Legends

Under your feet

gruta da moeda_4Most people visiting Portugal will want to see the monuments, cities, towns and villages, besides the landscapes. But… did you know Portugal also has caves? In fact, Portugal has lots of caves, but plenty of them can’t be visited because they’re not, well, easy to access.

gruta da moeda_1In the area of Serra de Aire e Candeeiros (not far from Lisbon and close to Fátima) there are several caves that you can visit. Today I’m bringing you some images from Grutas da Moeda (literally, “caves of the coin”).

gruta da moeda_2These caves were discovered in 1971, when two hunters were chasing a fox. The fox eventually hid in a hole in the ground, which they found out to be an entrance to a cave. The two men explored that entrance for almost two months, discovering some of the galleries that you can visit today. gruta da moeda_6The part that you can now visit is about 350 meters long (not very long, but there’s plenty to see!) and there’s a constant temperature of 18ºC all year round.

gruta da moeda_5Obviously, like with so many other places in Portugal, there’s a legend about these caves. Many, many years ago, a wealthy man was passing by the area and he carried with him a bag heavy with coins. A band of thieves tried to rob the man and, in the struggle, he ended up falling down a hole in the ground (the cave, as you probably guessed), taking with him the bag of coins.

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Enjoy!  🙂

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Snapshots of Nazaré (and a revelation!)

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View from the lighthouse at the Fort of St Michael Archangel.

Nazaré is one of those places that has its own mystique, legends, folk lore and, in more recent decades, tourists and surfers.
In the late 1940’s Nazaré attracted the attention of a then-young photographer called… Stanley Kubrick! He captured bits and pieces of the lives of the people of Nazaré (fishermen and their families, mostly) with their somewhat “exotic” hats and clothes, squinting in the sun and smiling – sometimes.

nazaré4Life by the sea can certainly be hard, particularly when you’re facing giant waves in tiny boats. Ever heard of the “Nazaré canyon“? Probably not, but that’s the phenomenon which caused the famous 100 foot (30 meters) wave surfed by McNamara in 2013, in Praia do Norte.

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Even in Praia do Norte the sea can sometimes be flat – like on this day! Just my luck!

Traditionally, the women of Nazaré wore not one, not two… but seven skirts! Why? Well, there are several theories, but no certainties. Some people say it has to do with the magic usually associated with the number 7 (and, particularly, with the seven waves, since they used to spend a good part of their day near the sea); others claim it was simply because the women used those skirts to cover both their heads and ther legs while they sat in the sand, waiting for the men to come from the day’s fishing activities. Contrary to what some people might think, yes, it does get cold in Portugal and, yes, we have fog, cold drizzle and wind, even on the beach! 😉

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And if you think that Nazaré sounds reaaaaally similar to Nazareth… well, that’s connected to the legend of Nazaré!

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Remember the lighthouse from the first photo? It’s that tiny spot on the left.

There’s a giveaway taking place right now on the blog’s Facebook page. It’s your chance of getting a box full of Portuguese goodies – for free! 😉

P.S.: If you follow the blog you may have noticed that I haven’t posted so often lately. No, I haven’t given up on the blog or the site. It’s just that I have… let’s call it “a new project in the making”! 🙂

coming soon

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Strange things in strange places (part 3)

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The definition of strange is, obviously, a relative one. I keep being surprised by things which, to me, are puzzling – sanctuaries are one of them – and I’m fully aware that what I think of as “strange” clearly wasn’t so to whoever built them.

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Can you see two little white peaks in the upper third of the photo? That’s where the sanctuary is!

In previous posts dedicated to this category I’ve mentioned a small sanctuary on top of a small hill in Gerês and a church on the beach. Today I bring you a sanctuary in a village right in the mountainous region of Peneda, part of the Peneda-Gerês National Park. This is the kind of thing that might get us thinking “why would anyone want to build a sanctuary in such a remote area?”. It’s worth remembering that this area, although scarcely populated today, wasn’t always so.

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Anyway, enough chitchat. 🙂

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The construction of the sanctuary of Senhora da Peneda started in the late 18th century and ended roughly 100 years later. There’s a main structure, which resembles the Bom Jesus sanctuary in Braga and then there are small chapels depicting scenes of the life of Christ – one of them, it seems, was paid for by the negus of Ethiopia! There’s also a small hotel, in what used to be lodgings for the pilgrims visiting the sanctuary.

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Like so many similar sanctuaries this one has a legend. In August 1220, so the story goes, Our Lady of Peneda appeared before a young shepherd girl and told her to ask the people of a nearby village to construct a chapel in her honor. When the girl told her parents about this they gave her no credit, thinking she was only a child and had probably made it up. The next day Our Lady of Peneda appeared again in the same place and told the girl that, since nobody believed her, she should go to another village where there was a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She should tell the inhabitants of the place to bring the woman to her presence. The girl did as she was told and, lo and behold, as soon as the woman came near the image of Our Lady of Peneda she was free from her illness!

