Our Lady of the Pillar, by Eça de Queirós

José Maria de Eça de Queiros is considered one of Portugal’s greatest writers.  He’s most famous for his novel The Sin of Father Amaro, first published in 1875.

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National Library of Portugal [Public domain]

Our Lady of the Pillar, originally published in the Gazeta de Notícias in 1895, is a fantasy story set in Seville Spain in the fifteenth century.  Don Rui de Cardenas, a devotee of Our Lady of the Pillar (the Blessed Virgin Mary), falls in love with the beautiful Dona Leonor, the young wife of wealthy nobleman Don Alonso de Lara.

Although Don Rui is smitten with Dona Leonor, he can’t so much as catch her eye as they enter the church.  He gives up on his love and devotes himself to honoring Our Lady of the Pillar.

Don Alonso, meanwhile, hears that a young man has been pursuing Dona Leonor and, being quite jealous, has her removed to their estate at Cabril, some ways outside Seville.  Don Alonso, enraged at a misperceived infidelity by his young wife, holds her at knife point and forces her to write a letter to Don Rui, professing a love for the young man who, in reality, she has never really noticed.

Don Alonso has the letter delivered to Don Rui, in an effort to lure the young man to the estate, where Don Alonso’s plan is to murder him as he enters Dona Leonor’s bedroom.  I don’t want to give away the story, so I’ll just say that the story takes a fantastic twist at this point.  This short story is well worth reading and is one of Eça de Queiros’ best works.

Our Lady of the Pillar is a free download at Project Gutenberg.   Enjoy.

Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s First King

Much has been made of Portugal’s influence on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  Rowling was living in Porto when she began working on her wonderful series of books, so it’s no wonder that Livraria Lello, the beautiful bookstore in Porto, inspired Diagon Alley’s premier bookstore, Flourish and Blotts, as well as Hogwart’s wonderful moving staircases.

Another potential Portuguese influence on the Harry Potter series may be the legendary Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.  Born in Guimarães in 1106, Afonso Henriques was the son of Henri of Burgundy, a French noble, and Teresa of León, the daughter of King Alfonso VI of León and Castile where Portugal was, at the time, a county.  While Afonso Henriques was not a wizard, his French and Galician parentage could make him Portugal’s “half-blood Prince”.

Afonso Henriques
Statue of Afonso Henriques in Guimarães

Afonso Henriques took the first step towards Portuguese independence in 1128,  when his army defeated Galician forces, led by his mother and her lover, Count Fernando Peres de Trava, in the battle of São Mamede.  Afonso’s fight to make Portugal an independent kingdom reached an important point in 1140 at the battle of Valdevez, when Portuguese forces defeated the army of Alfonso VII of León.  The victory led to Alfonso VII recognizing Portugal as a kingdom with the Treaty of Zamora.

Sao Bento Detail 4
The battle of Valdevez depicted on the wall of São Bento Railway Station in Porto

The victory over Alfonso VII’s army was an important step towards independence, but it wasn’t until 1179 that Portugal was recognized as an independent kingdom, and Afonso as king, when Pope Alexander III issued a papal bull recognizing the kingdom.

Afonso Henriques, now Afonso I, made Coimbra his residence, where he funded the construction of the Santa Cruz Monastery and the Sé Velha, or old cathedral, and is buried in the Santa Cruz Monastery.   Afonso Henriques died in 1185, after leading Portugal for 46 years as the country’s first king.

Old Cathedral
The construction of the Sé Velha, or old Cathedral, was funded by Afonso Henriques

Understandably, Afonso Henriques is a Portuguese hero and his legend has not dimmed in the 900 years since his birth.  Portugal’s first king is honored with statues and paintings throughout the country.  He has also been the subject of several postage stamps, including this heroic likeness from 1940, which commemorates the 800th anniversary of Portuguese Independence.

