Rua José Falcão 199

The José Falcão street is often on my way: the office is situated almost around the corner and the number 199 can’t remain unnoticed: the neo-arab building with a fascinating façade in the middle of Porto stands out, even if it is clad with azulejos like so many other historical houses there. Azulejos are exactly the keyword to understanding the existence of such an edifice: the house number 199 was once the ceramics warehouse of the important Devesas factory, situated in Vila Nova de Gaia.

I entered there once or twice before, thanks to the friends’ recommendation – a very good restaurant occupies a part of the ground floor. But a few days ago, I had an opportunity to learn more about it. On the occasion of the European Heritage Days (this year’s theme was industrial and technical heritage), a guided tour was organized by the municipal Culture department about artifacts of ceramics industry in Porto. The starting point – José Falcão street, 199.

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The representative façades of this building, dating from the beginning of the 20th century, were meant to demonstrate the vast array of ceramic elements that could be produced in the Devesas factory. The façade design has been attributed to José Joaquim Teixeira Lopes (1837-1918), sculptor, dedicated mainly to ceramics, and the co-founder of the factory. Teixeira Lopes was, on the one hand, inspired by the Moroccan architecture and on the other, by classical mythology: that can be seen at the other façade, towards the Conceição street. Even if not very consistent in terms of architectural styles, the building does show the whole range of available approaches to ceramics production (I admit, it didn’t occur to me until the guided visit that those façades were part of the same building).

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I was enchanted to see the inner courtyard, hidden from the eyes of passers-by and isolated from the street noise: another characteristic of traditional Moroccan residential architecture, now belonging to an exclusive restaurant whose spaces unfold behind the iron gate painted in an unlucky combination of red and silver.

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And the two interiors towards the José Falcão street, belonging to the Comme Ça restaurant and an abandoned moto – disco – bar, are both creative and inspiring in their own, particular way. So representative of diversities and differences coexisting happily in Porto!

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My European Heritage Days in Portugal

One might think it’s a recent fashion, but European Heritage Days actually celebrate the whole 30 years this September!

The initiative dates back to 1985, when Council of Europe started it with the aim of raising awareness of European cultural diversity. Then, in 1999, it turned into a joint initiative of CoE and EU and nowadays it attracts the whole twenty million people across fifty countries. The idea is to make cultural monuments more open and accessible to anyone interested, thus the European Heritage Days are also known as Heritage Open Days. And yes, this also means free entrance to the museums and free visits to monuments in entire Portugal on September 27h!

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A vast array of events linked to heritage and museums have one common thread – they share the annual theme. In 2015, the European Heritage Days are about industrial heritage.

As I was working in a heritage protection institute for a decade, until the beginning of 2014, our Septembers were very much dedicated to Heritage Open Days events. I remember some enjoyable but quite long days and working weekends on the organization side, adding my little contribution to making heritage more visible and more present in our citizens’ everyday. And I am happy that tradition continues in a different way, in another cultural context.

An external view to a country’s heritage and cultural identity functions somewhat as a mirror: one is curious to know how others see them. And that was, I believe, the reason for me to be invited to ISLA (Instituto Politécnico de Gestão e Tecnologia) in Vila Nova de Gaia, to participate in their event commemorating the European Heritage Days 2015.

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I told a story about the discoveries of a cultural tourist – that was just me disguised as one, of course – related to Porto’s industrial heritage, its past and present contexts and its possible future. I have learnt immensely from those discoveries! Switching between the two countries and the status of more-than-a-visitor in Portugal enabled me a detached view on the well-known problems of industrial (and all other) heritage back in the homeland, informed by the discoveries on how others do, and how they face their challenges. Not being without its problems, the industrial heritage experience from Portugal still offers many inspiring initiatives and good examples to learn from.

Look at the European Heritage Days website for a very nice interactive map of EHD 2015 events across Europe.

