Photographing heritage

Porto has a very special photographer: Luís Ferreira Alves is dedicated to capturing Porto’s spirit through its architectural heritage. As much as to the city’s historical landmarks, his architectural photography focuses to the more contemporary built legacy created by protagonists of the Porto School of Architecture.


They actually seem to be the reason why Luís Ferreira Alves dedicated to the architectural photography in the early 1980s, after some soul searching in the area of experimental film and amateur photography. At that time, he helped out a friend who needed photos of his project for an exhibition, and after it was presented at the Faculty of Architecture, interest was raised among architects and commissions followed. Alves then made a risky move: he abandoned his permanent job to dedicate completely to architectural photography.

It turned out the right choice.

Now we know him best through beautiful photos capturing his city and its heritage, like the ones that embellish the recently reissued luxury album Sentimento do Porto. But there is one more curiosity about this author: he specializes in exposing the process of heritage transformation through photographing restoration works. These are far beyond the documents testifying of the works done in the project dossiers, they make one rethink heritage and see it more clearly as a living thing, with a potential to change and adapt to the present times.

This gives visibility to the hidden layers of the monuments’ and the city’s history that often remain inaccessible and overlooked, and (here I borrow the spot-on expression of Pedro Bandeira), helps demystifying heritage that comprises a significant part of our surroundings and daily lives.

My “discovery” of Luís Ferreira Alves comes just on time to share the news of an exhibition that is about to be open in Porto: “Nasoni – Regressos” is about the restoration works on the city’s symbol – the Clérigos church. The opening is on April 21st, 2016, in MMIPO (Museu da Misericórdia do Porto). No need to mention the name of the author!

Details on the exhibition are here.

Across the river

Almost two years have passed since my arrival to Porto, and I am turning less and less visitor and more and more inhabitant of the “invincible city”.

After the dreamy, rainy and uneventful post-Christmas epoch, the time has come for the new urban experiences. The decision was simple, to cross the river and get to know the heritage of Vila Nova de Gaia. Despite being named “the new town”, Gaia has a long history, reaching back to Celtic times. And by area and number of inhabitants, it turns out to be a much bigger city than Porto today! So far, I knew the river bank, the mount Pilar, the terraces of Arrabida Shopping and the Yeatman hotel, but the reason to visit them was primarily to enjoy amazing views to the historical center of Porto! Other sites I have visited in Gaia are few: the inevitable wine cellars, several beautiful but isolated beaches, the genuine fishermen’s neighbourhood of Afurada (on the most important day for the community, the St. Peter’s day), and the Teixeira Lopes Museum.


An injustice that has to be corrected … but hey, if one wants to prepare, it is difficult, for the latest monograph on Gaia’s heritage was published in 1908! Finally, in 2016, the conditions have been fulfilled to address the problem. And I found out the key facts a few days ago, at the Solar Condes de Resende, an ancient country villa now converted to the Municipal House of Culture. Heritage people are often very passionate about what they do, and J. A. Gonçalves Guimarães is no excuse. The director of the Solar Condes de Resende is a proud “gaiense” (born and raised in Gaia), with the background in history and archaeology. He personally presented to the public the ambitious project of the future monograph (or better, a series thereof), giving an insight into the scope of work that follows and even sharing unresolved questions still to be discussed by the editorial team. And no, it won’t take long: in a little more than a year, the first book will be ready. Meanwhile, more lectures will be organized once a month in the Solar, with the aim to present the Gaia’s heritage to a broader audience. I look forward to finding out more, both from the future books and live, from the true “gaienses” that probably best transmit the very spirit of the place.

Through Portugal from north to south – and vice versa

I do as much as I can to travel through Portugal, and even though it is not among the hugest countries, I have only seen a fraction by now. I proudly present the current scope of the trips done – 35 municipalities:

278 municipalities in continental PortugalHowever, to get to know something about the rest of the territory I had to look at bibliographical sources, so here come a few lines referring to my current readings: Portugal de perto and Duas Linhas.

