Our post today takes us to the city of Aveiro, in the center of Portugal, also known as the Portuguese Venice for its canals and for its very special “gondola”: the moliceiros.
As Italian, I understand the similarities between the two cities but I think that the moliceiros, for their history and tradition, deserve a place beyond their comparison with the Venetian gondolas. And let’s find out why.
The Moliceiro, as its name indicates, was a work boat used to collect the moliço, an aquatic algae used to fertilize the agricultural land of almost the entire region of Aveiro. Its resource predominated from Ovar to Mira, varying its dimensions depending on the area navigated.
At the risk of disappearing due to the almost extinction of the use of the moliço, the moliceiro was recently preserved. Reinvented as a cultural symbol of the Aveiro estuary, it is now guided by the tourist sector.
It is in Murtosa that these creations are born. On average, it takes about 25 days and 2 men to build a moliceiro. It is essentially built in wood of pine and maritime pine, a predominant species in the region of Aveiro. Its average life span is 7 years.
There are currently very few shipbuilders dedicated to the construction of moliceiros.
The moliceiro boat is about 15 meters long and 2.5 meters wide. Its low edge facilitated the loading of the moliço, but it is its elegant bow and aft that, with its paintings, distinguish it from other Portuguese vessels. They are decorated with paintings that address themes that change with the times. These motives are due to the socio-cultural transitions in the History of Portugal.
The moliceiros’ paintings are always composed of text and image. They started out as a kind of the Ria of Aveiro newspaper, a platform for expressing opinion and events among the people of Ovar, Murtosa, São Jacinto, Ílhavo, Mira… What was happening in these places was represented in these paintings. They were and are a form of communication that reports the news, pays homage to dear figures or lampoons unwanted others.
In the past, it was the shipbuilder himself who painted moliceiros. Then, for savings money, the owners started to do it. Currently, it is a work commissioned to artists in the region who strive to preserve this tradition.
The various topics covered cover religious, burlesque, social, historical and recreational content, depending on the current situation and media coverage. The works and lives of those involved in the boats, public institutions and figures, parties and ceremonies, the discoveries, the military are commented… The most recent paintings speak, for example, of football teams and players, of fado, of politics, the European Union, Big Brother or the economic crisis … Nothing escapes the critical view of a moliceiro painter!
So here’s the tip: when you visit Aveiro, put a moliceiro trip on the program, to discover the city from a different point of view. A 45-minute ride for two people costs between 20 and 30 euros. And if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, don’t miss the chance to go and see moliceiros nearby to discover their interesting paintings.