collection
Paula Rego, The Cake Woman, 2004, Private collection
Paula Rego, Dancing Ostriches, 1995, Marlborough Fine Art, London

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.

Paula Rego, Snow White and her Stepmother, 1995, The Whitworth, University of Manchester
Paula Rego, The Betrothal after ‘Marriage à la Mode’ by Hogarth, 1999, Tate Britain, London
aula Rego, The Shipwreck after ‘Marriage à la Mode’ by Hogarth, 1999, Tate Britain, London

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).

Paula Rego, Red Monkey Offers Bear a Poisoned Dove, 1981, Private collection
Paula Rego, Two Girls and a Dog, 1987, Private collection

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.

Paula Rego, Dog Woman, 1952, Collection Paula Rego
Paula Rego, Bride, 1994, Tate Britain, London
Paula Rego, Lush, 1994, Private collection
Paula Rego, Sleeper, 1994, Private collection

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.

Paula Rego, Polly put the Kettle on, 1989, Marlborough Graphics, London

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.

Paula Rego, The Cell, 1997, Collection Fundação de Serralves – Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto
Paula Rego, The Company of Women, 1997, Collection Ostrich Arts Limited
Paula Rego, Angel, 1998, Collection Ostrich Arts Limited

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.

Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Cascais
Heroes of the sea: Monument to the Discoveries, Belém, Lisbon

Heroes of the sea: Monument to the Discoveries, Belém

Monument to the Discoveries, Belém

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.

Monument to the Discoveries, Belem (detail of the western-facing side showing, from left to right, Nuno Gonçalves, Gomes Eanes de Zurara, Pêro da Covilhã, Jácome de Maiorca, Pêro de Escobar, Pedro Nunes, Pêro de Alenquer, Gil Eanes, João Gonçalves Zarco, Prince Fernando and Prince Henrique)

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).

Nuno Gonçalves, Painéis de São Vicente, c.1470, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

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 India), Gonçalo 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).

Monument to the Discoveries, Belem (detail of the western-facing side showing, from left to right, Prince Pedro, Queen Philippa of Lancaster, Fernão Mendes Pinto, Gonçalo de Carvalho, Henrique de Coimbra and Luís Vaz de Camões)
Monument to the Discoveries, Belem (eastern-facing side)

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.

Monument to the Discoveries and armillary sphere, Belém

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, Belém


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