When I arrived in Lisbon, one of the first places I visited was a historic shop right in Rossio square. This is the Madeira Shop.
I remember that when I entered in this shop there was an elderly couple who welcomed me with extreme kindness. They were the owners of this place which, for generations, has been in the hands of the Abreu family.
And so, to tell you our next story, we decided to go right there.
On one side of the Rossio square, to the right of Pedro IV, which dominates the square from the top of a column, among modern shops and international brands, stands the Madeira shop, opened in 1959.
And to welcome us this time is Ana, daughter of that couple who welcomed me years ago during my first visit.
Ana begins to talk to us about how this place was born, but above all about her family because, we will soon discover, the two stories are closely linked.
Ana begins to tell and we discover that it all begins with her grandfather, Antonio Abreu, a native of Madeira island who moves to the “continent” with five of his seven children (other two are born in Estoril) Ana tells us she never met her grandfather, because she was born when her parents were already 41 and 39 years old, and her grandfather had already disappeared at the time. But the memory of those times and how it all began, Ana received as an inheritance from her parents and today she helps us to reconstruct their history.
When her family moves to the “continent”, she arrives in Estoril. Probably to stay close to the sea. After all, you know, when you grow up on an island, surrounded by the sea, it is impossible to stay too far from it.
The great change came in 1916 with a person who was responsible for an important change in Portuguese tourism: Fausto Figuereido, who, in addition to launching the construction of the casino of Estoril, also gave rise to the railway line that, over time, will connect Estoril to Lisbon. The consequence of this important change will be an important tourist increase that will bring new international customers to the shop opened in this coastal area.
The Abreu family begins to open more shops, in Estoril, Lisbon, in Sintra and finally two more in Lisbon.
It is the latter that will be managed by Ana’s parents. A commercial activity but above all a family inheritance. Starting with her grandfather, then Ana’s father and now with her and her husband João.
Ana tells us that their business has had to go through various crises, starting with the one that followed the carnation revolution of 1974 which ended the dictatorship, passing through the stock market crisis in the United States, the economic crisis of 2008 and, finally, the pandemic of the last period. There are so many trials and moments of crisis to overcome, but each time they have managed to move forward, above all out of pride, in order not to lose this tradition that is so important to their family.
Ana clearly tells us that the main reason they continue with the tradition of their shop is not the financial gain, but above all the desire to not interrupt a family tradition that has lasted for many years.
There are several products that we can find in the shop and from different regions of Portugal, but above all an excellent product which is what also gives the shop its name: Madeira embroidery.
The origin of Madeira’s embroidery (Bordado) dates back to antiquity and the need to decorate spaces. The art of embroidery was for a long time an activity to which women of the wealthier classes as well as religious were destined and the great impulse came in the 1950s.
Even this tradition do crafts participated in the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in London in 1851, enjoying enormous success.
It is an embroidery on linen, which, due to its delicacy and tradition, was always a luxury product that was found in aristocratic homes. And today it is considered the best embroidery in the world.
Ana’s family always dedicated themselves to the “bordados da Madeira”, first selling it in their shop and then in the production in Madeira. Today no more, since following the production at a distance was becoming complicated.
Today these are still expensive products and objects of great value, which have mainly tourists as buyers, who have always been part of their regular customers, since the time of the first Estoril shop. But Ana says that many Portuguese families also buy embroidered linen to enrich the family kit or, for example, a tablecloth to use for special occasions. These are objects that are then handed down from mother to daughter and which often remain in the family for several generations, ending up becoming custodians of memories and memories, special moments to remember, family celebrations not to be forgotten.
And in an era where there is so much talk of sustainability, the artisanal products of this quality are certainly an important support.
And the memory handed down through the objects purchased means that Ana and her family somehow end up being part of this memory too.
Ana shows us a notebook where regular customers, foreigners and Portuguese, customers who have returned several times to the store, leave a memory, a story, a thank you for something that, purchased in the Madeira Shop, has then become part of the family history . Ana tells us that she has received calls and messages during this pandemic period from customers who are worried about her and her parents, sincere expressions of affection.
