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  • Writer's pictureDiogo Machado

Portuguese Art and Culture

The current borders of Portugal were established eight centuries ago, but the history of this land had begun thousands of years earlier. It is a long history that is reflected in a particular culture that is born both from the union of the various peoples who settled in the territory, and from the encounter with distant peoples that the Portuguese have known on voyages of discovery.

A culture that can be observed in the villages and towns, in the monuments and traditions, where you can also discover the various influences that the Portuguese have been able to assimilate with creativity. The sea, always present, has also played an important role in shaping the personality of the Portuguese, allowing them to go beyond the European continent and to learn and exchange knowledge with the rest of the world. Manueline art, azulejos and fado are unique expressions and symbols of Portuguese culture, and at the same time a contribution to world culture. In Portugal, among monuments, landscapes and intangible heritage, there are 24 sites classified by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

But let's discover better together what azulejos are: The azulejo (pronounced Portuguese [ɐzuˈleʒu]; Spanish [aθuˈlexo], from Arabic الزليج az-zulaiŷ, "polished stone") is a typical ornament of Portuguese and Spanish architecture consisting of a not very thick ceramic tile with an enamelled and hand-painted surface. Azulejos are found inside and outside of churches, palaces, ordinary houses, they were not only used as an ornamental art form, but also had a specific functional capacity such as temperature control in houses. At the beginning the craftsmen were only able to produce the blue colour, they painted the tiles by hand and then baked them in the kiln, all other colours except blue faded during firing. When they learned to use the other colours too, it was no longer a Porto thing, so they decided to use only blue as the city's distinctive colour.

Let’s talk now about fado is a typical Portuguese folk music genre of the cities of Lisbon and Coimbra, since 2011 recognized by UNESCO as an intangible heritage of humanity. Technically it is performed by a musical formation composed by the voice (fadista) that dialogues with the Portuguese guitar (guitarra portuguesa, 12 strings) accompanied by the guitar (viola); you can add a Portuguese bass (baixo), a second Portuguese guitar. The name comes from the Latin fatum (destiny) as it is inspired by the typical Portuguese feeling of saudade and tells themes of emigration, distance, separation, pain, suffering. In essence, fado sings about feeling, love pains, nostalgia for someone who has left, daily life and conquests. The encounters and the abandonment of life are, after all, a theme that never stops inspiring songs.

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