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.
Today is the day dedicated to Art and I decided to write an article about one of the Portuguese works of art that I love the most.
It is the most famous work of Portuguese jewelry, for its artistic merit and historical significance: the Monstrance of Belém, exhibited at the MNAA (National Museum of Ancient Art) in Lisbon.
Ordered by King D. Manuel I for the Monastery of Santa Maria de Belém (Better known as Jerónimos Monastery), the Ostensory of Belém is attributable to the goldsmith and playwright Gil Vicente.
It was made with the gold of the tribute of the Régulo de Quilôa (in present Tanzania), in a sign of vassalage to the crown of Portugal, brought by Vasco da Gama on the return of his second trip to India, in 1503, it is a good example of the taste for pieces conceived as microarchitecture in the final Gothic.
Intended to guard and expose the consecrated host to the veneration of the faithful, it presents, in the center, the twelve apostles kneeling, hovering over them a oscillating dove, in white enameled gold, symbol of the Holy Spirit, and, in the upper plane, the figure of God the Father, who sustains the globe of the Universe, thus materializing, in the ascension sense, the representation of the Most Holy Trinity.
The armillary spheres, symbols of King Manuel I, that define the knot, as if to unite two worlds (the terrain, which spreads at the base, and the supernatural, which rises in the upper structure), appear as the maximum consecration of royal power in this historic moment of oceanic expansion, confirming the spirit of the King’s company that was forever linked to the era of Portuguese maritime expansion.
A work that leaves truly speechless for the artistic quality, the materials and the perfection of its realization in the smallest details.
The MNAA preserves this and many representative works of Portuguese and international art; a place that art lovers cannot miss. Even better if accompanied by an art historian in love with this Museum 😉
So, what do you expect to book a visit with me?
Today we are talking about one of the most disputed saints in history, a saint who for Italians is undoubtedly Saint Anthony of Padua. But be careful to say it here in Lisbon! Here is Saint Anthony of Lisbon. During my tours, I invite my tourists to do a little experiment: look for Santo Antonio on wikipedia. Try and you will see that, if in all languages it is Saint Anthony of Padua, in Portuguese it is Saint Anthony of Lisbon. But then, what is the truth?
He is one of the most loved saints in Christianity, yet Saint Anthony of Padua, as he is known today, has always carried with him this curious controversy linked to his name.
To be fair, it must be said that Antonio lived in Padua for just 3 years, the last of his adventurous life. Fernando Martins de Bulhões – this is his real name – was born into a wealthy family in 1195 in Lisbon; at the time the city had returned to Christianity from about 40 years, after Alfonso Henriques stole it from the Moors thus becoming the first king of Portugal. The father Martinho, a knight of the king, lived with his family in a house near the Lisbon Cathedral, where Fernando was baptized.
In 1210, at the age of just fifteen, he entered the Order of Augustinians at the Abbey of St. Vincent in Lisbon. After about 2 years he was transferred to the Convent of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, he remained there for about 8 years, during which he studied theology assiduously. In 1219 the beheaded bodies of 5 friars sent by Francis of Assisi to Morocco arrived at the convent with the task of converting Muslims. Fernando was so shocked by the incident that he decided to leave the Augustinians to join the Franciscan Order. He therefore chose to change his first name to Anthony, and to leave as a missionary himself.
Antonio embarked for Morocco in the autumn of 1220. However, upon arriving in Africa, he contracted a tropical fever that forced him to return to Europe. But on the return voyage towards the Iberian Peninsula, the ship encountered a fierce storm that diverted its course towards the Mediterranean.
The boat was wrecked in Sicily. Here, Antonio found refuge in the Franciscan convent of Messina, where he learned of the fact that in May of that year (1221) Francis had convened the elective and legislative assembly of the friars of the Order. After a long journey, Antonio arrived in Assisi where he personally met the future patron saint of Italy. Antonio received the order to preach and from there he left for a new conversion mission, this time to northern Italy, and at the end of 1224 he moved to southern France.
After spending 2 years in France, Antonio returned to Italy in 1226 when he learned of Francis’ death. His sermons began to be followed by fools of people, and they did not even stop when, he exhausted by the continuous travels and long fasts to which he underwent, he became ill enough to be forced to be carried in his arms to the pulpit. He died on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36.
Thanks to the fame he gained, from the day of the funeral his tomb became a pilgrimage destination for thousands of devotees who paraded in front of the sarcophagus day and night asking for graces and healings. So many miracles were attributed to his intercession that the Bishop of Padua “by popular acclaim” had to submit them to the judgment of Pope Gregory IX. In June 1232, exactly one year after his death, Antonio was named Saint with “53 approved miracles” and the denomination of Saint Anthony of Padua. That same year, construction work began on the Basilica intended to preserve the remains in the Venetian capital and which today receives millions of visitors every year.
And the Lisboets, your fellow citizens? They still have to be satisfied with a fragment of bone from the left arm, granted by the Paduan Franciscans and kept in the crypt of the humbler, but equally beautiful, Church of Santo António de Lisboa, which stands a few steps from the Cathedral in the exact place where, as the legend, there was the house of his parents.
On the other hand, the largest popular festival in the city is dedicated to the saint, the famous Night of St. Anthony which every year between 12 and 13 June (anniversary of his death) fills all the neighbourhoods with marches, songs, dances and the characteristic scent of sardines, grilled and eaten outdoors. But we will talk about this another time.
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.