A day in Barcelos.

Barcelos is overwhelmed with roosters of all sizes and materials: being the symbol of Portugal, they are of even greater importance for this city’s identity, since here is where the legend of the rooster coming alive to proof injustice is directly linked to. There is even an interpretation center dedicated to the famous “galo”. However, without some prior research, a visitor cannot grasp all the stories from Barcelos’ past. For example, next to the ruins of the palace that belonged to the dukes of Braganza, there is a stone cross with carvings that tell the rooster of Barcelos story. Without a single line of interpretation! Thanks to some homework done, I know that, according to the legend, it was created exactly by the man who was saved from death by the miraculous rooster, and that it depicts the details of what happened. The question to which I couldn’t find a satisfying answer is the dukes’ love for enormous chimneys. There used to be four of them in the palace, and now that it is in ruins, only one left, of magnificent proportions and irrational position in terms of heating possibilities.



The traditions are strong, however not overwhelming, because there is also room for contemporaneity in this city. The great place to experience how old and new intertwine and complement is the Pottery museum. I was enchanted with the exhibition of Sofia Beça, a ceramics artist from Porto, named “Memórias à flor da pele” (still ongoing, btw!). From what I understood, it has to do with recovering the past feelings and sentiments and capturing them forever in clay. But it was also aesthetically pleasing and really corresponding with the exhibition space.



Passing through to reach some more traditional pieces like roosters or amphorae, I noticed the sculptures of two fat children – “meninos gordos”, named Mateus and Ana, who lived in the 19th century, and had some kind of desease that made them extremely obese. They were an attraction wherever they appeared, so poor kids traveled across Europe and also visited Portugal. The story of them became then a motif for a line of portuguese ceramics. This sculpted pair can also be interpreted as a direct critique of the consumerism of the present epoch, I am sure.

Meninos gordos Fiança Portuguesa600

And then, the kingdom of roosters of all sizes, shapes and colours!


The importance of roosters and other local traditions in contemporary life in Barcelos was obvious even outside the museum:  there were various processions around the city going on as a part of Easter celebrations. Here I share the photos of the Rooster band and the Green wine fraternity!




A hat tip to a hat factory. And what do hats have to do with pencils?

São João da Madeira is the smallest of 308 municipalities of Portugal by area. However, it’s great in terms of industrial tourism and also quality of life, according to the latest studies conducted here. As for the industrial tourism, I checked that myself!

The town has a number of industrial facilities, and in 2011 the municipal authorities decided to share that with the world by creating the industrial tourism routes and creating an interpretation center in a former metal factory.

My visit included the Hat museum and three active factories: Fepsa (that produces hat felts), Viarco (the only pencil factory in Portugal) and Helsar (women shoe factory). Despite being a woman and loving shoes as all of us do, the strongest impressions I got from Helsar are linked to the working conditions: endlessly repeating operations, being exposed to noise, heat and smell of rubber and glue.

The Hat museum, Fepsa and Viarco brought about similar impressions, but also the spirit of (good) old times.


An incredibly complex set of operations is necessary to produce a hat, and the demand for hat felts decreased nowadays as much as just about 10 companies can fulfill it in the whole world. And Fepsa is exactly one of them. I could juxtapose the old ways of production seen in the Hat museum with the contemporary ones I got to know in the factory. Not too many employees produce around 2800 hat felts a day, if I remember correctly. Some other companies then mold them and give final touches, when the majority of the work is already done… Just for the matter of prestige, Fepsa still produces and finalizes hats for the English police.


Once upon a time (or more precisely, in 1931), Manuel Vieira Araújo, the hat factory owner in São João da Madeira, also bought a pencil factory that already existed since 1907. This is how hats and pencils are connected here 🙂


In 1936, Viarco brand was registered, and the production goes on until the present day. As I realized, Viarco pencils awaken childhood memories to many Portuguese. However, the factory is very small: just a few workers are in charge of entire production.


Besides pencils, I noticed another great product – their watercolour graphite. Miracles could be done with it!

Photo credits: 1 – photo of a museum photo, no further data available; 2 – Fepsa website; 3 – mine; 4 – Viarco online shop.

Quinta do Santiago: learning through experience

Among the many palaces I was lucky to visit over years, discovering Quinta do Santiago in Leça da Palmeira some weeks ago was by far the most imaginative and memorable experience. And I think experience is the keyword here! Not the investment or state-of-the-art equipment, because this cost just some good will, creativity and an elegant suit (but no, the visitors were not expected to be in suits).



