Portugal is a place that my family and I have visited several times over the years. There’s just something about the warm culture, delicious food, and the mixture of European and North African architecture that we have always loved and embraced. It was therefore no surprise when my Portuguese fiancé and I decided to visit the country – a familiar land to me – and Madeira (an Island off Portugal) – a ancestral home to him.
In my eyes, the Portuguese have always had a good relationship with death. They talk about it, embrace it, and frequently visit their loved ones who have passed on. Portugal has some of the most beautiful and decorated graveyards I have ever seen and thus, they are an item on my itinerary every time I visit.
“Stop here and think of the fate that will befall you – 1816,” were some of the first words to greet as we entered the Chapel of Bones. This was the reminder carved over the door by the Carmelite monks who built the structure in the early 1700s. It is crafted out of human bones and can be found in the middle of the town of Faro – the capital of Algarve, Portugal.
This ancient and little city is filled with unexpected delights. At the old Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral of Faro, known by locals as “Se de Faro”, one can see the stone masons’ workshop symbols etched into the bricks they crafted in the late medieval period.
A quest to experience some of Portugal’s more modern architecture lead me to the streets of Lisbon where the government has invested millions of euros into keeping the arts alive.
Rising from the riverfront, MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) is an exquisite museum that celebrates art, architecture, and intellectual conversation. It is sensitive to its surroundings, boasting a facade of mosaic’ed tiles, and a pedestrian roof that shows off the city and its famous 25th of April bridge, designed by Ray M. Boynton.
Madeira, situated south west of Portugal in the middle of the atlantic ocean, is a volcanic island overgrown with greenery that ripples down its contoured hills and valleys.
The capital city, Funchal, boasts a variety of small galleries and magnificent door and street art that depicts every day life in the island.
Concerned that those living on the other side of the island would miss out on the culture and art of Funchal, Paulo David – one of the local architects – built the Casa das Mudas Arts Centre in Calheta. Its stone facade looks onto the mountains, sea, and man made beaches filled with sand brought in from Morocco.
After Madeira, I found myself back in Porto. There, I marvelled at the tiled walls that are scattered across the fabric of the city.
No Porto visit would be complete without visiting Rem Koolhaas’s Casa de Musica – a joyous ode to the musical city and country
This ‘Home to Music’ was once hated, but is now loved and even mimicked by those who inhabit the narrow streets that surround it.
For me, Portugal is a journey that never ends. Rather, it is a place that I choose to be away from temporarily.