Portugal Anniversary

Nazaré Funicular

The Portuguese beach town of Nazaré is divided into two distinct parts- Praia, which is the lower section of the town and built along the beach, and Sitio, which is the more traditional area built atop the cliff that overlooks Praia.  There is a steep walking path that can be used to climb to Sitio, but the easier way is to ride the funicular.

Nazare with Sitio
Nazaré’s funicular connects Praia to Sitio

A funicular is basically a railway car that is moved by a series of cables up and down steep inclines.  Nazaré’s funicular was originally opened in 1889, but the current cars date from the most recent renovation in 2002.  Riding the funicular up the 42-degree slope provides some great views of Nazaré and is pretty fun to boot.  While one railway car makes its way to Sitio from Praia, a second car makes its way back down, passing each other at roughly the halfway point.

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The two railway cars of the funicular approach the point where they pass

The ride takes just a few minutes and is popular with both tourists and Nazaré residents, who use the railway to visit shops in Praia or the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, the beautiful church in Sitio.  The renovated lobby in Praia is quite nice,with a beautiful mural on one wall and traditional Portuguese pavement flooring.

Ascensor Lobby Art
The lower lobby of the Nazaré funicular

Elavador da NazareFuniculars and elevators are quite common in Portugal and have been celebrated by the country with several postal stamp issues.  This stamp, issued in 2010, celebrates Nazaré’s funicular.

If you’re visiting Nazaré, it’s well worth the time to take a ride on the funicular to Sitio.  In addition to the sanctuary, you’ll find the Fortaleza, with the surfing museum, and the tiny Ermida da Memória, or Memory Hermitage Chapel, which celebrates the legend of Nazaré.  You’ll also have some stunning views of Praia and, to the north, the famous North Beach, where world record waves draw surfers from all over the world.

Small Memories, by José Saramago

José Saramago was one of Portugal’s greatest and most revered authors.  The winner of the Nobel Prize in 1998, Saramago passed away in 1010, leaving behind a rich legacy of fantastical novels like Blindness and the Stone Raft.  Small Memories was one of his last books, and is a memoir of his early life growing up between his grandparents’ farm in the small rural village of Azinhaga, and Lisbon, where his parents moved when his father got a job as a policeman.

Jose Saramago
1998 postal issue honoring Saramago’s Nobel Prize award.

Told from a distance of eight decades, the small snippets of Saramago’s early life are simple but touching.  The stories deal with the death of his brother, who died at four years old, visiting his grandparents, farmers who, though illiterate, had a tremendous impact on Saramago’s life, and life as a young child in the tenements of Lisbon.

One memory tells of his grandparents bringing the weakest piglets into their bed on especially cold nights.  While it’s obvious from the stories in this little book that Saramago’s grandparents were, in fact, kind and loving, the story of the piglets emphasizes just how valuable the piglets were to a poor farm family.  From a practical viewpoint, the loss of the animals would mean a loss of income and could make the coming year harder.

If you’re interested in reading José Saramago’s books, Small Memories would be a good starting point.  Saramago’s novels can be difficult reads; punctuation is rare and paragraphs can go on for page after page.  Small Memories, is unusual in that it conforms to normal expectations regarding punctuation and layout, so it would be an easier read for those new to Saramago’s writing.  It’s also a sweetly told and enjoyable memoir.  As an added bonus, the family photos included at the end of the memoir, accompanied by Saramago’s sometimes tongue in cheek descriptions, will leave you smiling.

If you’re interested in reading Small Memories, you can purchase it Small Memories you can purchase it here.

Ana Moura, A Case of You

I love the music of Joni Mitchell and A Case of You is one of her most beautiful songs.  In this video, Portuguese Fado singer Ana Moura performs the song.  It’s from her 2012 album Desfado, which was the best selling album by a Portuguese artist in the 2010s.  It’s a truly wonderful performance.

Princess Joana of Portugal

Joana was the daughter of King Afonso V of Portugal and his wife, Isabella.  Born in in 1452, Joana expressed at a very young age the desire to become a nun.  After the death of her older brother, John, she became next in line to become ruler of Portugal, and her desires were postponed.  After the birth of her younger brother, King John II of Portugal, she was no longer the presumptive heir to the throne, but was still known as Princess Joana by the Portuguese people.