Ana started working with her family in 2003, but since 2008 she has been actively involved in the family shop and with her with the active help of her husband João.
Ana’s parents, Joaquim e Maria Antonia, are now 86 and 84, but it was not because of the age that they left the work, but because of the pandemic. Anyway Ana tells us that from time to time they can’t resist and go back to the shop, and when they can’t, they demand a full report of everything that happened during the work day from Ana at the end of the day.
Until 2019, their presence in the shop was never lacking, while Ana and João supported him in the shop and, at the same time, took care of traveling around the country in search of unique handicrafts.
A glance at the shop immediately makes us understand that it is not a common shop or even ordinary objects. Ana knows the history of each object, listening to her is like a journey through the history of Portuguese traditions, she knows how to show us each different school or artist behind each single object. Because she chose them one by one, she met the artisans, she saw them work.
And the more fragile objects, Ana and João carried them personally.
Because this work is also a way to preserve and pass on the family tradition and the love that her parents have always had for this work.
Ana guides us among the ceramic objects of Coimbra inspired by works of the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, the classic hand-painted Rooster of Barcelos, a symbol of faith and justice and lucky charm, and today also one of the symbols of the country, the “Figurados” represented by more modern and refined artists and other older ones who still hand down an ancient art of sacred representations and daily life in the field. The romantic tradition of lovers’ handkerchiefs is inevitable, which in ancient times women embroidered by hand for the beloved man and that the man had to use on Sunday at Mass to show that he reciprocated the feelings of the woman in question.
And there is no shortage of traditional azulejos, painted furniture from the Alentejo, and many other objects, extraordinary works of craftsmanship.
The embroideries of Madeira are joined by those of Viana do Castelo, equally beautiful but less expensive, to allow to reach other customers as well.
And there are also traditional clothes from Madeira and Viana, which are often bought by tourists but also by Portuguese emigrants to bring a piece of their country with them. For children they are also bought as carnival dresses, while northern families still use them in traditional festivals, such as the one dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows (August 20, editor’s note) or for some special events.
In short, a place where on each shelf, there is a new world to discover.
Ana’s shop, recognized by the city of Lisbon as a “loja com historia”, an historical shop, is actually not very protected by the city itself.
Times change, the city of Lisbon evolves, modernizes itself, and over the years international brands have increasingly replaced the old small local shops.
But basically it is these shops that contribute to making Lisbon a special city different from the others.
Together with the increase in tourism which, Ana tells us, is obviously welcome, it would be desirable to be able to protect in some way these ancient shops in the city to ensure that they do not disappear.
After all, it is no longer just a commercial place, but a space that day by day tries to preserve the memory of a past that at times it is difficult to recognize, the memory of a place and, in this case, of a really special family.
The Figurado of Barcelos is an unavoidable art, constituting itself as one of the greatest traditional productions in Portugal, due to the relevance that work in clay has acquired over the centuries and its connection to people and the region.
This art was mainly concentrated in the north-eastern part of the city, which was richer in clay and water
Figurado is a certified production since 2008. This fact makes Barcelos the first municipality to certify this popular artistic expression, which is the identity root of a territory that sought to enhance and affirm its unique art.
Assorted figuration was the designation adopted for the statuary pieces of popular expression, produced in the pottery tradition region of the current municipality of Barcelos, where they fit from small pieces entirely modeled by hand, to pieces produced in small molds or through mixed techniques used in this production. This group also included pieces modeled by hand, without mold, such as pitas, harmonicas and some roosters. Pieces started in mold and finished by hand, such as musicians and oxen, belong to the same universe. In the same way, pieces produced from a base form, raised on the potter’s wheel and which were also finished by hand, such as wheel cocks, nightingales and bugles, are included in this group. With the same designation of figurative, the pieces produced in mold were still known, but with a naive or primitive finish.
