Tag Archives: Henry the Navigator

The Algarve – Train Ride to Lagos

Life at the Tui Blue Hotel was rather tedious I have to say with a looping Groundhog Day daily itinerary so we decided to break out and do something different.  A train excursion to the city of Lagos, thirty-five miles or so west of where we were staying at Olhos de Agua.

There was an expensive taxi ride to the railway station at Albufeira one of those taxi rides where I watch the meter ticking away and increasingly panic about the cost and then to compensate inexpensive train tickets to Lagos at less than five euro each return (seniors rate). The price was right but the train was soporifically slow and stopped several times and took over an hour to reach our destination and we arrived just about midday.

I liked it immediately as we walked from the station to the old town.  So much nicer than Albufeira with a a retained history, a nostalgia and a satisfying whiff of the past  Some of my favourites – aged doors with sun blistered paint and elegant iron balconies, cobbled streets and whitewashed houses.  Really lovely, really lovely.

Lagos was once a Moorish city, the capital of the Algarve and one of the most important cities in all of what is now Portugal.  How the Moors must have loved life in Iberia, excellent weather (not as hot as North Africa), no deserts, an abundance of fresh water, good fertile soil for crops and not nearly so many flies.

This idyllic lifestyle came to a sudden and abrupt end after the Reconquest when the Moors were forced to abandon their city after a brutal siege by Northern Crusaders.  In Spain and Portugal they celebrate the reconquest but in reality it was the replacement of a benevolent and progressive regime with a barbaric and medieval reversal of progress.

Without the Moors the city rapidly became neglected, the port silted up and the city went into a long period of decline.  This is something that always intrigues me, it is rather like the Roman Empire, great civilisations provide advancement in human development but Barbarians always come along and tear it down and set progress back several hundred years.  Rather like BREXIT in the United Kingdom right now.  It really frustrates me because we learn absolutely nothing from history.

What happened to the Ancient Egyptians, the Native Americans of USA, the  Classical Greeks, the Romans, they all showed great progress in human development and then they disappeared and the process was reversed.  What lies ahead for us I wonder?

Down at the seafront was a statue of Henry the Navigator, quite possibly, no, almost certainly the most famous of all Portuguese sailors and adventurers.

I had seen him before of course in Belem in Lisbon at the The Monument to the Discoveries. Located on the edge of the north bank of the Tagus, the fifty metre (I hate Boris Johnson and I emphatically refuse to go back to imperial measures) high slab of concrete was erected in 1960 to commemorate the five-hundredth  anniversary of his death. The monument in the capital city is sculpted in the form of a ship’s prow, with dozens of figures from Portuguese history following a statue of the Infante Henry looking out to the west, perhaps contemplating another voyage of discovery. 

The statue in Lagos is rather less spectacular.

Lagos was an important port during the Age of Discovery when Portugal was a major maritime nation as it built a World empire.  It competed primarily with neighbours  Spain to make discoveries in the New World and in 1494  after years of challenge a Treaty was signed which gave Brazil to Portugal and all the rest to Spain. For Spain this might have seemed like a good idea at the time but it rates as a serious negotiating disaster  as it gave up the Amazon rain-forest and all of its riches for the barren Andes of Patagonia.

By the mid nineteenth century Portugal had the fourth largest European Empire but at only 4% of World territory was way behind France (9%), Spain (10%) and Great Britain at a huge 27%.  That is a massive amount of land grab but I wonder if the Roman Empire might have been even greater given that the known World was much smaller two thousand years ago.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon in Lagos, it was different, it wasn’t the tourist Algarve of Vilamoura or Albufeira, much more similar to Silves and Tavira; had a very pleasant pavement lunch and then took the train ride home, had a few stressful moments trying to secure a taxi ride to the hotel but eventually made it back to our accommodation,

We had tired of the hotel catering by this point but had discovered a very nice Portuguese restaurant in the village which served traditional food so were we glad to abandon the school dinner hall tonight and spend an excellent evening with proper food.

Portugal and Spain, So What’s the Difference?

Portugal Postcard Map

Just recently, John* a blogging pal of mine asked me what is the difference between Portugal and Spain.  It reminded me that I once wrote a post on the very subject.  It was quite some while ago and I don’t believe anyone read it so I repeat it here again now.

