Impressions of Portugal, On the Way Back to Lisbon

Castelo de Santiago do Cacém

Castelo de Santiago do Cacém

Better than two months have passed since our last days in Portugal. On March 30, we left the Alentejo to head back to Lisbon, a short trip that could easily accommodate a stop or two along the way. The taxi driver who drove us to the rental car office when we’d first headed out from Lisbon was from the Alentejo. He spoke to us in rapid English about sites we shouldn’t miss. (Indeed, it seemed to us he’d have preferred we didn’t bother with the Alentejo at all.) Before we disembarked, he wrote out a “must-see” site on a torn off scrap of paper: Ruínas Romanas de Miróbriga, ruins of a Roman city dating from the 1st century A.D.

We arrived at the ruins minutes before lunch closing time, a fact of life I kept forgetting to take into account. We thought about driving on to another possible site, but we knew, from past experience, how that would likely go: we’d spend so much time looking up what might be interesting to see and figuring out how to get there that we might as well stay put. We found a grocery store and bought some fruit and slices of ham—the store didn’t make sandwiches, so we rolled up the ham slices and ate them “straight.” They were delicious and just enough.

I’d spotted that the nearby town of Santiago do Cacém, the northern starting point for the Rota Vicentina, sported an old hilltop Castelo, so we drove there to take a look. The castle, Moorish in origin, had lost its defensive role by the 19th century (if not well before), after which the “council decided it would make a handy place for the local cemetery for the neighboring church.” [Rough Guide to Portugal, p. 423]  It made for an odd disconnect to walk first around the battlements with their vast views, then walk through the claustrophobic cemetery within.

What caught my eye as we breached the castle walls was a plaque bearing the words, “A História deste Castelo foi recordada com gratidão pelos portugueses de 1940” (The history of the Castle was recorded with gratitude by the Portuguese of 1940). 1940, as I subsequently learned, marked the year of Lisbon’s Portuguese World Exhibit put on by Salazar’s Estado Novo (New State), a double centenary marking the “foundation of the nation in 1140 and independence from Spain in 1640.” [David Corkill and José Carlos Almeida, Commemoration and Propaganda in Salazar’s Portugal: The Portuguese World Exhibition of 1940, p. 1]

My efforts to find out more about the Castelo’s plaque led me to sites in Portuguese with no mention of this Castelo, but it had to have been part of a grand Estado Novo “Heritage” project:

What History Screen Shot

The task of restoration screen shot

[Nationalism and Archaeology in Europe, edited by Margarita Díaz-Andreu, Timothy Champion] I can only wonder what the thinking was with this restoration, given its 19th C repurposing to host a cemetery within its walls.

Ruínas Romanas de Miróbriga

Ruínas Romanas de Miróbriga

The Ruínas Romanas de Miróbriga were well worth the 90 minute lunch-hour wait.  The day was fine, the vistas lovely, and wildflowers abounded throughout the site. We wandered along ancient paved streets through ruins of towns and shops to a restored hilltop temple, strolling across a beautifully preserved Roman bridge along the way.

We took our leave, and our GPS steered us nicely to Lisbon’s Main Railway Station, the Gare Do Oriente, but unfortunately not to the rental car drop-off itself. After forty-five minutes in a driving rainstorm, we managed to navigate by “feel” through a labyrinth of one-way streets to land at its front door. As it happened, we’d driven down a street meant solely for taxis, so a staff person raced out, with utmost courtesy, to re-park our offending car.

Our taxi driver from the station to the hotel was eager to point out the sites on the way to our next destination, which stood in an area of Lisbon we hadn’t yet seen. We only wish we could have understood what he was telling us, but our Portuguese, needless to say, wasn’t up to the job.

H10 Duque de Loulé Boutique Hotel

H10 Duque de Loulé Boutique Hotel

The H10 Duque de Loulé Boutique Hotel, which we’d found online in a newish listing, hadn’t been fully “vetted” by the travel sites, but the photographs were attractive and the price was manageable. The hotel “in person” lived up fully to its billing: we had a light and airy room, and a balcony-bar-with-a-view was right down the hall. Most important, the hotel housed an excellent restaurant on the premises, so, dog-tired as we were, we didn’t have to go out to be well-fed.

Our next and last day was already mapped out, or so we thought: buying gifts for family and friends and taking in a last, essential Pessoa site . . .

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The sources for the quotations may be found at the links provided in the text. The photographs, as always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, are mine.


9 thoughts on “Impressions of Portugal, On the Way Back to Lisbon

  1. larrymuffin

    I just wanted to let you know that I have recommended your blog to a friend of will be visiting Portugal. I told her that your posts are delightful and give a very good idea of the country with personal touches. It is a delight to read.

  2. Steve Schwartzman

    I see the Duque de Loulé Hotel is in a great location in the city. Your posts make a bit nostalgic: I can’t believe it’s now been 50 years since I spent the summer in Lisbon.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Steve: It was fun to come back to Lisbon and stay in an entirely different location than our first few days (in the Chiado). We saw the city from a wholly different perspective. Isn’t it remarkable to look back and realize decades have passed like that? Have a happy 4th, BTW!

  3. David N

    Beautiful settings for both sites – what I long for now! Know your feeling of terror driving through narrow streets in a rental car – I bet even Lisbon can’t match Matera in s. Italy for sheer will-i-scrape-the-walls terror. And I remember the one driving among the four of us bumping down shallow steps in Venosa…

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Yes, they were beautiful settings, particularly the ruins (in part because the expanse there was greater, so wonderful for strolling along). Matera roads sound hair-raising, and no, Lisbon was nothing like that–it was more that we couldn’t find our way through the labyrinth, and a driving rainstorm didn’t help! You remind me, though, of hair-raising drives on our visit to Crete one year, particularly driving to a magical mountain retreat in Milia. The retreat’s site calls the journey “a bit of an adventure,” which is a bit of an understatement.

  4. shoreacres

    I love that phrase: “or so we thought.” Perhaps a surprise is waiting?

    I especially liked the photos of the ruins. In fact, I smiled at the bridge. It reminded me of a photo I took not so many weeks ago along a Texas highway. The Roman bridge is far finer, but the pairing still is a reminder that some forms simply don’t need to be improved. Of course they can be refined, or decorated, or enlarged, but still — the shape’s the same. And those yellow flowers? Black-eyed Susans!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: The photo of the bridge in Texas is wonderful, amid all those Black-eyed Susans. You’re exactly right that some forms don’t need any improving.

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