The diversity of this production is born from the skilled hands of baristas who reproduce everything they see and feel. The themes on which this production is mirrored are, in turn, religion and festivals, bestiary, daily life, various figures and miniatures. In this context, it is important to highlight the most characteristic pieces within each theme. In the theme of religion and festivals, representations of Christs and Saints predominate, as well as religious practices. The world of the fantastic, represented by the bestiary presents monsters, devils and deformed figures that unite the sacred and the profane in the Figurado. Representations of scenes from rural life, crafts, professions and dolls dominate the range of Figurado pieces, showing the importance of everyday life as inspiration for this production. In the category of single figures, emblematic pieces appear, such as roosters, hedgehogs, doves, oxen and goats. Among others, the famous Rooster stands out (you can read my post on September 1, 2020 https://lisbon-a-love-affair.com/2020/09/01/the-rooster-of-barcelos-how-was -this-portuguese-symbol-born /)
As for the mode of production, modeling, molding and turning are the techniques used in the production of the Figurado de Barcelos, used alone or combined with each other, with modeling being the most important and most valued, since the personal intervention of the craftsman is totally or practically total.
Finally, considering the identity of the Figurado, it will be impossible not to mention one of the most charismatic names of this art: Rosa Ramalho, the figure that drew the attention through which this unique art spread in the most urban and elitist environment.
Rosa Ramalho learned to work with clay very early, but abandoned this art to dedicate herself to her family. It was when she was a widow, aged 68 and illiterate, that she began to produce the pieces that made her famous. Discovered in 1950 for the collector Alexandre Alves Costa during his research on popular art. His works are dramatic and creative and show great imagination at the same time.
The Figurado de Barcelos, certified artisanal product, is currently one of the largest artisan productions in the county. This production started as a subsidiary activity of pottery, in their spare time and using small portions of clay, small pieces were made for children to play, namely figures of people or animals where a whistle or musical instruments were placed at the base of them (ocarinas, nightingales, cuckoos, harmonicas, among others). The Figurado de Barcelos is distinguished from any other production, assuming unique characteristics, both in shapes and colors. If you want to watch the making of a figure, I leave this video here.
The Cantarinha of Guimarães’ is a gift widely offered by the time of São Valentim, thus keeping an old tradition alive which is currently fed by the hands of masters of the pottery.
According to tradition, when a boy was ready to make the official marriage proposal, he first offered his girl a cantarinha, molded in clay. If the gift was accepted, the private request was formalized, and the announcement of the engagement depended only on the parents’ wishes. Once the consent was given, the cantarinha then served to keep the gifts that the groom and the bride’s parents offered, namely gold pieces.
Currently, the cantarinha are no longer properly used to ask someone for a hand or to store jewelry, but are assumed to be “guardians” of secrets and love stories. “Whoever offers them, does so because of the symbolism they contain”, is made of red clay sprinkled with white mica.
There are the big Cantarinhas, symbol of abundance, of the future, of hope. And the small Cantarinha, symbol of real life, of the uncertainties of the future and the small happiness of everyday life.
The Cantarinha was used, as well as valentine’s handkerchiefs, (October 14th article) as a symbol of acceptance or rejection of a dating / engagement request. If there was parental consent, the engagement was announced and the dowry treated, and the gifts offered to the bride and groom were placed in Cantarinha (gold cords, trancelets, crosses, hearts). Another version says that raffles were placed inside Cantarinha. The girl then took one at random that corresponded to a gift. Cantarinha of lovers is the most common name, but two more are added: Cantarinha of the gifts and Cantarinha of Guimarães.
In addition to its significance as a matchmaking object, which is its great attribute, Cantarinha dos Namorados is also a pottery product of excellence in terms of Portuguese handicrafts. Made of red clay baked for seven hours, and ornamented with small flourishes, there is an undeniable elegance when we look at it, and we understand why the girls who received this artifact in their hands melt.