Portugal de perto

Portugal de perto by Nuno Ferreira has to do with the crisis period that emerged around 2007 (or is it just mid-age crisis of its author?!). At that time, the awarded travel journalist with 20 years of experience faced a period of unemployment and decided to do something crazy – walk through Portugal from south to north and get to know its people and its diverse landscapes more profoundly. This was an opposition to those last-minute tasks and breaking news and quick trips journalists do by nature of their job. Thankfully, some sponsors (namely, the Expresso newspaper) recognized the idea, and voila, now that the itinerary has been completed, we have the book available!

DSC06217However personal and referring to an old dream coming true, this entertaining travelogue is also a portrait of (rural) Portugal and its people as they really are. Offering a kind of unfocused view to the country and its landscapes, it is a reminder that the urban reality we live in is not at all the only there is!

Duas Linhas

The second book also deals with the problem of how to explore a complex and shifting thing such as a country’s contemporary identity, however in a more scientific way. Architects Pedro Campos Costa and Nuno Louro invented a methodology to approach Portuguese landscapes as defining elements of the country.


On a map of Portugal, they imposed a set of parallel horizontal lines at each 10 kilometers, and two curves following the road infrastructure, outlining the country borders. Then they traveled from north to south, stopping at the defined points of intersection and making photographic documentation. The results of the survey were then gathered, analyzed and presented at an exhibition and in a book. The project dates from 2009, but for me it’s quite new, taking into account the stage of my own work and bibliographical research.

It turns out that the project confirmed the complexity of the territory, showing how littoral and interior stripes are two of all the many different and defining elements of the territory, and enabling fresh view into potentials and traps of urban development. Those were not so clearly visible using “conventional” methods for studies and planning.

The very inspiring work was presented in the book named Duas linhas, containing a selection of juxtaposed photos from the parallel registers, accompanied by interpretive texts by the two authors themselves and by invited contributors: Mário Alves, Álvaro Domingues, João Ferreira Nunes, Samuel Rego and João Seixas.

Deciphering. The Saramago’s travelogue revisited

I am back to José Saramago’s Viagem a Portugal (1981), but this time I look carefully at the cover of the recently translated Serbian edition, published by Laguna (Belgrade) in 2012, within their complete collection of Saramago’s works.


The image represents a detail of a panorama of the historical center of Porto, with the – the city cathedral overlooking the downtown – as its main focus.The appearance of the image brings to mind an old drawing or etching. Seemingly, this is an old photograph done in sepia technique, which gives it a particularly poetic touch and evokes nostalgia for the times long gone.

The book contains twelve other, duly credited images: Saramago’s text is accompanied with photographs commissioned from Dragoljub Zamurović, a well–known serbian artist. Strangely, there is no data about the source of the cover page photo.

A closer inspection reveals an interesting detail of the cover image – the sky was replaced with a background consisting of a fragment of an ancient map of Portugal. However, the origin of the map could not be determined. The part of the map title included, though, indicates that it may be from a Dutch or Flemish source. Also, the sepia effect was used with intention to conceal the fact that the initial photo was a fragment of a contemporary urban setting. This effect made the old and the new elements of urban tissue blend better.

The exact spot where the panoramic photo was taken can also be determined – it is the little belvedere in Rua da Bataria da Vitória, near São Bento da Vitória monastery.


I easily found an image very similar to the one actually used for the book cover through an online search. However, the panorama included contemporary structures, such as a number of residential buildings, or reconstruction of the tower next to the cathedral (work by Fernando Távora, developed between 1995 and 2002, built on the foundations of the so called Casa dos 24, I already wrote about).


The contemporary structures were mostly excluded by cropping the picture.


Then, artistic filters were applied using graphic software, to blend older and newer structures. The original background was replaced with an image of an ancient map of Portugal.