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Nuno Gonçalves [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
While her father, the King, refused to allow Joana to become a nun, she joined the Dominican Convent of Jesus in Aveiro.  She died at the convent at the age of 38, and was beatified by Pope Innocent XII in 1693.  Although she was never canonized, she is known in Portugal as Santa Joana.

Today, the Convent of Jesus is the Museum of Aveiro and is the third most popular thing to do in Aveiro, according to Trip Advisor.  The museum is full of beautiful artwork and also contains the tomb of Joana.

Museu de Aveiro
Museu de Aveiro

Santa Joana is much loved in Portugal.  There’s a beautiful sculpture of the Princess on Avenida Santa Joana in Aveiro.

Santa Joanna Statue

In 1953, Portugal issued a beautiful stamp of Joana, based on the painting by Nuno Gonçalves.  If you visit Aveiro, it will be well worth your time to visit the Museu de Aveiro as well as the statue of Santa Joana.

Santa Joana

Gil Eannes

Gil Eannes was one of the Portuguese navigators who, with the support of Henry the Navigator, expanded the known world and turned Portugal into the premier world power of the 15th century.

In the early 15th century, Cape Bojador, on the western coast of the Kingdom of Morocco, was considered impassible.  Upon reaching this western-most point of Africa, sailing ships found themselves pushed away from the coast by strong northeastern winds.  Navigational tools and charts were either non-existent or very primitive.  Early navigators sailed mostly by sight, using the coast as a guide.  The wind, which pushed them away from the coast into open waters, was terrifying to the men attempting to round the cape and most of them turned around rather than risk losing sight of land.

Finally, in 1434, Eannes and his crew became the first Europeans to cross this barrier.  This was a major achievement and opened the way for the Portuguese to explore and to colonialize Africa and eventually led to Vasco da Gama’s journey to India.

Portugal is rightfully proud of their role during the Age of Discovery.  Henry the Navigator and his navigators da Gama, Magellan, Eannes and others are national heroes.  Eannes is pictured on several Portuguese postage stamps like this one from 1945.

Gil Eanes

The Portugal Navy named a medical ship after Eannes in 1955.  After decommissioning, the ship became a museum located in Viana do Castelo.  According to Trip Advisor, the Gil Eannes museum is the second most popular thing to do in Viana do Castelo.

Gil Eannes 2

 

 

 

Cathedral of St. Mary the Great, Viana do Castelo

Portugal has a long history with the Catholic Church and there are beautiful churches and cathedrals everywhere.  While the undisputed star of the show in Viana do Castelo is the Basilica of Santa Luzia, situated on the mountain overlooking the city, the 15th century cathedral is quite beautiful as well.

The cathedral, with its twin towers topped with battlements, was built to be a fortress as well as a church.  Built during a time when Viana do Castelo was made wealthy by Portuguese ships returning from their many colonies around the world, the exterior belies the ornate interior, with gold gilt and renaissance art.

One aspect of the interior is unique.  The cathedral is probably the only church in Portugal that has a model of a Portuguese caravel, the sailing ship that was used by Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus and other explorers in their discoveries of the world.  If you look in the photo below, you’ll see the ship in the case on the right.  The white sail with the red cross was inspired by the Knights Templar, known in Portugal as the Order of Christ, who wore a white surcoat with a red cross on the chest.  Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese prince famous for initiating the Age of Discovery, was the Order’s first Grand Master.

Interior with Ship Model

It’s easy to overlook the tiny model among all the ornamentation inside the cathedral, but it’s something that pays tribute to the importance of the sailing ships of Portugal, some of which left from Viana do Castelo to begin their exploration of the world.

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

Most of the Portuguese history books I’ve read dealt with older events and times in the country’s history- the 1755 earthquake, Henry the Navigator, the Templars, etc.  This is the first modern history book I’ve found about Portugal.  While many younger people may regard World War II as ancient history, let me assure you, in a history that goes back thousands of years, World War II is modern.

