The cultural landscape of Porto

Lately, the Saturday afternoons I spend in Porto are booked: they are dedicated to new discoveries related to the city’s cultural landscape. The discoveries touch Porto’s natural environment, the man-made structures and features, and the character and values of its people.

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Yes, this article is about the new, third edition of Um Objeto e Seus Discursos, that goes on from the beginning of March all the way to December here in Porto. The idea is simple: meeting weekly at a different place, with a different group of interesting speakers, whose starting point for a talk is an object significant for the city and its history, be that history distant or quite recent.

Thanks to this initiative, I have already had an opportunity to visit some spaces normally inaccessible to public and learn lesser known facts and episodes about Porto. And after two years, there is still so much to uncover about its cultural landscape. The 2016 discoveries started with food: the history of “tripas à moda do Porto” was addressed, but it wasn’t all – the typical dish of Portans could be tasted as well!

And there is so much to look forward to! I am especially curious about visiting the Palacio da Bolsa, where Gustave Eiffel’s desk is kept, finding out if one of the bodies buried in the Clerigos church really belongs to Nicolau Nasoni (there is archaeological research ongoing), or discovering lesser known details of Porto’s urban history through a visit to over a century-old public toilets.

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Close your eyes and walk through the city

One of the ways of seeing things differently is actually…not seeing them at all! In urban spaces, diverting attention from overwhelming visual information to other sensory experiences can be particularly immersive and revealing. Nowadays, with technological solutions widely available and affordable, artists, scientists and creatives that deal with sound and urban space can explore this realm in most amazing ways.

And luckily, Porto is among those places where innovative and creative research in this domain is done, too. The acoustic heritage of this city has already been recognized through a project named PortoSonoro. Voices, identities, characteristics, celebrations, resonances and particularities of Porto have been registered, mapped and made available for the general public. Ahead of heritage institutions, the PortoSonoro team has already been working on documentation, classification, dissemination and artistic interpretation of the sound heritage of Porto, and the people behind the project are professionals in music and acoustics.

The goals are widely set: mapping the city sound marks, both historical and present-day, registering everyday life of the city, including emerging slang and themes people discuss over a cup of coffee, creating the acoustic experiences through imaginary sound walks.

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Here is the link to PortoSonoro’s acoustic map: http://www.portosonoro.pt/cartografia-sonora

What an amazing range of possibilities to research the city life from here!

Anselmo, thank you for the info!

Invisible Places

“Invisible Places” is a conference dedicated to sound, urbanism and the sense of place, taking place soon, between July 18th and 20th, 2014, in Viseu, Portugal.

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There is an artistic part of the event too, aiming at “transforming Viseu into an acoustically conscious city”, as the curator Raquel Castro explained.

Within the tripartite structure of “Invisible Places”, uniting science, architecture / urbanism and art in public space, I am particularly interested in two of its streams: Architecture and urban planning and Urban sounds, identity and sense of place. And of course in getting to know the city of Viseu, which is an additional benefit of attending the conference.

More info: http://invisibleplaces.org/invisibleplaces.html

How to create a monument to deindustrialization?

Two architects from Porto have recently challenged one of the axioms of heritage preservation theory: the one that says a monument may be dislocated only in exceptional circumstances. I know examples of dislocation being done when some public works (dams) of extreme importance were built, yet the values of monuments were also unique and worth preserving. But what happens if the monument has been put out of use and stops making sense in the contemporary city?

This is what happened to the Maria Pia bridge in Porto, designed and executed in the second half of 1870s by an Eiffel’s collaborator, a Belgian engineer named Théophile Seyrig (Seyrig has also designed the other bridge, that of Dom Luiz I, that is still in use and links Porto with Gaia).

The Maria Pia bridge is out of use since 1991. Not even pedestrians can cross it – I personally checked, but there is a locked gate that prevents access. It has no purpose but to be beautiful. Around it, in the central zone of Porto, there are five more bridges that took over the transportation functions.

So why not repurposing the former monument, dedicated to great achievements of the industrial revolution?

This is what the team of young architects, Pedro Bandeira and Pedro Nuno Ramalho, suggested in their entry for the competition that was held last summer in Porto: dismantling the bridge, and then reassembling it at a prominent position in the Porto city center, making it a major landmark, and thus contributing to local identity and economy by attracting visitors. They have even calculated the costs, and it turned out quite feasible (way more affordable then building another Casa da Música, for example)!

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However, I think their proposal is more valuable in a philosophical sense: we are living in the post-industrial age and some proper monument of the present state of things is to be proposed.

It is also a way to give a breath of life to the structure that has lost its sense in the contemporary epoch. Reversing the process!

This brings to mind Le Corbusier’s thought on historical monuments I remember from the Athens Charter: “Death, which spares no living creature, also overtakes the works of men. In dealing with material evidence of the past, one must know how to recognize and differentiate that which is still truly alive. The whole of the past is not, by definition, entitled to last forever; it is advisable to choose wisely that which must be respected”[1].

Photo credits: http://www.pedrobandeira.info/Relocalizacao-da-Ponte-D-Maria-2013

 

[1]Le Corbusier, The Athens Charter, New York 1973, p. 86 (The Athens Charter was first published in 1943).

Sivan Askayo’s trips

Recently I discovered an amazing, artful travel blog of Sivan Askayo, a photographer from New York/Tel Aviv. She has a dream job – traveling and photographing for the world’s most renowned magazines. But traveling is more than that for her: it is “a state of mind”, she says. From Portugal, there are photos and impressions from Aveiro, Coimbra, Lisbon (a lot) and, of course, from Porto.

She also pursues some personal projects, like this, named “Intimacy under the wires”. None of these photos are from the streets of Porto or Lisbon, but they could easily be depicting everyday life of the Portuguese cities!

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Here is the link to her blog: http://sivanaskayoblog.com/?s=portugal

Now I have the photo-guides to Aveiro and Coimbra!

 

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.

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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.

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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).

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The contemporary structures were mostly excluded by cropping the picture.

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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.

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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.

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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: http://www.serbia-photo.com/ (will get back to his artistic photography!)

 

MOONtosinhos.

What a lovely night yesterday! The night of full moon, the night I discovered the MOONtosinhos!

MOONtosinhos is an event organized by the City Hall of Matosinhos and the archaeologist – historian named Joel Cleto. Joel is a charismatic person, passionate researcher and writer on heritage, knowing every nook and cranny of the city, including legends and stories of forgotten or neglected places around us.

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For a while now, on the nights of full moon, he organizes little guided tours around the neighbourhoods of Matosinhos. Not knowing what to expect, I was shocked when I saw 150 people late on this Sunday night, ready for a walk with Joel. A lot of different folks, youngsters and retired, or the middle-aged, of various backgrounds and education, but all curious and respectful towards the past and the inherited.

There was quite a lot to learn from this experience, as far as I’m concerned: bits and bobs about the heritage of Matosinhos, simple and creative ways to organize an event, and above all realizing the importance and love for heritage in everyday life of Portuguese.

More info on Joel Cleto and the future events: http://joelcleto.no.comunidades.net/index.php

Special thanks to M. for surprising me with MOONtosinhos!