The Almalagues experience

A little while ago I undertook a study trip to Almalagues, a village near Coimbra. The journey was wonderfully organized by my colleague, Antonio João, who has a special interest in this place: his research is dedicated to the Almalagues weavers.

For me, this trip was an exciting encounter with living intangible heritage, since Almalagues has been an important weaving center for centuries and the tradition has still been maintained, even if on a much smaller scale. The museum in the center of the village is more of a meeting place for local craftsmen and other inhabitants. It’s principally their home, with the door open for the rare visitors aside. A guest like me not only could pass by freely, but also could touch and try everything, taste a few local drinks and ask questions on “how it once was”. Or how it still is for some! A home is more proper word to describe this place than a museum, as their target group are the hosts rather than visitors, as we were received just as we would be at someone’s home, and as… it looked like one! Someone’s grandparents’ home, to be precise.

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The weaving room was that one particularity of an Almalagues home that made their everyday life so special.

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A number of beautiful, thick, textured pieces displayed are for sale – they come with a price tag, though. But hey, doesn’t our consumerist world need to rethink the matters of quality, duration and meaningfulness? Don’t those Almalagues pieces also have a whole collective memory woven in?

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If anyone has a doubt about those rhetoric questions, I’d recommend to experience the weaving process themselves, to feel the level of patience, creativity and physical force needed for this job. I was lucky to try it, and from that moment my respect for these wonderful makers grew exponentially.

So, best of luck, Antonio João! Your mission is bigger than Almalagues and touches more general contemporary values (or lack thereof). And I am sure that the weavers are here to stay!

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