Neill Lochery’s book gives a fascinating look at António de Oliveira Salazar’s efforts to maintain neutrality during World War II while playing both the Allies and the Axis powers to the benefit of Portugal.  Initially, Salazar’s insistence that Portugal remain neutral during the conflict was built around his fears that either Germany or Spain would invade his country, and that Great Britain, Portugal’s oldest ally, would not be able to help the country if an invasion did happen.  His fears were valid; Spain actually had plans in place to invade Portugal, but never followed through with them.

Lisbon, as Portugal’s largest and most important city, was awash with Allied and German spies during the war, each side monitoring the other’s activities.  Among the agents was a young British Intelligence agent named Ian Fleming, whose Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel, drew heavily on his time in Portugal.

Additionally, Lisbon was crowded with refugees, many of them Jewish, who were fleeing Nazi persecution in their home countries.  Several chapters describe the events of various organizations to help Jews escape the war through Lisbon.

While remaining militarily neutral, Salazar had no qualms about selling wolfram, also known as tungsten, to Nazi Germany.  Because counterfeit currency was common, and the value of the currency fluctuated wildly, Salazar insisted that the wolfram be paid for with gold.  By the end of the war, Portugal’s gold reserves increased from 63.4 tons at the beginning of the war to 356.5 tons near the end of 1945, much of it Nazi gold.

The story of wolfram and Nazi gold is the most fascinating part of the book for me.  Much of the gold was taken by the Nazis from the occupied countries’ banks.  Some also was obtained during the Nazi persecution of Europe’s Jews.  While the Allies insisted that the neutral countries return the gold to the countries of origin after the war, Salazar negotiated an agreement where only 3 tons of an estimated 122 tons of Nazi gold was returned.  It’s a fascinating story.

While the book focuses on Salazar, wolfram and Nazi gold, there are plenty of other side stories to keep you interested.  One chapter covers the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s attempt to return to Great Britain from France, Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst’s similar escape from Burgundy, and the death of Hollywood star Leslie Howard, when the plane he was returning to Great Britain in was shot down by Nazi fighters.

It’s an interesting read, with plenty of the twists and turns associated with wars and spies.  In this case, though, it’s not a James Bond novel, it’s history.

If you’re interested in reading Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945, you can purchase it from Amazon here.

 

Aveiro’s Old Railway Station

Aveiro was one of our favorite stops during our visit to Portugal.  Though best known for its canals and the moliceiros that carry tourists up and down the canals, there’s a lot more to the city than the canals.  The city is full of fine examples Art Nouveau architecture and Portugal’s famous azulejos and calçada are everywhere.

Just a few minutes walk from Aveiro’s main canal you’ll find the city’s beautiful old railway station.  The station has been replaced by a newer and shinier station, but the old station is a gem.  The station is covered with azulejos depicting scenes from the area, including salt harvesting and fishing, both of which were traditional industries of Aveiro.

Old and New Stations
The old Aveiro Railway station with the new station on its right.

During our visit the station was closed and fenced off, hopefully for restoration.  The building is now over a century old and is in need of restoration.  We were still able to view the beautiful tiled artwork on the front of the building.  The tiles are predominantly the traditional blue azulejos, but highlights of yellow are scattered throughout, especially in the tilework framing the scenes.  These two sections depict scenes of the Vouga River and the Aveiro Lagoon.

Aveiro Train Station Detail 2
Azulejo panels on the Aveiro railway station.

The azulejos are quite beautiful and serve the purpose of documenting the history and traditions of Aveiro.  The citizens of the city are quite proud of their history and their old railway station does a great job of putting their history on display for visitors who may come to Aveiro through the railway station.

Station Azulejo Detail
Panel detail from the railway station.

My hope is that on our next visit to Aveiro the renovation of the old railway station has been completed and we’ll be able to enjoy the station in more detail.  For now, it was a nice stop on our tour of Portugal.