On 13th February 1668 at the Treaty of Lisbon Spain finally recognised Portugal as a separate and independent state and since that time they have lived peacefully together as reluctant neighbours.

I have visited Portugal a number of times, in 1986 and 1994 to the Algarve, twice in 2008 to Viano de Castelo in the far north and twice again in 2009 to Porto.  I returned again in 2017.  Only on the final visit after a train journey through the centre did it really occur to me that although it shares the Iberian Peninsula with its larger neighbour, Portugal really isn’t Spain and on the flight home I was ashamed of my previous ignorance about the country.

I had always assumed that because of its geography that it must be a lot like Spain with perhaps a few minor differences, sherry and port for example, but I had come to understand that Portugal, its people and its culture and heritage is very, very different indeed.

So what are the differences then I hear you ask?  Observers point out that the Portuguese national character is more sentimental, ironic and mild and these characteristics are often held up as the total opposite of Castilian culture just as melancholic Fado music is in complete contrast to the high drama of the Flamenco.  As different as the poetry of Fernando Pessoa and the novels of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (header picture).

Fado or Flamenco

I have visited both Portugal and Spain several times and there are fundamental differences between the countries and the people that you perhaps wouldn’t expect between two such close neighbours but then again Spain itself is dramatically diverse with the people of Galicia for example having little in common with those from Andalusia or the people of the Basque Country sharing no characteristics with those from Extremadura.  In Portugal the people of the Algarve have little in common with the people of Porto.  Are we English anything like the Welsh?  Why then should Portugal be like Spain?

I feel the difference but cannot adequately explain it but I have found two pieces of work which might help.  These learned scholars have dealt with this question at length find both cultural and geographical factors at work.

Pierre Birot put it this way:

‘…thus, the typical characteristics that so gracefully distinguish the Portuguese soul from its peninsular neighbours, were able to ripen in the shelter of frontiers which are the oldest in Europe. On one side, a proud and exalted people (the Spaniards), ready for all kinds of sacrifice and for all the violent acts that inspire them to be concerned with their dignity; on the other hand a more melancholy and indecisive people (the Portuguese), more sensitive to the charm of women and children, possessing a real humanity in which one can recognize one of the most precious treasures of our old Europe.’ (Le Portugal; Etude de Geographie Regionale, 1950).

These two countries once ruled much of the World but their Empire building was in a different style, Portugal had Henry the Navigator a methodical explorer seeking out new trade routes with maps and charts and Spain had Conquistadors like Francisco Pizzaro swashbuckling their way through the New World with swords and gunpowder in search of gold.

Explorers

Oliveira Martins, the Dean of Portuguese historians assessed the difference like this:

There is in the Portuguese genius something of the vague and fugitive that contrasts with the Castilian categorical affirmative; there is in the Lusitanian heroism, a nobility that differs from the fury of our neighbours; there is in our writing and our thought a profound or sentimental ironic or meek note…. Always tragic and ardent, Spanish history differs from the Portuguese which is more authentically epic and the differences of history are translated into difference in character.’ (Historia da Civilizacão Ibérica, 1897)

In Medieval times intense Spanish pressure and forced dynastic marriage compelled the Portuguese to follow the Spanish example of expelling the Jews in 1497, a step that deprived Portugal of many of its best merchants, diplomats, mathematicians, geographers, astronomers and cartographers. Feelings of resentment were aggravated by Spanish attempts to absorb Portugal, which temporarily succeeded from 1580-1640 (a period known as ‘The Spanish Captivity’). It was a political mistake that only encouraged a strong and proud reaction that cemented the identity of an independent Portuguese nation, a separate state and culture.

Portugal Tiles Postcard

One major thing that separates them is sherry and port.  Sherry is from Spain and Port is from Portugal as we discovered on a visit to a Port Lodge in 2008.

We learned that under European Union guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labeled as Port and it is produced from grapes grown and processed in the Douro region. The wine produced is fortified with the addition of a Brandy in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine and boosting the alcohol content.

So what is the difference…

Simple!  Sherry is fortified after completion of the fermentation process as opposed to port wine which is fortified halfway through the fermentation process

All of these differences and traditional rivalry go some way to explain why there were gasps in the room when Spain and Portugal were drawn together in the same first round group for the 2018 Football world Cup Finals.

Portugal River Douro

* You might like to visit John, I think you might enjoy his blog…

Paol Soren