The production of products in black clay, produced in the village of Bisalhães, in the municipality of Vila Real, is an ancestral process that involves cooking the pieces made by potters in open ovens in the earth.
The Bisalhães black clay manufacturing process, in Vila Real, was inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage that needs urgent safeguarding by UNESCO.
The inclusion in the Unesco list will also “motivate the implementation of a wide-ranging safeguard plan that the municipality of Vila Real idealized, ranging from the training of potters, through the certification of the process and even the encouragement of the emergence of new uses and designs for this unique material “.
The main problem with this activity is the aging of potters. Currently, there are five who make this art their main activity and most are over 75 years old. This is considered a tough, demanding job, using processes that date back to at least the 16th century.
It is, in fact, a lengthy job that goes through different stages, from storing and separating the clay in the ‘granary’, when chopping it, sifting it to the ‘trough’, where it is mixed with water, until the “ peis ”, kept in humid places and then used by potters who must still soften them and remove excess air. This is how the ‘embolized’ is achieved, expertly placed in the center of the low wheel, at the pace intended by the potter, who gives birth to the pieces we admire so much.
Then, they are placed in the air to dry, so that women can ‘gogar’ (decorate), using small stones, drawing flowers, leaves and lines, or other motifs, whose taste or inspiration of the moment, they can represent.
This is followed by cooking, one of the main steps in the process, perhaps the one that most characterizes Bisalhães Pottery, as it is during the same period, in open ovens on earth, that the dishes acquire the characteristic black color.
After this hard mission, they are removed and cooled, one by one, small, small, medium and large wonders that, with skill and knowledge, are cleaned of dust, with careful pieces of rags. Then, they are placed in baskets, by the women, who tirelessly help in this whole process, transporting them to their homes, in order to prepare them for the sales stalls, reaching us two fantastic types of crockery: the so-called ‘Churra crockery ‘(utilitarian), oven bowls, baking dishes, cutlery, and the’ Fina ‘(decorative) crockery, secret jars, donut jars, plates, etc.
Despite all these initiatives, are there only 5 potters left? How to keep this art alive and how to attract new artisans to this art?
Over decades, the transmission of knowledge to the new generations (either within the village families or in the fruitless training courses carried out), has not been safeguarded by the local community. This is a reality that prevents new artisans from coming into this art.
The hard work of the process of making Louça Preta de Bisalhães (transportation, collection of raw materials, preparation of pieces, cooking and sale process), the traditional division of tasks, with the intervention of women, the little social valorization of this art, leading family production units, mainly the younger generations, to emigrate, looking for new ways of life, the progressive replacement of pieces of black clay by other objects of industrial manufacture, are also some of the great reasons for the abandonment in the production of Bisalhães crockery. The hope comes from two young and promising potters who, with their perseverance, have given continuity to all this knowledge and in which, despite different vicissitudes, we maintain the desire to project what we all intend, the continuity of the Bisalhães Pottery.
Sumptuous golds, exotic woods, frescoes and thousands of rare and old books, arranged on shelves up to the ceiling. In the Johannine Library of the University of Coimbra, one breathes the history of the king who ruled the great Portuguese empire in the 18th century.
Here thousands of books rest, some of which are unique in the world. The Johannine Library , previously called Casa da Livraria, began to be erected in 1717, in the middle of the century of Enlightenment, at the behest of D. João V (1689-1750), the Portuguese king who privileged knowledge and who promoted a cultural policy without parallel across the country.
In the long reign of 43 years, one of the greatest in the history of Portugal, the monarch, who had ascended the throne at the age of 17, cultivates a taste for the arts, science and literature. With the coffers of the kingdom full of gold from the new deposits discovered in Brazil, the young monarch develops at the same time a certain appetite for splendour and for luxury: his idol is Louis XIV, the sun king.
On a regal initiative, emblematic works were made such as the Mafra Convent, the Águas Livres Aqueduct, the Royal History Academy, the Prototype Lusitanian Surgical Academy and this Library, a unique Baroque masterpiece, built by the best masters in fresco painting, gilders and carvers.
Three hundred years later, this library is considered the most beautiful University Library in the world, with an invaluable collection of incalculable value. It is visited every year by 200 thousand people, even more after the University of Coimbra was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2013.
The portrait of D. João V, the patron of the work, is highlighted on one of the main walls of the building in Baroque style.
The library was ordered to be built by D. João V, as well as the Library of the Convent of Mafra, which is also considered one of the most beautiful in the world. The University of Coimbra began to be built in 1717.
