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ARCHITECTURE & HISTORIC MONUMENTS

Portugal’s architectural styles and monuments cover periods from Prehistoric to Roman, Moorish to Gothic, Baroque to Modern. Here is a short round-up of these periods:

  • From the Neolithic period, there are stone megaliths 7000 years old which are still standing in isolated areas of the countryside, particularly in the Alentejo region. And throughout the mountainous interior one sees round granite huts of the Celtiberian culture, which flourished from 600 to 200 BC.
  • The Roman period, from 200 BC to 500 AD brought about much architectural development, including the growth of settlements such as Olissipo (Lisbon), Bracara Augusta (Braga) and Conimbriga (near Coimbra) and the construction of bridges (such as at Ponte de Lima) and temples (notably at Évora).
  • Visigoth and Suevi invasions from the north ended Roman dominance and initiated the  Pre-Romanesque period, which lasted for 200 years, notable for a few small surviving chapels, such as at São Pedro de Lourosa.
  • The Moorish style flourished from 711 to 1249, when Moors ruled the area. In these five hundred years, they had a huge influence on architecture, particularly in the south. The white-washed hilltop and coastal villages, so typical of the Algarve, Lisbon and Alentejo were built during this period. 
  • As Christians began to reconquer Portugal, starting in the north, so the Romanesque style spread, in the form of bulky stone castles (such as Almourol), churches (Bravães) and cathedrals (Coimbra), built on top of Moorish castles and mosques.
  • With Christianity now firmly in power, impressive Gothic convents and monasteries sprung up between 1200 and 1450 AD, including at Alcobaça and Batalha.
  • The decorative Manueline style, named after the then ruling king Dom Manuel, lasted from 1490 to 1520. This was characterized by the adorning of important buildings (such as Jerónimos monastery in Lisbon) with naturalistic carved stone motifs, related to the age of discovery.  

  • Statues and straight columns were typical of the Renaissance and Mannerism periods (1520 to 1650).
  • Then came the Plain period (1580 to 1640), when provincial churches were built with smooth whitewashed surfaces, carved gilded wood ceilings and blue azulejo tiles. 
  • With independence from Spain, the Plain period transitioned to the restrained period of Restoration (1640 to 1717)
  • Next came the sumptuous Baroque style (1717 to 1755), when gold from Brazil made Portugal the richest nation in Europe.  Royal palaces just outside Lisbon, such as Queluz (Sintra) and Mafra were built, incorporating highly decorated rococo exteriors, gold interiors and colourful azulejo paintings.
  • All of this came to an end when an earthquake, tsunami and fires struck Lisbon in 1755, destroying most of the city and ending the wealth of the nation. The low-lying Baixa was completely rebuilt in a utilitarian fashion with a grid of straight roads, wide avenues and four-storey buildings. This Pombaline style, named after the Prime Minister in power, lasted until 1860 when the modern period began.
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RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS

Being a Catholic country, every single town and village in Portugal has a patron saint, which is enthusiastically commemorated once a year. Many of these celebrations happen in the summer months. Villages get adorned with colourful paper decorations. Fairs and markets come to town. Religious processions take place. Then, sardines are grilled over charcoal embers and local wine is poured. Folk songs blare out from church loudspeakers across valleys. Loud fireworks explode high in the sky. It is a time when 1960s emigrants and their children return to their home villages from France and Switzerland. As a visitor, it’s a fun experience to see these celebrations, which by and large still remain local and provincial. From June to September and particularly in August, they are virtually impossible to miss, even if staying in the remotest parts of the country.

In larger towns and cities, these festivals are quite often the climax of a series of month-long events. In Lisbon, this happens around the 13th of June for the festival of Santo António (St Anthony) in the old quarters, with lots of Fado and Jazz throughout the month. In Porto, it is all about São João (St John) and the days around the 23rd June, which includes the regatta on the Douro of the traditional barco rabelo port-barrel-carrying boats, spectacular fireworks and crowds banging each other over the head with garlic and plastic hammers.  Also famous are the August festivals of Nossa Senhora da Agonia (Our Lady of Agony) in Viana do Castelo and the festas Gualterianas (St Walter) in Guimarães, to name a couple.

The rest of the year, other religious dates are commemorated, generally in a quieter and more reserved fashion than the summer festivals. These include Easter time with processions and flower petal decorations in the streets (good places to see this include Braga and Caminha). Then, there is the Festival of the Holy Spirit in the Azores and the Procession of the Triumph in Lamego, both in September. Twice-yearly pilgrimages to Fátima take place in May and October. All Saint’s Day in November is important and every cemetery in the country gets covered in bouquets. Christmas and New Year round off the year, with families celebrating by eating the traditional bacalhau (salt cod).

 

CULTURAL & SPORTING EVENTS

One is never in short supply of cultural and sporting events to see in Portugal. In 2012 Guimarães will be the European capital of culture, with events taking place throughout the year. Other annually-held events include:

January: New Year fireworks in Madeira, Epiphany on the 6th (with eating of the Bolo Rei)

February: Carnival, Almond harvest festival in Loulé

March: Open de Portugal golf tournament

April: Madeira flower festival, Semana Santa week leading up to Easter, Fiape festival (agriculture, cattle and craft) in Estremoz

May: Lisbon’s Rock in Rio, MotoGP in Estoril, Madeira PGA Open, Queima das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons graduation celebrations)

June: Sanjoaninhas festivals in the Azores, Ponte de Lima horse fair, Sintra classical music fair, Santarém agriculture and bull fair        

July: Óbidos and Santa Maria da Feira medieval fairs, Festival of the Ria (estuary) in Aveiro, Estoril show-jumping competition, SATA car rally in the Azores, Loulé Jazz festival, Super Bock surf fest in Sagres, Beer festival in Silves, Theatre, cinema and arts festival in Montemor-o-Velho

August: Semana do Mar (sea week) on Faial island in the Azores, Festa da Maré music festival on Ilha de Santa Maria, Zambujeira do Mar music festival, Évora classical music fair, Óbidos piano festival, Paredes de Coura alternative rock festival, Linhares da Beira hang gliding competition, The Madeira wine car rally, Folk and medieval fairs of Viseu and Silves

September: Lamego’s Our Lady of the Medecine festival, Ponte de Lima’s Feiras Novas fair, National folkloric festival in the Algarve, Christopher Columbus festival on the Madeiran island of Porto Santo, Puppet festival in Porto, Caramulo motor festival

October: National Gastronomy fair in Santarém

November: National Horse fair in Golegã, Guimarães Jazz Festival   

December: Christmas celebrations, Lisbon marathon to burn off the calories



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