Friday, 01 June 2012 00:00
People dressed like birds, wine of the dead, hitting folks on the head with a hammer, welcome to Weird Portugal!
Porto's Festa de São João - Porto & North of Portugal
Porto's Festa de São João is one of Europe's liveliest street festivals, yet it is relatively unknown outside of the country. Nearly every Portuguese town and village adopts one of the santos populares, the popular saints of António (Anthony), João (John) or Pedro (Peter), whose days all fall in June, probably a Christian adaptation of pagan summer solstice celebrations. There remains a strong religious element to the festivals, but in an increasingly secular country, the church services and religious processions are often overshadowed by the riotous party element. As the evening progresses, there remains a healthy mix of all ages, from elderly couples to young children, a combination that neatly tempers the behavior of the chanting male youths in replica Porto football shirts.
Then the first hammers appear. No one seems to know the origins of hitting people on the head with a leek, but now the softer plastic hammers have become the preferred mode of attack. Luckily, even the most macho tripeiros hit with surprising restraint, especially as people of the opposite sex are usually the targets.
The tide of whistle-blowing locals flows into the precipitous labyrinth of narrow streets tumbling downhill from São Bento station to the riverfront Cais da Ribeira. This is where Porto's best bars and restaurants are found, but during the festival they are outnumbered by hastily erected barbecues, stalls selling Superbock beer and makeshift stages blaring out live music varying from pop and rock to traditional fado. The smell of grilling peppers and sardines wafts through the warm June air. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festa_de_S%C3%A3o_Jo%C3%A3o_do_Porto
Stone House - Fafe, North of Portugal
The Stone House is an easy hit for “weird houses” on the Internet and for a good reason. It’s a house made from stone, yes, two giant boulders linked together with mortar and imagination. Perhaps the Flintstones inspired this house, however there are windows and a bathroom. For more information visit http://www.archdaily.com/73745/stone-house/.
Ritual masks of Lazarim - North of Portugal
Masks can be odd, but what if they predate modern Europe? These ancient masks can be seen during the Carnival in Lazarim. From Saturday to Tuesday the people of Lazarim take to the streets adorned in ancient masks. The masks are result of a meticulous work by artisans and local people, made by hand. On Carnival day the gossips and cronies don their masks carved from alder wood and costumes, hiding one’s identity and carrying the ancestral rivalry game between the genders. A reading of wills, foretelling the death of the godfather and godmother in a burst of fire is included. The carnival ends with a feast of feijoada and chicken broth. For more information visit http://www.progestur.net/laz.html. In addition, each May there is parade in Lisbon that features the masks. Information about the annual parade can be found at http://www.progestur.net/fimi2012_destaques.html.
Bull on a rope - Azores
Terceira, one of the most colorful islands in the Azores holds 230 traditional bullfights each year. The island is about 2,000 miles off the East Coast of the United States. The people of Terceira hold touradas á corda every weekend, which is a unique running of the bulls, with the bull on a rope. It is found only in the Azores, and has been popular since the 16th Century. The bull is let loose with a very long rope around its neck, usually at the main square in a village, or along the seafront. Several experienced, hefty men, guide the bull. The idea is, that the courageous people try to get as close to the bull as they dare. After the run, the bull is taken back to the wooden crate and an outdoor festival begins. The bull is never killed. Sometimes, in the larger towns such as Angra de Heroísmo, a Portuguese equestrian bullfight will follow in the arena. The Portuguese bullfight is, at first glance, quite simple. A caveleiro, or rider, dressed in a silk jacket embroidered with gold and lace, tan riding pants and black boots, takes to the arena atop a Lusitano breed of horse. The goal of the man and horse in a Portuguese bullfight is not to kill the bull, but to draw the bull to a charge and then to place a single dart in the bull’s back muscle. The horse and bull must charge at each other, with the horse suddenly veering off to avoid an impact. Then the rider must place the “ferro” colorful dart exactly and ride off unscathed. http://www.visitazores.com/en/the-azores/the-9-islands/terceira/festivities
Celtic Portugal –kilts, bagpipes and all - North of Portugal
Literally meaning the land “Beyond the Mountains,” Trás-os-Montes is a wild and mystic land cut off for centuries from the rest of Portugal. Left on its own, the small towns developed their own customs, dialects and retained ancient rites. Most of Western Europe had some brush with the Celtic tribes, but in northern Portugal’s Trás-os-Montes region, the Celtic influence remains strong because of its isolation, bordered by mountains and rivers on all sides. Today, while "true" Celtic regions are defined as Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales, regions where a distinct separate language can be identified, the Trás -os-Montes region of Portugal has retained its own language. The Trás os Montes’ remoteness makes it the least known region of Portugal. As a result, Christmas in Trás-os-Montes is different from any other Christmas in the world. There is a colorful Christmastime rite of passage for village bachelors during which they take over the village for a week. Afterwards, this introduction to mutual responsibility is celebrated with food and dancing.
The Festa dos Rapazes, held around the holidays, is a modern version of pre-Christian ancestral rites. For two days, village boys become the center life in a village. The festival, which originated with rituals for the winter solstice, celebrates the beginning of the agricultural cycle, which for boys also means the passage to adulthood. There are ancient dances, music, masks, and lots of food. Look for sweet breads, roast goat and pig, and in the city of Chaves boiled octopus is eaten for Christmas lunch. These festivals are held in more than a dozen towns in the region.