It is made up of three parts: the base singlet, clearly larger, representing the couple’s prosperity; the little song that overlaps this one, noticeably smaller, symbolizing the problems that any pair of newlyweds or couples have to face; and finally, the shot is made with a bird, which some say is the secret keeper of the relationship.
The origin of the filigree dates back to the third millennium BC in Mesopotamia. The oldest pieces date back to 2500 BC and were discovered in the, today, Iraq. Other pieces, discovered in Syria, date from approximately 2100 B.C.
It arrived in Europe via trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea, where it became relatively popular in the Greek and Roman civilizations. The oldest discoveries of filigree jewellery were made in modern Italy and are estimated to be from the 18th century. However, the filigree continued its journey and crossed borders to India and China. In the Far East, it was used mainly as a decorative element and not as jewellery.
But how does filigree differ from other jewellery arts?
In the way different fine threads draw patterns and are welded together in order to create a much larger piece. No other jewellery art uses a similar fusion technique to join gold threads. Today – as thousands of years ago – the different threads that make up each piece come together only by heat, without resorting to any other material or alloy.
The oldest filigree pieces discovered in the Iberian Peninsula date back to 2000 – 2500 BC, but their origin is unclear. Possibly, these pieces belonged to traders or navigators originating in the Middle East and were not manufactured here.
Only during the rule of the Romans, during the century. II BC, began to exist in the Peninsula.
But only thousands of years later, in the century. VIII, we were able to ensure with certainty that the filigree was being developed and produced in Portugal. It was with the arrival of Arab peoples that new patterns emerged and that, little by little, the filigree of the Peninsula began to differentiate itself from the filigree of other parts of the world.
The Portuguese filigree mostly represents nature, religion and love:
– the sea is represented with fish, shells, waves and boats;
– nature is the inspiration of flowers, clovers and wreaths;
- with religious motifs, we find crosses, like the Maltese cross, and reliquaries.
- love, of course, is the inspiration of all hearts in filigree.
Other iconic symbols of Portuguese filigree:
– The heart of Viana: a symbol of dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Queen Maria I was the one who, thankful for the “blessing” of having been given a male son, ordered a heart to be executed in gold.
Over time, the heart started to be related to “profane love”, a symbol of the connection between two human beings. It became so popular that the cornucopias and the lines of Coração de Viana began to be reproduced on handkerchiefs and embroidered on all types of fabrics. Eventually, this brought the recognition and popularity of Coração de Viana to the present day.
– Queen’s earrings: it is almost unanimous that queen earrings appeared in Portugal during the reign of Queen D. Maria I (1734 – 1816). The origin of the name, this, seems to go back to the reign of D. Maria II (1819 – 1853), who wore a pair of these earrings on a visit to Viana do Castelo in 1852. After this visit, they became popular as a symbol of wealth and status and won the name “queen earrings”.
– The arrecadas: they started being the earrings of the most humble population and that the most privileged classes started to imitate. At its origin were the Castrejas stonework, inspired by the quarter moon.
Today, filigree manufacturing in Portugal is mainly concentrated in the areas of Gondomar and Póvoa do Lanhoso. The proximity of the raw material – coming, for example, from the mountains of Pias and Banjas – made the region one of the most notable nuclei of the Portuguese jewellery. Even today, in 2018, Gondomar is responsible for 60% of the national jewellery production.
A curiosity: Portuguese gold is 19.2 carats (pure gold is 24).
The tradition of tiles in Portugal is not only old but also the most representative of the country. The story tells that it started when, in 1498, D Manuel I King of Portugal made a trip to Spain and marvelled at the splendour of the Moorish interiors and the colours of the wall coverings and murals.
Following his desire to build his residence in the image of the palaces visited in Seville, Toledo and Zaragoza, the tile arrived in Portugal. The National Palace of Sintra, which was used as his residence, became one of the best and most original examples of early Portuguese tiles, at that time still imported from factories in Seville.
