“beati pauperes spiritu” Matthew 5:3
“Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much….” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Country Life, 1858
This is a very brief photographic travel log about our recent trip to Spain and Portugal. Frances and I joined our friends Lyn, Trevor, Christa, Phil and Ruth to walk the Camino Portugese from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in North Western Spain. I learned years ago from Asterix comics that the Roman’s referred to Spain and Portugal as Iberia.
Our plane landed in Lisbon the capitol of Portugal. Above is the famous Lisbon tram. There are free city walking tours in English run by volunteers. Our guide walked us around the narrow hilly streets explaining to us the history of the kings, the dictator Salazar and the impossible revolution that wrested power into the hands of a democratic government. Standing in front of a grand statue he explained, “This king sits on a fattened pony. He fled the city to the country when an earthquake destroyed his palace”. “The prostitute houses in the swamp however were left unharmed.” “Who had the greater virtue, I ask you?” He relates a popular summation of Portuguese politics. “The Portuguese have no love of rulers or kings, and yet they cannot govern them selves.”
The woman in the statue is Flipa de Lencaster a Portuguese Queen and mother of Henry the navigator (to the left holding a ship) who instigated the Portuguese exploration and conquest of Western Africa. The Portuguese exploration was the beginning of their empire and period of great wealth and prosperity. This figure is only one of many on the statue named, Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the discoveries) which was conceived as a temporary navigational beacon during the Portuguese World Exhibition in June 1940. It is massive and stands on the north shore of the river opposite the sumptuous Jerónimos Monastery in the suburb of Belem.
In the hills behind Lisbon is the township of Sintra. From the train station you can catch a bus to visit the various palaces festooned over the hilly landscape. The affluent Portuguese kings spent their wealth on these summer retreats in the hills. They resemble Disney Land castles painted in bright colours with many needlessly decorative elaborations. This one has conical chimneys arising from the palace kitchen making it resemble the oast houses that are common in the area for drying hops.
To the North of Lisbon is the city of Porto. Porto and Gaia are twin cities either side of the river Douro. Port wine is manufactured in Gaia (not Porto as the name would suggest). The large cast iron bridges crossing the river were designed by Claude Eiffel. This view of the Gaia side was taken from the lower level of the bridge. The upper level is occupied by the light rail that drops into a tunnel to become the city metro (below). Near to the Sao Bento railway station was the Cathedral. This was the beginning of our Camino.
The mist rolled in each morning and obliterated any view of the beaches. We walked along the esplanade past the coastal resorts and the small fishing villages and the rocky headlands. We stayed in the pilgrim hostels, known as alburges. We carried our worldly goods on our backs and displayed our pilgrim status with a cockle shell marked with the cross of St James. I don’t think the locals were that impressed.
The beaches were equipped with little fences that had the habit of collapsing into splayed piles of stakes, like broken umbrellas. I guess this was either to control the movement of sand or the movement of beach dwellers.
There were a few traditional windmills along our route, but we never saw one in full operation. The locals harvested seaweed to use as fertilizer for their market gardens in the sandhills.
There is a lot that I have left out of this tale. The Eucalypt forests and pre-roman townships. The chapels and monasteries and churches. The cafe con leche (latte) and Pateis de Nata (Portuguese custard tart), the tapas and Poupol (Octopus in Paprika). There were grass lands set aside for birdlife. There were opposing towns on the Portuguese Spanish border with forts and cannons trained on each other. Eventually we arrived in the coastal town of Villa Nova de Arousa. We got up in the early morning mist to catch a boat to Padron, the last town, one days walk from Santiago de Compostella.
Arriving in the early afternoon we assembled in the square before the cathedral with dozens of other pilgrims coming from all different parts of Spain. We gathered in the Cathedral for the pilgrims mass, and later did a guided tour including a walk over the roof of the cathedral at sunset (below).
But the pilgrimage did not end there. It went on til “the end of the earth” at Finistere a fishing village that would be the most western point of mainland Europe. According to legend this is where St James went when he was commissioned to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.
I will admit that we were not model pilgrims. We skived off to a few hotels along the way, even catching the train for a small stretch so that we could go kayaking. My passport lacks the required number of stamps from shrines and alburges and cafes for pilgrims along our route. I did not present myself for the blessing at the pilgrims mass in the Santiago Cathedral. I did however enjoy the journey and was grateful that we had planned to do the Camino with our friends.
Having finished the Camino we were off to Seville by train. Here we visited the Seville parasol, a modern building that wraps itself around the local neighborhood like a cloak or a cloud. The locals hate it. There was however a steady stream of tourists paying money to go up in the lift to enjoy the vista from the top of the structure. We saw a fashion shoot. Photographers were posing and snapping four gorgeous Spanish models in order to advertise a movie (or perhaps a TV mini series) with photographs from on top of the parasol.
The southern Spanish towns of Seville Granada and Cordoba were formerly the seat of the Moorish government in Southern Spain. There were palaces, forts and mosques to visit. The Islamic architecture is awe inspiring. The ornate geometric designs were inspired by classical geometry including Pythagoras. The tiles in the bath room of the Seville Alkazar are exquisite. The islamic plasterers and tilers have in turn inspired future generations of architects like Gaudi.
This is the ceiling inside La Segrada Familia the famous cathedral by Gaudi in Barcelona. It remains unfinished 80 years after his death. Frances loves the Alan Parson song of the same name. Gaudi said that his pillars would resemble a forest. They would divide into boughs, limbs, branches and a canopy of leaves. I can see all of that in his design. Outside of the building there are even clusters of fruit where the trees erupt through the canopy. This is truly an amazing building.
These structures are in fact chimneys on the roof of one of the Gaudi apartment blocks. They represent the element of fire. On the other three corners of the house are chimneys representing in turn earth, wind and water. He was not really a modern architect. His buildings were designed for Victorian era families with servants and housekeepers, footmen and stables. Regardless he has created intriguing forms that have paved the way for our modern world. My architect friend says “You know he was both a genius and a madman”
Lastly one of Gaudi’s contemporaries, Lluís Domènech Montaner. He designed the Palau de la Música Catalana, a beautiful opera house in Barcelona in the art deco style. The columns have ornate mosaics, the stage is flanked by 18 statues of muses playing instruments. The building is lit by sunlight, the center piece being this elaborate stained glass window in the ceiling in the shape of an orange sun. (above) Apparently this window was destroyed (CGI graphics – not in reality) in the first 5 minutes of the latest season of Dr Who. This era of architects called themselves the modernista movement.
I have taken thousands of photos during my short time in Spain and Portugal. I realize however that I must make a selection in order to tell my story. I hope that this small sample has wet your appetite as it has mine. Personally I would love to go back and see more of the country one day.