The Vila Cha Braciosa annual festival on the 1st of January celebrates the Feast of the Baby Jesus, known as the Festa da Velha, which is a rite of passage from winter solstice celebrations.
Wine of the Dead - Boticas, North of Portugal
The historic town of Boticas is situated in the rugged, mountainous region of Barroso, in the central northern border with Spain. The famous barrosã breed of beef cattle is raised here. The barrosã beef has long been appreciated as the food of kings, was recently awarded a certificate, and now is an AOC beef. Boticas is also the home of the famous "Vinho dos Mortos" (Dead Man’s Wine), so called because after bottling it is buried beneath the ground and left to ferment in the dark for roughly a year, acquiring an excellent taste. This technique was discovered by sheer chance in the nineteenth century, at the time of the French invasions, when the local population hid their possessions and crops in the most unexpected places in order to avoid being pillaged. When the danger had passed and the wine was dug up, it was discovered that the wine now had an excellent quality. The region's mineral water is also of the highest quality, with the "holy waters" from the spa of Carvalhelhos being particularly famous. Also, throughout the countryside are the little grain stores called espigueiros. Their walls are made of tablets of granite with slits in them that are designed, with an opening of only five millimeters, to let the wind in but keep the birds and larger insects out. The espigueiros have stone supports to render them damp proof by raising them off the ground, and the flat stone discs at the top of these supports serve to stop mice from getting in. http://www.vinhodosmortos.com/
Tomb for Tooth - Santarem, Lisboa Region
Festa de São Gonçalo - North of Portugal
The Festa de São Gonçalo in Amarante (Norte) is an ancient fertility ritual, which is based on pre-Christian rites. It is traditional for the young and unmarried to exchange phallic cakes as a token of their affection. Inside the church of São Gonçalo, the saint's tomb is said to bring a speedy marriage to anyone who touches it. Pilgrims present wax models of different parts of the body to the Saint in the hope of a cure. For more information visit http://events.frommers.com/sisp/index.htm?fx=event&event_id=15726.
Chapel of Bones - Evora, Alentejo
Evora’s macabre Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) is one of the best known monuments in Portugal. It is a small interior in the Church of the Church of St. Francis and all the walls are covered and decorated with human skulls and bones. The Capela dos Ossos was assembled in the 16th century by a Franciscan monk who, in the Counter-Reformation spirit of that era, wanted to transmit the message of life being transitory mission accomplished. This is clearly shown in the famous warning at the entrance Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos (“We, the bones that are here, await yours.")
Monsaraz Big Stone - Monsaraz, Alentejo
Monsaraz is a tiny fairytale walled village that maintains a medieval atmosphere. It was originally fortified by the Knights Templar in the region of Iron Age dolmens and menhirs, once a site of fertility rites. The phallic Menhir of Outeiro is one of the tallest ever discovered. The Balhoa Menhir, found north of Monsaraz on the road from Telheiro to Outeiro, is a piece of the Megalithic culture that flourished in Europe and beyond. This large upright standing stone with inscriptions at the top is typical of its type. Menhirs may be found singly as monoliths, or as part of a group of similar stones. Over the years, menhirs may have been used for sacrifice, or fertility rites.
St. George is back, and so is the dragon… Festa da Coca – Monção, North of Portugal
After a parade, the procession returns to the Church, collects and moves townspeople en masse to the Souto amphitheater, where the tournament takes place between the forces of good and evil (or virtue and sin). St. George, representing the good and the ugly figure of a dragon known as Coca, representing evil, take positions. Four to six warriors push the dragon, built in canvas on a wooden frame with wheels disguised under the legs painted like sharp claws, outward. The animal is painted green and has a movable head with an open jaw. The public takes sides. The story goes that, if St. George wins, there will be a good agricultural year. For more information visit http://www.cm-moncao.pt/portal/page/moncao/portal_municipal/Turismo/Corpo%20de%20Deus and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1RP8IngnEU.
Caretos de Podence – Pagans strike back - North of Portugal
Farewell to winter and welcome spring with the Caretos Carnival, a ritual between the pagan and the faithful, as natural as the passage of time and the renewal of the seasons. In Podence, near Macedo in February, men don colorful costumes (feathered quilts made with wool or linen, homemade looms) and a tin mask, holding a string of bells around the waist, and bandoleers of buzzers. Typically, they rely on the favors of the Sun god, magnanimous to those who praise his kingdom with great fervor. Locals in 1985 formed an association to preserve the carnival tradition. The group defines itself as ethnographic, consisting of about 20 elements. In Portugal this group has traveled the country from north to south in diverse cultural and recreational events. For more information visit http://caretosdepodence.no.sapo.pt/tradicao.html.
Dessert made with bacon fat -Pudim Abade de Priscos - North of Portugal
Known for "hospitality," desserts are highlighted in the Norte/Porto region. A famous example of a dessert is Pudim Abade de Priscos. Typical of Braga, this is also known as bacon pudding, an ideal for a festive table. A recipe for this dessert can be found at http://www.cm-braga.pt/wps/wcm/connect/CMBPublico/Outras+Areas/Turismo/Gastronomia/Imprimir+Receitas/Imprimir+pudim?id=57f47f804035b659b16ef15197f99830.
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