Ramirez

I recently discovered that I now live not far from the oldest still operating fish can factory in the world – “Ramirez”. The company was established in 1853 and the factory has been working in Matosinhos since 1923. Unlike dozens of similar factories in Matosinhos itself and along the Portuguese Atlantic coast that have been closed and abandoned, “Ramirez” is still working successfully. Living industrial heritage, I dare say!

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They owe their vitality to the quality of products, of course, but also to the ever-present improvements and innovation. Many of us probably remember those tin openers and all the trouble that occurred when it was necessary to reach a canned ingredient for a dinner. I was sometimes giving up the initial meal plans because those tiny things got lost among the kitchen stuff or it was simply too difficult to deal with thick metal tins. It was exactly “Ramirez” that first introduced the new, easy-opening system for their cans, the one we take for granted today. According to the data published in their virtual museum, the year was 1970. It took some further years for the invention to be adopted and spread around the world.

They have a virtual museum at their website: http://www.ramirez.pt. This is also where the photo is from.

CAMOC 2014

CAMOC, the ICOM’s Committee for the Museums of Cities, had its annual conference during the first days of August in Sweden. The host was the Gothenburg City Museum.

This year’s topic was a very intriguing one – industrial heritage. CAMOC experts came from around the world, and the host country was the right place to find inspiring, state-of-the-art examples of what can be done in this area.

Thanks to the CAMOC’s grant, I took part in the event, from which I benefited at so many levels! It was great to see all the people I met at the ICOM Rio general conference in Brazil last year and to make new,  beautiful contacts and friendships. It was a privilege to learn from the leading Swedish experts in industrial heritage and to discover how they turn projects and ideas into reality. It was interesting to find out how museums around the world work beyond museum walls and how both experts and non-experts create numerous innovative, museum-like experiences everywhere, from Greece and Belgium to Japan or Australia. It was rewarding to share my own research findings and external views to the industrial heritage of Porto, and to find out it was inspiring to others too!

Out of many precious moments, here I will share a few of the most memorable:

Abandoned Places. Jan Jörnmark started to research abandoned locations accidentally. He ended up publishing several books of photographs: powerful and poetic, the “images worth a 1000 words” kind of photographs. It’s a pity that he, strategically, almost didn’t show any during his keynote speech at the conference…

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SAACKE. My dear colleagues Zé Luis Tavares and António Feio also research abandoned places, perhaps as long as Jan Jörnmark, and their work is at least as philosophical and poetic as Jörnmark’s. I hope that, soon, their findings will reach broader public. And we missed them in Gothenburg, even though their work was represented with a video!

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The Skateboard Guy. Professor Lasse Fryk used his son’s skateboard as a metaphor for the learning process: true learning is only possible through experiment and practice. Practice, and openness to challenges and possibilities of the contemporary epoch, make perfection!

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The textile museum in Borås. More than just a museum, it is a result of a joint effort of the university, the municipality and private investors. An abandoned factory has been converted into a multi-purpose creative center, opened this May. They already have converted 40 000 m2 of space, bringing all textile forces of the region together – from students to fashion designers, entrepreneurs and even innovators. And there are another 20 000 m2 to be transformed for the future tenants! The museum itself was bursting with colour and creativity. My favourite part (every girl’s favourite, I guess): a giant walk-in closet full of clothes, shoes and accessories, where it is possible and desirable to try everything on!

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Creative initiatives related to heritage in Athens. Marlen Mouliou explored them all! The Soundscapes/Landscapes project, that she experienced herself, sounded the most interesting to me. The idea was simple: interpreting the history and the atmosphere of a neighbourhood in Athens through its sounds, in real time. A hybrid, interactive artistic installation was commissioned by the Onassis Cultural Center of Athens and various artists participated. According to Marlen, the realization was brilliant – memorable and completely immersive. Something to investigate further!

