Saudade (“yearning”) is one of the most difficult Portuguese words to translate. It is both a word and a concept that expresses a feeling of loss, the hope of meeting once again, the distance from the loved one and the love that is felt for them. However, it can also refer to the past and to a time that has not yet been lived. It is a similar feeling to melancholy and features a lot in fado music. One aspect of saudade is Sebastianism, echoing a legend that has links with the European myth of the “hidden king” who will return one day. Since the time of King Sebastião (photo), Portugal has been dreaming of the return of an exceptional character who will recover lost glories and will always appear through the morning mists. King Sebastião (1554-1578) is a central figure in the nation’s mythology. His aim was to destroy Muslim culture forever so that Christianity could reign throughout the world. A historic figure, he gathered the cream of the nation in a quixotic crusade into the heart of Morocco. Having disappeared, the legend soon became established as a form of collective denial: the king was not dead but would reappear. As he left no heir, the throne passed to his nearest relatives, who were Spanish, and Spanish kings ruled over Iberia and Latin America for the next 60 years (until 1640). It is said that amongst the bodies of the Portuguese soldiers lying on the sands of Africa there were more lutes than weapons, evidence of just how badly prepared the campaign was and also of the poetic dreamer who commanded them.
Ever since it was established as a nation, Portugal has been a country that has looked to Rome as its guiding light in religious matters. It was never involved in heresies, nor did any take place within its territory, and it never wavered when Central Europe was rocked by religious controversies. It has always been staunchly Catholic. Its official religion is therefore orthodox although the popular expression of this faith has often contained certain pagan elements. Nowadays Portugal is mainly a country of Catholics but it is very tolerant of other faiths and obeys the principle of the separation of church and state. The most important religious centre in Portugal is Fátima (photo). In 1917, a vision of Our Lady allegedly appeared to three shepherd children. Fátima became the centre of a Catholic cult of worldwide importance and is sometimes called the “altar of the world”. In Portugal, Catholicism was, for centuries, the great driving force behind art and architecture. Nowadays some other religions such as the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths are beginning to make an appearance, due to immigration and the personal choices of some Portuguese people seeking out other expressions of faith.
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Master Nuno Gonçalves, who painted the S. Vicente panels (photo), was an important figure in early painting. Grão Vasco, from Viseu, was another famous early painter, some of whose works have a very strong dramatic and expressive force. In the 20th. century a painter emerged who followed and contributed to the European avant-garde: Amadeo de Souza Cardoso. He died whilst still very young. Another follower of Modernism, Almada Negreiros, also left his mark on the century as a prolific artist in various fields and, above all, a prodigious designer. Nowadays, several artists have achieved international fame, including Vieira da Silva, Paula Rego, Julião Sarmento and Helena Almeida.
Portugal has traditionally always had very active wool, clothing, footwear and textile industries. Some decades ago Portugal began to invest in its stylists and fashion designers, creating brands that have become additional assets to these industries. Names such as Ana Salazar, Fátima Lopes and Augustus, amongst others, are internationally renowned.
In the Middle Ages the Portuguese troubadours achieved poetic heights comparable to those of Provence. Just as the golden age of the Discoveries began to fade the great poet Camões (photo) emerged, celebrating the heroic deeds of the Portuguese in the Lusíadas. Although it was a celebration of the feats of the navigators, this epic poem, inspired by Virgil, is also a critical reflection on the nation. In addition, Camões was also a great lyric poet and wrote hundreds of love poems that have never been rivalled.
However, there can be no doubt that the golden century of poetry in Portugal was the 20th. century, headed by Fernando Pessoa (photo). His work is shared by four main heteronyms (fictitious authors, each with their own individual styles), enabling Fernando Pessoa to invent a dramatis personae of poets, which simultaneously were and were not the author himself and generated an "entire literature". Another contemporary poet is the mysterious Herberto Helder, an author who never gives interviews or accepts prizes. His poetry is nocturnal and visionary, post-Surrealist, alchemic and somewhat bizarre. Amongst novelists, the amazing nineteenth century writer Eça de Queirós is outstanding for his wit, critical mind and fantastic irony. Nowadays, Nobel laureate Saramago and António Lobo Antunes are major literary figures. Novels by the former include “Memorial do Convento” (“Baltasar and Blimunda” in English) and “Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo” (“The Gospel According to Jesus Christ”) and works by the latter include “O Manual dos Inquisidores” (“The Inquisitor’s Manual”) and “A Explicação dos Pássaros” (“An Explanation of the Birds”). These four titles are recommended to anyone who is interested in reading contemporary Portuguese fiction.
