In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lisbon weeks 2 & 3

On Thursday the 28th we returned to Belém to go to the Jerónimos Monastery, a huge complex built in the early 16th century in the decorative Manueline style.  The church has a beautiful stone carved entrance and a high Gothic interior with graceful columns, some of which look like palm trees.  On either side of the entrance are tombs for Vasco da Gama and Luis de Camões, who wrote a classic poem about the discoveries of da Gama.  There are also tombs of some of the Portuguese princes and princesses.  A wing of the former monastery now houses an Archeology Museum.  Regarding local digs, there was a fairly interesting exhibit about a Roman pottery factory and its kilns, and another about Roman and local religious cults as shown by various statues.  It also had a very interesting gold and silver treasury, and somewhat oddly, some Egyptians mummies and other artifacts.
Tomb of Vasco da Gama

Just a block below our apartment is a restaurant that also features Fado music, so we went there one evening for dinner.  We managed to get a reasonably good vegetarian meal, although the bean dish turned out to have pork “seasoning.”  Even starting dinner at 8 pm, we were among the earliest eaters.  Most people showed up around 9, and the music started around 11.
Casa da Mariquinhas Fado restaurant
The restaurant seated about 20 people.  I think we were the only non-Portuguese people there.  There had been a German couple, but they left before the music started.  There was a rotating group of two men and one woman singer, plus two guitar players, who were particularly good with very fast, intricate picking.  The singing was enjoyable, and the crowd occasionally sang along.  They also hushed up anyone who was still talking when the set started.  We stayed for 2 sets and left around 12:45!

Eternity in the Lisbon Cathedral
We have now visited several more churches around the city.  Like Spanish churches, there is not a lot of stained glass, but many of the churches are decorated with tile with pictures of events in the lives of Jesus or various saints.  Some, like the Cathedral, are rather austere, and others have quite ornate stone work and altars.  Both the Cathedral and São Vicente Monastery have archeological digs going down to Islamic and Roman times. 
Archeology in Cathedral cloisters
The rooms at São Vicente also had an extensive exhibit of tile pictures (called azulejos) based on the Fables of La Fontaine, and an odd but appealing couple of rooms with a seashell exhibit from around the world.  They may have particularly been representative of places where the Portuguese explored and colonized, but since the explanations were only in Portuguese, it was hard to tell. 
Memento mori in church
This church is also the resting place for most of the Braganza dynasty of rulers, including the wife of Charles II of England, and the last king and crown prince who were assassinated in 1908, and the last king who succeeded them and fled to London in 1910.  We also went to the National Pantheon nearby, which has tombs and cenotaphs for national heroes of Portugal:  the fado singer Amalia Rodriguez,  writers, and even some politicians from the founding of the Republic.

Speaking of azulejos, there is an entire museum devoted to them in an old convent.  The dominant color scheme is blue on white, but sometimes other colors are used.  On the outside of buildings the tiles are usually a repetitive geometric design, but the interior is usually a mural.  They are sort of like tapestries, except with the purpose of feeling cooler instead of warmer. Most often they come up to 3-4 feet on the walls, like wainscoting.  Some mansions would have cutout life size tile servants on the walls to greet guests in the entry way.  As a museum, the exhibits got repetitive, but I did also enjoy the examples of current tile work.  Another major work is a huge panorama of Lisbon, 36 meters long, created in 1738, an important archive of what the city looked like before the earthquake.  The convent itself was very interesting with the chapel and chapter room, etc. kept as they were - lots of dark wood and paintings.  It also has a huge nativity scene in an alcove.  Although centered on the manger, it is like a comic book in which there are also scenes of the annunciation, King Herod, the 3 wise men traveling, and so on.
View of Lisbon center
We have seen these in a number of places in Spain and Portugal, including the cathedral.  They are hard to photograph.

We also went to the City Museum in a former stately home - many more archeological pieces from prehistory through the Romans.  The rooms of the house itself were also very interesting, with much azulejo decoration, and many paintings showing the development of the city through the last several centuries.  The garden had a large flock of peacocks, including one albino, all strutting their stuff to peahens who seemed totally uninterested.  There were adolescents without tail feathers practicing impressing pigeons.  One of the gardens had a recently installed set of ceramic sculptures – lobsters, crabs, frogs, huge wasps, etc. in various configurations.

On two separate days we have taken the train (about 45 minutes) to the nearby hill town of Sintra which contains many summer palaces and fine mansions, and a very nice restaurant with good vegetarian options.
Sintra Palace
The first day we went to the National Palace.  The tour is well laid out, taking one through the various rooms, most of which seemed to be on a comfortable and livable scale, although somewhat dark and cold at this time of year - which is why it is a summer palace.  The palace was built in the 15th century, but still used in the 19th.  Of particular note is the kitchen – the two rooms are basically huge chimneys.  Although there are ovens and ranges, animals could also be roasted on spits over open fires in the center of the rooms.  Although the guide book considered them unique, they reminded us of a similar set up in a ruined castle in Scotland.
Moorish fort

We then took the hop on – hop off bus to the Moorish Castle, which is really a stretch of battlements along a ridge line.  It does contain a keep, but it was probably always more of a frontier fortress rather than a castle.  There were great views west to the ocean and north over the countryside, but it was cold and windy and lots of climbing! 
Moorish fort
The fortifications had been reconstructed by some of the more recent kings as a kind of scenic folly for their palace views.  It is now undergoing more extensive and scientific restoration.  We shall need to return in ten years.

Pena Palace
On our return trip a few days later, we started with the Palacio de Pena, built in the 1840s by a German king-consort who was perhaps emulating King Ludwig of Bavaria.  First a convent was converted into a royal residence around the cloister.  The King had the first floor, the Queen the second, and the two princes above.  Lots of decorated ceilings, trompe-l’oiel decorations, and pleasant living spaces.
Pena gateway
There is an amazing courtyard entrance gate carved with a sea god and corals, leading to a courtyard and then an old-fashioned chapel.  Later a new wing was added with larger spaces that the royal family was still using until the Republic was declared.  Much of the information, posted in both English and Portuguese, was about how in the 19th century the royals started emulating the bourgeoisie, making their palaces more about living spaces for the family rather than display places for royal power.  I guess this helped lead to republican revolutions.

Monserrate with Pohutukawa
After the Pena Palace, we went to Monserrate, an English style mansion, whose famous residents included William Beckford, the author of the 18th Century Gothic novel Vathek, and Francis Cook, a textile magnate.  It has great gardens, including a huge pohutukawa tree and fern trees from New Zealand. The house is still going through major renovation, but its main decorative elements are intricately carved Moorish style stone lacework down the halls.  We shall need to return in ten years.

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