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As a side note I’d like to add that this is a place where you might just come across a few cows grazing – yes, in a sanctuary!

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Little place, big history

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Can you see it? Can you see that tiny white spot in the distance?

Remember when I told you about Sagres, the “holy promontory”? Well, that white spot is the lighthouse of the Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente) as seen from Sagres.

This bit of land is, surprisingly enough, full of stories as well as history.

According to legend (and some history) Cabo de São Vicente, much like Sagres, was considered sacred in the Neolithic period. Later, ancient Greeks would come to call it Ophiussa, meaning “Land of Serpents” (although some claim that the name extended to much of today’s Portuguese territory) and Strabo mentions the existence, in the area, of a temple dedicated to Hercules.

In the 16th century this little bit of land suffered attacks from French and Dutch pirates and even from Francis Drake. Most of the buildings that existed in the area were destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, so there’s not much left from that time that would let us know how the whole thing looked back then.

Trivia tidbit of the day: Lisbon’s coat of arms has, among other things, a ship and two ravens. Legend has it that two ravens guarded the dead body of the martyr St. Vincent until it could be found by his folllowers. When his body was taken to the cape which now has his name, a shrine was built over his grave – being guarded at all times by flocks of ravens. This caused the Arab geographer Al-Idrisi to call it “church of the raven”. In 1173 Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, had the body exhumed and brought by ship to Lisbon. The ship was guarded by (you guessed it!) two ravens.

Enjoy! 🙂

Oh, before I forget, there’s a surprise on the way! 😉

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Some may call it a love story

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I prefer to call it a horror story.

Today I bring you a legend with much historical truth to it – a story of love… beyond the grave!

It was the year of 1340 in the kingdom of Portugal. The young prince, Pedro, heir to the throne, was about to be married to Constança of Castille. There was no love between them, for love was never a matter of importance in marriages between noble families.

Along with Constança came her ladies-in-waiting, all of them fair young ladies. Much fairer, it seems, than the bride. But among them one stood out for her beauty. To the prince’s eyes Inês de Castro was the fairest of them all.

The young lady’s parents were members of both the Portuguese and Galician nobilities, but she was not a princess – she could never be a queen!P&I5

The love between Pedro and Inês grew stronger everyday and it was rapidly becoming obvious to everyone in the court that the prince was neglecting his wife, Constança.

The prince’s father, king Afonso IV of Portugal, was afraid of what this love might mean to the delicate diplomatic relations between Portugal and the kingdom of Castille. Not only was Pedro madly in love with Inês, but her brothers were close friends to the prince as well. Aware that kings often had mistresses, Afonso thought his son would eventually grow tired of Inês.

The years passed and in 1345 Constança dies after giving birth to a son. Despite his father’s pleas Pedro refuses to marry any woman other than Inês. Dark shadows were cast over the court and the kingdom was in turmoil.

The prince’s legitimate son was a fragile infant, whereas the children he had with Inês were healthy and happy. Rumours were everywhere in the court: Inês was a witch and her family was planning to murder Constança’s baby so that her own son could ascend to the throne. The king decides to banish Inês from the court, but Pedro remains in love with her, despite the distance.

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In 1355, after numerous attempts to keep them apart, Afonso IV decides to get rid of Inês de Castro once and for all. He has two of his counselours speak to Pedro and tell him that the king, his father, would allow his marriage to Inês. But the prince realised this was a trap and replied he would never marry Inês de Castro.

Three men, hired by the king to kill Inês, find her in Coimbra and kill her in front of her youngest child. Pedro, it is said, became half mad at the news of her execution – but he would have his revenge, even if it meant waiting several years.

The prince became the new king of Portugal in 1357 and later, in 1360, he publicly stated that he had secretly married Inês in 1354, although he couldn’t remember the exact day. By doing this their children would no longer be illegitimate and Inês would be queen…

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In 1361 two of her killers were found and brought to the king’s presence. The king claimed that they had taken his heart from him and so he would do the same to them. They were both publicly executed and, legend has it, their hearts were ripped from their ribcages… by the king himself.

But the king’s revenge was not over yet. He wanted vengeance from everyone who surrounded him, everyone who had stood against his love for Inês.

Legend has it that Pedro ordered the exhumation of her corpse and had it dressed in the best possible clothes, as would be fit for a queen. The corpse, which had been in its grave for years, was placed on the throne and every member of the court was forced to bow down and kiss the hand of Inês de Castro, swearing allegiance to the new queen – a corpse queen.

Pedro and Inês are still together and still apart to this very day. You can visit their stone tombs in the Monastery of Alcobaça where they are opposite each other. On Judgement day, when the angels sound their trumpets, Pedro and Inês can look at each other’s eyes again as they rise from their stone cold tombs.P&I6

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Today’s post, although it does fit the day and the purpose of the blog, was written by special request – this one’s for you, Sofia! 😉 Happy Halloween!