The rector at the time asked the King for a place to keep a library that was for sale. D. João V was not limited to building a mere library. He hired specialists and the three-story building is a symbol of a country that at the time broke with obscurantism and bet on knowledge and the arts.
The library has over 60 thousand volumes and has books published until the year 1800. The oldest is a bible from 1140, from the time of D. Afonso Henriques. The bible has four volumes and is made of leather. It is estimated that about a thousand animals have been slaughtered to do this. The library has several treasures such as the first edition of the Lusíadas, an Hebrew bible and some manuscripts, such as Almeida Garrett. These treasures are kept in the other building of the General Library that started operating in 1962. It is also in this structure that the works of the Joanine Library are consulted. About 800 volumes are requested per year for consultation.
The library is open for consultation by any citizen, but its activity, since its foundation, has been directed to the academic community.
The Bats. At first glance, you may think that these animals are a problem for the Johannine Library of the University of Coimbra. However, the bats that live there, occupying the space behind the shelves during the day and diving into the arched ceilings when the sun goes down, are not a problem.
On the contrary. The bats play a vital role in preserving the institution’s manuscripts, so much so that librarians are in no hurry to get rid of these animals.
The bats that live in the Johannine Library do not damage books and, since they are night owls, they generally do not disturb visitors who enter the library to be carried away by its charms.
In fact, the greatest danger to the book collection is the insect population. It is known that many species of insects gnaw on the paper, which can be a real danger for the very rare books that live in that library in Coimbra, which date before the 19th century.
It is in this tragic part of the narrative that bats enter, but not as villains. They are the true heroes who, at night, feed on insects, preventing them from spoiling the collection.
However, although bats are not a threat, there is a particular concern: faeces. To protect the estate, librarians cover 18th-century tables with fabric made of animal skin at night, and clean the floors every morning
Located 30 km northwest of Lisbon, the Palace was built in 1711 on the initiative of King D. João V and conceived as a representation of the monarchy and the State. This impressive quadrangular building includes the Palaces of the King and Queen, the Basilica in Italian Baroque style, the Franciscan Convent and the Library with 36,000 volumes. The monumental ensemble also includes Jardim do Cerco in geometric composition and Tapada. The Real Edifício de Mafra is one of the most admirable works carried out by King João V, which illustrates the power and reach of the Portuguese Empire. João V adopted architectural and artistic models in the Italian Baroque style and commissioned works of art that make Mafra an exceptional example of this style of architecture.
Its construction work began in 1717 on the initiative of King D. João V, due to a promise he had made in the name of the descendants that he would obtain from Queen D. Ana Ana of Austria.
The building designed by the main architect of the kingdom, João Frederico Ludovice, occupies an area of approximately four hectares (37,790 m²). Built in abundant limestone in the region of Mafra, it consists of 1,200 rooms, more than 4,700 doors and windows, 156 staircases and 29 patios and foyers.
Due to real will, the initial project of a convent for 13 friars was successively extended to 40, 80 and finally 300 friars, a Basilica and a Royal Palace.
The monumental ensemble of Mafra, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is an extraordinary example of Portuguese art and architecture and a truly magnificent work.
Since the choice of the architect (Johann Friedrich Ludwig, known as Ludovice, trained in Rome), the project has established itself as an international affirmation of the Portuguese reigning house. The monarch’s continued fascination with Rome led him to hire important artists for Mafra, who thus became one of the most relevant places in Italian Baroque outside Italy.
At the time of the consecration of the Basilica, on October 22, 1730, the king’s birthday, the ensemble was not yet completed, not all works of art had arrived, but the plan was long outlined: a Royal Palace endowed with two turrets that, functioning independently, were the chambers of the royal couple; a Basilica decorated with statues of the best Roman artists and with an unusual set of French and Italian vestments unparalleled in the country; two towers on the façade that house two chimes ordered to be built in Flanders and which constitute a unique bell heritage in the world; a Library consisting of works of great scientific interest and of the few that foresaw the incorporation of “prohibited books”, as well as a bibliographic collection from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
Considered one of the most beautiful in the world, this library was born in the reign of D. João V, the king who privileged culture and knowledge.
The largest room in the Mafra convent is lined with more than 40,000 books, arranged and lined up in Rococo style shelves. Bindings in leather, engraved in gold. Numerous works were commissioned by D. João V, because the king wanted to concentrate on this palace, which was very special to him, which was best printed in the kingdom and abroad.