The strange visiting hours were the first twist, as we were supposed to appear (in whichever clothes) at 9.30 p.m. And then, we became part of a play! One of the three organized in Quinta de Santiago in a year. This time, the charismatic Joel Cleto was the main character, and the play was about him as an elegantly dressed butler, leading us through the noble family’s house. Revealing its secrets, Cleto was intertwining stories about the family members, urban history of Leça and building of the great port of Leixões, and the broader context of Portuguese history.


The palace was interesting anyway, researched and restored carefully, but no written or audio guide could compare to this way of telling the story, nor inform so well. And the great thing is, Joel Cleto is an expert, in acting as much as in history & heritage.

By the way, the house was built in eclectic style by the Italian architect Nicola Bigaglia in late 19th century. The architect just gave proper form to the ideas of the owner, João Santiago de Carvalho e Sousa, who was educated in fine arts. And obviously passionate about every little detail of his home!


For example, the house has an excellent ventilation system, so besides being pleasing for the eye and the sense of touch (photos cannot reproduce the variety of materials and textures used!), it is also very fresh and dry and simply … lacks that smell of old houses where windows are rarely open!

The old photo of the owner comes from here: http://en.cm-matosinhos.pt/PageGen.aspx?WMCM_PaginaId=27819

In regard to the insider views from the event, I called M. for photos! A big, big thanks*


An item and its discourses

5529_1There is a huge problem about the cultural scene of Porto – the problem of what to choose among so many things happening around!

I will be keeping an eye on the diverse and imaginative initiative of the Porto City Hall named “Um objeto e seus discursos”, that started in March and will be going on weekly until the end of 2014. I already attended one event  last Saturday, that somehow got to span the vast space between 19th-century feminine fashion, higher education and the current economic crisis in Portugal!

Link: http://www.umobjetoeseusdiscursos.com/

P.S. It was also enchanting to see the audience was very diverse, all ages and backgrounds!

Sensing Spaces. (just ended)

Too bad we need the UK visas, otherwise I would not miss the Sensing Spaces exhibition that just ended in the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The idea was to call seven architects/teams to make installations taking around 23 000 square feet of their interiors, and “reimagine architecture” by addressing not only the eyes of the visitors, but also by emphasizing olfactory or haptic properties of the exhibits. Engaging visitors went also in the direction of giving them opportunity for a creative experience – by letting them finish an installation (weaving colourful plastic straws in the white space of Diébédo Francis Kéré).


One of the installations (Chilean architects Pezo von Ellrichshausen) was in a particularly strong relation with the exhibition space: it brought visitors high up to the ceiling of the hall, the closest possible to the gilded details of its decoration, that would otherwise not be experienced.


Among the great seven from all around the world, two Portuguese architects were invited to participate! Siza and Souto de Moura, the Pritzker prize winners, were present with their works. Souto de Moura was exploring heritage and meanings through creating concrete copies of the door cases and juxtaposing them with the originals. And Siza…from what I saw on the photos, it was something in the museum yard, and the information available said that it was “beautiful” 🙂

Sensing Spaces Royal Academy of Arts_Eduardo Souto de Moura_Joao Paulo Nunes_The Style Examiner (10)


The architect’s own explanation, though, cleared things up: the installation was about “the birth of column”.

Some wonderful links:

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/4 (a bit about the exhibition)


(Siza talks)

The city through its windows.

My daily dose of art (and architecture) was obtained at the CPF – Portuguese Center of Photography in Porto, the place I will certainly be coming back to.

The 18th century building used to be a prison, but since 2000 it is a home to photographic exhibitions and documentation. Eduardo Souto Moura and Humberto Vieira were in charge for the adaptation project. The interior consist of just mighty stone in thick walls and cold floors, cast iron bars (it was a prison, after all) and a touch of red given by painting wooden shutters.


One of the current exhibitions attracted me particularly: “O Porto à janela” by Pedro Mesquita. It tells so much about the city, but also about its inhabitants: to make the photos possible, the artist asked people to enter their homes and get to have the views as real people do. He was ready for all kinds of hesitation and decline of access. However, hardly anyone said no!

pedro mesquita

And that’s also informative of Porto and Portugal.

P.S. The photos are from the CPF web page; the second one is my favourite Pedro Mesquita’s work from the exhibition.