It is even possible to determine approximately how old the image actually used for the book cover is, without particular field investigation. The following image (kindly provided by Manuel Morais, as well as the details of the location where it was taken) is from September 2007, while the above panorama that was then cropped was taken by Francisco Bernardo in November 2009. The roof of the deteriorated building next to the yellow house on the photos had already collapsed between 2007 and 2009, so the initial photo (where the roof still existed) has to be older than that period, but also more recent than 2002, when Fernando Távora’s tower was completed.


Saramago, member of the Portuguese communist party since 1969, considered himself an atheist and pessimist, and was also well known as a severe critic of catholicism. However, in the introduction of the book, the writer himself emphasized that he had no intent to advise, and also that his journey was just one of the possible stories, representing both the person experiencing and the places experienced. It is his version of a journey through Portuguese culture, encompassing 588 settlements, from far north to extreme south of the country.

Significance of artistic and built heritage for understanding contemporary Portuguese cultural identity was decisive to Saramago. Among the sites visited, a great number is dedicated to religious buildings and sites, being the Church powerful and dedicated to creating lasting values. Thus, the unknown designer’s choice of the cover image is not surprising, despite the writer’s political views.

Thank you, M!

More about the amazing Dragoljub Zamurović: (will get back to his artistic photography!)


Portugal, zelena zemlja (Portugal, the green country).

The contemporary links between the Balkans and Portugal in literature have a history starting with Ivo Andrić’s travelogue about Portugal, from the third decade of the 20th century. Andrić (1892-1975) was a Serbian and Yugoslav writer, academic and Nobel prize winner (1961). He was born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1928, he was in diplomatic service at the Embassy of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in Madrid.


As a diplomat, Andrić has lived in a number of European capitals and often wrote down impressions on the countries and people. He carefully prepared for the trips, getting to know about their history and traditions from the bibliographical sources, which were also bases of his writings.

His travelogue Portugal, zelena zemlja  (Portugal, the green country) was published in 1931.

There is a translation of a few fragments of this travelogue into Portuguese available at Scribd:

Odakle sam bila više nisam


The Lisbon stories written by an architect, translator and writer Dejan Tiago Stanković. I first heard of him from a friend who has been following his blog on the B92 site. Then I discovered this book (his first), about the past and the present of Lisbon and its people, including the writer himself and his family. The publisher’s description contains an information that some of the stories were initially written in Portuguese! Let’s hope someday that version will be available too, wouldn’t it be interesting for the Portuguese to know some external views of themselves?

DTS has been living in Lisbon for two decades. As far as I know, he was always more into literature than architecture. Still, the architectural background must have sharpened his views to buildings and cityscapes. He has translated Saramago’s works into Serbian and Ivo Andrić’s works into Portuguese.

Papa Quilometros

It’s not merely a cookbook, it’s a “journey through Portuguese gastronomy”, as the author, chef Ljubomir Stanišić presents it. It was first published in 2011, following his success in MasterChef Portugal and in running a fancy restaurant in Lisbon. There is also a TV show based on the book; I have seen some episodes on the Travel Channel, but it’s the book I prefer. eb5773952eca4796ff0fccc2e2e2ba34

How does a foreigner who loves and knows Portuguese culture and lifestyle see and interpret them in his domain? How does he link senses, heritage and geography of Portugal? Something to be investigated in my further work! The important thing is that we’re coming from the same cultural context …

Papa Quilometros was a present from a dear person, a serendipity that started an avalanche of ideas and actions bringing me … where? To be found out within some weeks.

José Saramago. Viagem pelo Portugal (1981)


José Saramago. Viagem pelo Portugal (1981).

The cover of the recently translated Serbian edition, published by Laguna (Belgrade) within the collection of Saramago’s works.
The book documents months of Saramago’s travels through Portugal of 1979, often off the beaten paths. Along with the refined experience of his homeland, the travelogue marks the writer’s personal, spiritual journey. It was written after the Salazar dictatorship ended and should also understood as a way of rethinking Portuguese identity in the new socio-political context. Source: personal library, book acquired in 2012.