Enjoy! 🙂

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Portuguese trivia (IX)

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Remember our buddy Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king?

Well, legend has it that this is the church where he was baptised as a baby. It may not look grand, but hey, it was the Middle Ages and he was the son of a count (well, actually, maybe he wasn’t).

This church, near the castle of Guimarães, is dedicated to Saint Michael and, in fact, it was probably built after the birth of Afonso Henriques (there may have been a previous temple at the place).

Most, if not all, countries have a mix of truth and legend concerning their history and, as you  may have guessed, Portugal is no exception.

Despite all the mystery this chapel represents a nice bridge between the Romanesque and Gothic types of architecture and, let’s face it, who doesn’t like a good legend?

Enjoy! 🙂

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Holy promontory!

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Compass rose and sun dial at Sagres point.

If you’ve ever been to Portugal you might have noticed a beer called Sagres. Well, there’s also a place called Sagres, in the Algarve.

Apparently the name Sagres comes from the Latin Promontorium Sacrum (holy promontory) and it seems that the area where today you can find Sagres and the Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente, the southwesternmost point in Portugal) was considered sacred from the times of the Neolithic and Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans worshiped their gods there. Strabo mentions that nobody was allowed to spend the night in the area because it was believed that the gods would gather there at night. There may have existed a temple to Baʿal Hammon, in the area, but there are no certainties today.

Fast forward some centuries and it is said that in the 15th century Henry the Navigator created a School of Navigation… well, maybe! There’s no remaining building that could have been used as a “school”, so the doubt is basically this: did the school actually exist but crumbled to bits with the 1755 earthquake or did Henry manage to gather, in Sagres, a group of map-makers and navigators to study the possibilities for Portuguese exploration?

There is, however, a 16th century fortress in Sagres, which is undergoing some renovations. Today I bring you one of the highlights of the place: the compass rose. When was it built? Again… No certainties today!

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All hail the king!

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Meet Portugal’s first king: Afonso Henriques.

I’ve mentioned him before on the blog but I had never really gotten into a lot of detal about him – and today will not be that day, either! Why? because there’s so much I could tell you about him, a mix of fact and legend, that it would take several posts to do it.

You can easily look up information about him but, in a nutshell, we’re talking about a man who defied/ignored a lot of feudal rules (we’re talking 12th century Europe, here!) before and after becoming king. Just for starters he proclaimed himself king – at a time when Christian kingdoms needed the Pope’s approval for everything!

There’s not much certainty about the time and place of his birth and, actually, one of my favourite legends surrounding him concerns his birth, altough it is not one of the most well-known stories about Afonso Henriques.

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Statue of Afonso Henriques in front of the castle, in Guimarães.

Legend has it that when the countess (Afonso’s mother) was pregnant a noble man, by the name of Egas Moniz, offered to raise the child. The baby was born with a problem in his legs, which meant he would probably never be able to ride a horse – troublesome if you happened to be a count’s son! So Egas Moniz prayed to the Virgin Mary and left the child for a whole night on an altar. When the morning came, lo and behold, the baby’s legs were normal! Some people choose the believe there was a miracle involved, while others prefer to think that Egas Moniz swaped the count’s baby for another – possibly his own son.

What’s your favourite explanation for this legend? 😉

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The Roman ruins of Ammaia

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In the North of the Alentejo region, near Marvão, to be more precise, you can visit the ruins of what used to be the Roman city of Ammaia.

Although there were records mentioning an old city with that name it was only in the 1930’s that the real location of Ammaia became clear.

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There were legends about it, of course. The local folklore spoke of an ancient city which had been swallowed by the ground during an earthquake – this same city, they believed, was almost intact and was filled with riches, but could only be found many meters below the surface.

This piece of old Lusitania, once rich in minerals like quartz and gold, was declared a National Monument in 1949.

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Today you can visit the ruins and the exhibit, which shows some objects found in the excavations, including many things belonging to the daily life of the inhabitants. Actually, you can even buy replicas of the clay oil lamps found at the site! I brought the one with the naughty drawing! 😀

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Random photo of the week

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Way up in Serra da Estrela you can find this sculpture of the Lady of the Good Star, aka, Senhora da Boa Estrela. Carved into the mountain rock it depicts the patron saint of shepherds and it was created in 1946.

As is the case with so many other similar religious monuments there’s a miracle associated with it. In this case, legend has it that a shepherd was lost during a snow storm and that the Lady of the Good Star showed him the way to go back home safely.

Even if you’re not the religious type (like me) you have to admit that it looks impressive. After I saw a photo of the sculptor (António Duarte) working on this 7m tall image I was even more impressed.

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“Safety helmet? Ropes? I’m the badass of big sculptures! Oh, and I wear glasses…” Photo taken from http://ascendensblog.blogspot.pt

Here’s a final photo from a different perspective. Enjoy!

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