Despite the archaic techniques coming from abroad, as well as the tradition of Islamic decoration in the decorative exaggerations of complex geometric patterns, its entry into Portugal denotes an influence of European taste due to the Gothic vegetable motifs and a particular Portuguese aesthetic.
But we start with order: where does the word azulejo come from? It is an Arabic term, azzelij, which means small polished stone and is the designation given to a ceramic artefact with little thickness, usually square, being one of the surfaces glazed as a result of firing the coating, called enamel, becoming this way bright and waterproof. This surface can have a single color or have several colours, be smooth or embossed.
The motifs represented vary between the narrations of historical circumstances, mythology, religion and various decoration motifs. The Portuguese overseas empire had an important influence on the diversity of forms; assimilated shapes and decorations of other civilisations.
Portuguese tiles represent the imagination of Portuguese people, their attraction to real history and their complicity in cultural exchange.The new tile industry is flourishing with orders from the nobility and clergy. Large panels are custom made to fill the walls of churches, convents, palaces, manors and gardens. The inspiration comes from decorative arts, textiles, jewellery, engravings and travels of the Portuguese to the East. Large scenographic compositions appear, a striking feature of the Baroque, with geometric, figurative and vegetal themes of exotic fauna and flora.
At the end of the 17th century, the quality of production and execution is higher, there are whole families involved in this art of making tiles, and some painters begin to assert themselves as artists, starting to sign their works, thus beginning the Masters Cycle .
After the 1755 earthquake, the reconstruction of Lisbon will impose another rhythm in the production of standard tiles, today called pombaline, used to decorate the new buildings. The tiles are manufactured in series, combining industrial and artisanal techniques. At the end of the 18th century, the tile is no longer exclusive to the nobility and the clergy, the wealthy bourgeoisie makes the first orders for their farms and palaces, the panels sometimes tell the story of the family and even of their social ascension.
From the 19th century, the tile gains more visibility, leaves the palaces and churches to the facades of the buildings, in a close relationship with architecture. The urban landscape is illuminated by the light reflected on the glazed surfaces. The tile production is intense, new factories are created in Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro. Later, already in the middle of the 20th century, the tile enters the railway and metro stations, and some are signed by renowned artists.
Thinking about the typical products of Portugal, we immediately think of the wine, such as the Port or the Madeira wine, or the splendid ceramics, the azulejos, hand-painted that decorate houses and gardens.
However, not everyone knows that Portugal is in first place in the world for cork processing with 53% of world production. In the Alentejo area, between Lisboa and the Atlantic coast, 72% of the total production of the entire country is concentrated and skilled craftsmen work cork here.
What do you get from cork processing? Virtually everything: caps, home accessories, fashion accessories, clothes and shoes, but also bags, furniture and floor or wall coverings.
Cork is a 100% natural product, it is soft, resistant, versatile, recyclable, hypoallergenic and has thermal properties keeping both heat and cold.
Cork is an element so important in the history of Portugal that we find traces of it in many monuments:
– The Convent de Santa Cruz do Buçaco and the Convent dos Capuchos of Sintra, for example, where the monks used cork to cover the walls and make the environment more comfortable and this is how we find some cells and some common areas with the walls covered cork.
– In the basilica da Estrela in Lisbon, you can admire the 18th century Nativity with terracotta figures on cork scenarios.
– The door jambs, windows and portholes of the Chalet of Countess of Edla in Sintra are decorated with cork elements.
– São Brás de Alportel (Algarve), owes its development to the cork industry and today is located in the center of the Rota da Cortiça (The Cork Road) through beautiful cork forests.
The cultivation of cork oaks is an art that requires time and a lot of patience. A cork oak takes 25 years to be productive and to be able to make the first extraction of cork. Between one extraction and another we have to wait 9 years and only after the third one we will have a fairly compact and usable cork. The cork boards are stacked outdoors, then they are boiled and divided according to thickness and quality. With the best boards, natural corks are obtained while the lower boards are used for soles for shoes or corks for common wines. Trees can live up to 400 years and ensure crops for 200 years.