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Photos: my own + k-blogg.se (Jan Jörnmark)  +  http://marinoskoutsomichalis.com/soundscapes-landscapes/

The Portuguese Life

What to bring home as a remembrance of a trip to Portugal? When it comes to souvenirs, a proper cultural tourist would, of course, aim at finding items of genuine Portuguese origin, typical and informative of local tradition and cultural identity. But where to look?

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In the heart of Porto, there is a very, very special shop, or more than that: A Vida Portuguesa (“The Portuguese Life”). Thanks to the effort of Catarina Portas (1969), a journalist and entrepreneur from Lisbon, A Vida Portuguesa offers to the public a carefully selected collection of objects of importance for understanding Portuguese spirit, thus playing, in a certain way, a role of a museum beyond museum walls. It is interesting to mention that Catarina Portas is a daughter of a well-known architect Nuno Portas (1934), who has had a significant role in promotion of Portuguese architecture abroad. A Vida Portuguesa even has a manifesto – their main goal is to “reveal the soul of the country”, based on enabling future for old Portuguese products. The first shop was opened in 2007 in Lisbon, and the one in Porto is of more recent date.

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A great thing that they do in A Vida Portuguesa is establishing partnerships with a number of factories from all around the country, to revive ancient and beloved brands that were once part of local everyday. Many of them come from Porto and its vicinity, ranging from the finest soaps produced by “Ach Brito”, hygiene and cleaning products by “Couto” or pencils by “Viarco”, to a vast array of local foods and wines.

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Not only is the collection found in this distinctive souvenir shop informative for tourists who wish to learn about the past and the contemporary Portugal  – it is also valuable for the Portuguese themselves, to refresh memories of “the good old times” or to return, at least for a moment, to beautiful, carefree worlds of their childhoods. An untranslatable term saudade immediately comes to mind as one of the well-known keywords to understanding this country: a nostalgic feeling of longing and endearing remembrance of something or someone being missed (may it be a person, object, experience or epoch), that might never come back.

Some might suspect this initiative is just a consequence of the global trend – idealization of the past and its values in the turbulent and globalizing epoch of ours. A market niche that has emerged inspired a commercial response in form of “selling nostalgia”. However, my impression is that past and nostalgia are still truly embedded in everyday life of the Portuguese. And that can be felt strongly throughout Porto. Not only the immense number of antiquity shops, velharias (vintage item shops) or alfarrabistas (antiquarian bookshops), but also all the many lively shop windows, nameplates and interiors of cafés that didn’t change a bit over past decades, convince me I am right.

The Portuguese Life Manifesto and the photos come from: www.avidaportuguesa.com

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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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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.

Portugal and Porto within ERIH

ERIH stands for the European Route of Industrial Heritage: it is the tourism information network currently presenting over 1 000 industrial heritage sites across 43 countries. ERIH started as an EU project – the network was developed between 2003 and 2008, and when the activities within the EU framework ended, it continued its life through an association registered in Germany (that explains the excellent contents and organization!), so it still expands. ERIH has various categories of membership, depending on type and content of a site, as well as various types of industrial routes.

Portugal currently has 22 sites in the ERIH network (for a comparison, Serbia has 3 sites in total in the network, and BiH has 1). Three of them are in Porto: Dona Maria Pia/Dom Luis I bridges, Electric Tramway Museum and Solar Vinho do Porto. They are linked to some of the main experiences this city has to offer a visitor: one could not imagine Porto without its wine, or trams or bridges! I have already visited a wine cellar for an amazing tasting experience, and seen all the six bridges of Porto, including the two above mentioned, the wrought iron achievements from the epoch of industrial revolution here.

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Gustave Eiffel designed the Dona Maria Pia bridge (1877), while his collaborator, Theophile Seyrig, designed the Dom Luis I bridge in 1886. The latter is still in use, while the former has been closed for all traffic, recently cleaned and repainted, and remains an amazing monument that spans river banks and times.

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More about ERIH at: http://www.erih.net