Travel: Exploring Sintra

Since it was a gorgeous day on Saturday, We explored the gorgeous landscape of Sintra. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site with royal residences scattered along the mountain top. Its historical buildings date from the 8th to 9th centuries.

Political Situation of Portugal Circa 1065

Portugal Circa 1065

The Castle of the Moors is one of the oldest structures, it was designed as a military outpost by the Arabs to protect the territory’s population. Despite the Moor Badajoz King’s transfer of these territories to secure an alliance with the Christian king (Alfonso VIin 1031, and the castle ultimately surrendered in the Conquest of Lisbon (1147) to the forces of Alfonso Henriques.

Due to limited time, and the expenses associated with visiting each of these castles, we opted to visit the most well-known, the Pena National Palace. It is one of the best examples of 19th century Romanticism in the world.

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It originated as a Chapel  to “Our Lady of Pena” which was built as homage to the virgin mary after an apparition. In 1493, when King John II made a pilgrimage to the site, and his successor,  King Manuel I, constructed a monastery there dedicated to the Order of Saint Jerome. The area was devastated by the Great Lisbon Earthquake, and left largely untouched until the fascinated Fernando II acquired the monastery and it’s surrounding area, and commissioned Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege for the design. The last Queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, was the last royal family member to stay at this palace before her exile.

When you first emerge from the palace steps, a dramatic and dark bay window greets you. It is a clear representation of the Neo-Gothic style, and presents an allegory for the creation of the world, utilizing the depiction of a newt.

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As you progress through the castle, you can see the Islamic roots, this is particularly evident in the Arab Room which depicts domed ceilings decorated with intricate Arabesque detailing.

The palace does not uniformly draw its aesthetics from one style, rather it is an intentional eclectic merging of of Neo-GothicNeo-ManuelineIslamic and Neo-Renaissance architecture. Since I stem from a design background, it is awe-inspiring to note the time spent on such delicate details. It’s a shame that although we recognize architectural history as an art form, it is not practiced in the modern day. Yes, we continue to study the progression and origins of these classic styles, but it is becoming a lost art, much like the extinction of traditional crafts.

What are your thoughts on lost heritage? What can we do as a society to prevent the death of such vital history?

Travel: Understanding Portugal

Portugal’s economy has also never quite recovered from the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. The seismic activity of the  Azores-Gibraltar Transform Fault was estimated to be 8.5 to 9.0 in magnitude; this subsequently resulted in fires a tsunami that decimated the Lisbon along with the surrounding areas. Due to the prevalent political tension within its borders at the time, emotions were aggravated and profoundly disrupted the colonial ambitions of the country. The constant struggle for royal power and favor amongst the nobles culminated in the attempted assignation of the King, the elimination of the Duke of Aveiro and the public execution of the Távora family.

1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames...

1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames and a tsunami overwhelming the ships in the harbor.

Even now, the economy suffers. Although education is readily attainable regardless of means (for the most part), there is not nearly enough jobs, or opportunities for career growth. Unemployment has been steadily increasing each quarter and is expected to reach a record of 18%; It is in its 3rd year of recession. The youth have continued migrating out of the country, and working as expatriates. If a job can be found within the borders, it often lacks promotional opportunities, and does not pay well. As a result, many have been forced to emigrate to other european nations in order to locate sufficient employment.

See: Portugal court strikes down portion of austerity measures