The 88-meter-long library and a cross-plant has a little bit of everything: works of medicine, philosophy, literature, law, grammars and dictionaries, encyclopedias, travel books. In the southernmost wing are the religious themes, and to the north, on the opposite side, are the profane of the pure sciences. Unique or very rare copies are handled with care, as is the case with the first edition of the Qur’an in 1543, the polyglot Bible of 1514 or even a first edition of “Os Lusíadas”.
The preservation of these ancient works, on the other hand, is in charge of an army of tiny bats that, during the night, hunt for insects that eat paper, ink and glue.
The Palace continued to perform the functions of Paço Real until the end of the monarchy, and it was in Mafra that D. Manuel II, the last king of Portugal, spent the night before embarking for exile. The Convent was extinguished in 1834 and, since then, has hosted several military units that constitute, in itself, another chapter in the history of this group, as they are linked to the great military clashes in which Portugal participated and to the very memory of the Portuguese army.
The life of Corte in the Mafra Palace at the time of D. João V was relatively scarce, since the King became seriously ill in 1742 and died in 1750.
His son D. José I maintained the habit of coming to Mafra, almost always to hunt in Tapada. But, since the 1755 earthquake he did not like to live in stone buildings, the entire Royal Family settled in a tent built next to the Palace.
In the reign of D. Maria I, the court’s visits to Mafra were related to the celebration of religious festivals or to the Queen’s taste for riding horses in Tapada, a habit she maintained until she became ill in 1792.
Originally decorated with Flemish tapestries and oriental rugs, the Palace will undergo a profound modification by the will of D. João VI, still Prince Regent, who orders a mural decoration campaign in several rooms.
Here the entire Court settled in 1806/1807, in the troubled time that preceded the French Invasions. The need to make the large spaces of the Palace more habitable also led to the division of some of the large spaces into smaller rooms, divided by wooden panels of Brazil “richly painted”.
The departure of the Royal Family to Brazil, on November 27, 1807, days before the arrival of the French troops in Lisbon, resulted in the impoverishment of much of the Palace filling, transported to the colony for the service of the Royal House and there having been left when the Court returned to Portugal in June 1821.
In December 1807, the French troops took up residence in the Palace and, a few months later, were replaced by a small fraction of the English army that remained here until March 1828.
After the troubled period of Liberal Struggles, in the reign of D. Maria II, the Court resumed the habit of returning to Mafra. Her husband, D. Fernando, a true pioneer in the defence of national heritage, carried out several recovery works at the Real Edifício.
The building has an imposing monumental presence, the result of its exceptional architectural project, particularly the central part, the Basilica, and a careful choice of materials and decorative elements, which provided it with an almost unique splendour in the Europe of its day: polychromatic marbles from different origins; the remarkable group of sculptures in the Church’s portico – the largest of its kind in the world, with 58 marble statues commissioned from the main Roman sculptors of their time; the two chimes, each with 48 bells, from Antwerp; the exclusive grouping of six organs, with its own repertoire, designed and built for the same space, between 1792 and 1807; the Parque de Caça Real, a vast, walled enclosure with a perimeter of 21 km, surrounding agricultural and forest land, which today is an important genetic reserve boasting a biogenetic diversity and variety of species, the result of the considerable amount of work that has been invested in its management.
In the palace, you can visit the pharmacy, with beautiful medicine jars and some surgical instruments, the hospital, with sixteen private cubicles from which patients could see and hear mass in the adjacent chapel, without leaving their beds. Upstairs, the palace’s sumptuous rooms extend the entire length of the western façade, with the king’s rooms at one end and the queen’s rooms at the other, 232 m apart, separated by a hallway that is the largest in Europe.
In the center, the imposing façade is enhanced by the towers of the basilica covered with a dome. The interior of the basilica is lined with marble and equipped with six organs from the early 19th century, with an exclusive repertoire that cannot be played anywhere else in the world. The basilica’s atrium is decorated with beautiful Italian sculptures. There was also the Mafra Sculpture School, created by D. José in 1754, there were many Portuguese and foreign artists who studied there under the guidance of the Italian sculptor Alessandro Giusti.
And if the art exhibited here is not enough, the palace of Mafra is also linked to a literary work by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner, José Saramago. Memorial do convento, a work known internationally, where the writer crosses history, fiction and fantastico, with invented characters and historical figures with the scenario of the construction of the Convent of Mafra.