A veteran of world cinema, the centenarian Manoel de Oliveira, has directed more than thirty full-length films. He was born in 1908 in Porto and at the start of 2009 was directing yet another film, “Singularidades de uma rapariga loura”, based on a short story by Eça de Queirós. His career has spanned over seventy years and his first films were produced during the silent era. The films are always critical reflections on Portuguese history and culture and time in human relationships. Another director, whose work reflects a grotesque view of Lisbon, is João César Monteiro, famous for his deviant, autobiographical, comic and deranged behaviour and films. There are many other film directors in Portugal. In the 1990s, Teresa Vilaverde, whose film “Mutantes” tells the story of three youngsters living on the streets, became famous. Nowadays, and for the past two decades, purely commercial American-style action films are also produced.
Fado is the most authentic form of national music. Its name comes from the Latin word fatum meaning “destiny” and it is usually melancholic and/or fatalistic music. Fado often expresses the characteristic national sentiment of saudade. However, Portuguese music does not just mean fado. Nowadays there is a wide-ranging and diverse selection of music produced by national pop/rock groups and there have always been notable classical composers such as João Domingos Bomtempo, an international master in the art of Baroque music who is, unfortunately, less well-known than he deserves to be. One of the most interesting and original contemporary groups is Madredeus, whose music is, to a certain extent, based on elements of fado combined with a more popular style. From a totally different perspective, there is also Moonspell who have made their mark on the international heavy metal/goth scene.
There is a endless variety of Portuguese soups. Cozido à portuguesa is a heavenly dish that is essentially a stew of smoked sausages, meat, vegetables and rice and is a nourishing treat. One of the quality products made in Portugal is olive oil, which is drizzled over salads and boiled potatoes. It is one of the essential elements in the so-called Mediterranean diet highly praised by nutritionists. Bread making is a fine art in Portugal and there are endless delicious varieties of bread. The smoked sausage known as the "alheira" was invented by the Jews at the time of the 16th. century persecutions. They invented a smoked sausage made from poultry so that they could pretend to be eating pork and thus not draw undue attention themselves. Nowadays it is a national dish and, essentially, a symbol of human skill in resisting persecution. In addition, a wide variety of fresh fish is served in Portugal. The most popular are grilled mackerel and sardines, not forgetting the cornerstone of Portuguese culture, bacalhau (salted codfish). For many centuries the Portuguese have fished for cod in the Norwegian and Newfoundland waters and dozens of recipes have been created for this fish which are a delight to those who appreciate good food. There are also dishes based on seafood from the Portuguese coast, such as bean or bread-based casseroles and risottos, not to mention other seafood specialities. And finally, there are the desserts, including the traditional egg-based Convent Sweets, with their often amusing and ironic names, such as "barriga de freira" (Nun’s belly), "toucinho-do-céu" (bacon from heaven) and "jesuítas" (Jesuits).
Portugal has a highly-developed tradition of cheese making due to the seasonal migration of flocks throughout the country and this art can still be observed in many places nowadays. Cheeses made from ewe’s milk are a great delicacy. Queijo da Serra cheese is made from ewe’s milk from the Serra da Estrela mountains. It is a cured, semi-soft, buttery cheese which is white or yellowish. Serpa cheese, produced in this region in the heart of the Alentejo, is stored for at least a month in the dairy in a cool damp atmosphere until it has matured. There is also an excellent Azeitão cheese made with milk from the herds which graze on the slopes of the Serra da Arrábida.
Portugal is an excellent producer of a wealth of top quality wines. The most famous of these, and rightly so, is Port wine, a fortified wine with a high alcohol content (16º to 22 º), which is full-bodied yet has a very fine aroma and flavour. Another quality wine with different characteristics is the wine produced on the island of Madeira and often served as a aperitif or digestif. In addition, the Moscatel from Setúbal, also a fortified wine, has great flavour and quality. Vinho verde is typical of the Minho region and usually has a fresh, “young” and slightly acidic flavour. From amongst the wines from the many demarcated regions in Portugal, an Alentejo or Douro wine is a good choice to serve with meat dishes. These wines have a continental, Mediterranean flavour, due to the many hours of sun that make the grapes very ripe. They are strong and aromatic wines. Licor Beirão is a very traditional and popular drink. It is made from eucalyptus, cinnamon, rosemary and lavender and has a very strong, sweet flavour.