How quickly the time passes in the summer holidays – I realise to my shame that a LONG time has passed since my last blog entry, and struggle to remember exactly what we have been doing. Of course the answer is that we have been enjoying ourselves, taking life a bit easy and soaking in the sun, which is surely what the summer is all about! The garden is a growing pleasure, as we are now starting to reap the rewards of the clearing and digging and manuring that took place earlier in the year. To our delight we have burgeoning aubergine and pepper plants, abundant squashes and courgettes and cucumbers, several varieties of tomato, and for the sheer exuberance of them, some wonderful towering sunflowers. Having only ever grown sunflowers singly in the UK, feeling proud if it got past the spindly stage and actually made it to adult height, I am jubilant to have a score of them in the garden, vying with each other to be the tallest and fattest. If ever a flower was a celebration of sheer life-force, then it must be the sunflower!
We haven’t quite switched off our grey matter however, as we have been doing some investigative work about the presence of the Knights Templar in the region, and have been finding out some very interesting facts. This has largely been initiated by our visit to the church at Folgosa, and here I must make a correction to my last blog entry – we are now certain that the figures in the flames of the wall paintings are not souls in hell, but a depiction of the burning of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century – something that did not take place in Portugal, but occurred across Spain and France. The symbology in the wall-paintings points very strongly indeed to the church having been built by the Knights Templar, and this poses more questions as to what connection the Order had with the Góis region – watch the history section of the website for any answers we discover…
Yesterday was a history day, as we went out with our friend Professor João Simões, the Góis Historian, to visit some sites of particular, but as yet unlisted, historical interest.
The first port of call was the little village of Roda Cimeira, where there exists the unexplained phenomenon of the Roman columns. These granite columns, almost certainly of authentic Roman origin, appear quite casually integrated into several buildings in the village. Several of the buildings are dated as 18th century, but there is no known or recorded reason as to how the columns come to be here in this village. The local explanation given is that they are ‘Moorish’ (i.e. ‘old’ in local parlance.) Our hypothesis is that they are an indication that there was once a Roman villa in the close vicinity, and that subsequent Portuguese house-builders have, in pragmatic fashion, taken what materials seemed useful and incorporated them into their own buildings. The granite used to make the columns would have been imported from at least 30km away, so the building for which they were intended must have been something prestigious. In every other respect, Roda Cimeira is like the other villages in the area – but the other villages do not have Roman columns.
While spending time in the village (which incidentally has a super swimming area created in the river Sinhel) we also heard from an 82-year old resident of the village who used to work as a gold and tungsten miner for both the English and the German mining companies in the area. Allegedly some of the miners (who were not employed by the companies but were only paid for what they quarried) devised many ingenious ways of smuggling gold nuggets past the guards, including in their mouths, in their shoes, and in the pots of soup that they would take for their lunch, but not actually eat!
Next we made a return visit to the beautifully-situated village of Folgosa, that sits high on a ridge of land above the Ceira valley. Folgosa was once a village of importance, as it lay directly on an old trade route up the Ceira valley, thought to date back to the Bronze Age. Now it is a quiet place, and no-one would suspect the treasure that is contained in its little chapel on the hill. When the door is un-locked and you step inside you are greeted with the most magnificent set of medieval ceiling and wall paintings. The saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are depicted on the ceiling, looking as fresh as the day they were painted. On either side of the altar the flames of hell are licking around some unfortunate souls, beneath two representations of the Queen of Heaven, bearing what look like acanthus leaves. One of the figures is holding what appears to be a tooth-extracting instrument complete with tooth – the meaning of the symbol escapes me! We are hoping that more notice will be taken of this wonderful little church, and that Folgosa will be recognised for the historical importance that it has. We suspect that there is still much of significance to be discovered in this area.
Driving home after the sun had set, we were entranced to watch the full moon rising behind the wind turbines above Mestras - a spectacular finish to an inspiring day.
Last night we enjoyed a real treat down at the Largo do Pombal in Góis – for the finale of the annual GóisArte festival, an outdoor performance was staged of the comic opera “As Damas Trocadas” (“The Changed Ladies”). The Largo, which has been recently renovated (and should rightly now be called the ‘Largo Francisco Inácio Dias Nogueira’– but Largo do Pombal is easier to remember!) was transformed by full theatrical lighting into a stage set, atmospherically decorated by dozens of flickering oil lamps placed around the square. Knowing nothing about the opera or the performers we were unsure what to expect, but from the opening bars of piano music we knew it was going to be something good, and for the best part of two hours we were transported by an excellent performance from a most professional company.
Coming from the UK, we are unused to sitting down to watch any kind of performance starting at 10.45pm and not finishing until well after midnight, but in Portugal this is quite normal, and the audience was made up of people of all ages. Fortunately the night was dry and still, if a little chilly, and a waxing moon hung over the square to add to the effect. There is something very special about performance out of doors.
It is wonderful to have the GóisArte Festival – this is the third that we have been here for and the content is very varied and often surprising. On Saturday night we listened to the ‘Orquestra Típica Albicastrense’ perform down by the river - singing a lively and moving selection of folk songs about the region, accompanied by guitars and mandolins. Other performances over the weekend included jazz, fado, a clarinet quartet and ballet – it is only a pity we did not manage to see everything on offer!
For more photos of “As Damas Trocadas” click here.
This is the season for visitors, both personal and holiday-makers. The delights of the area attract people back from the cities at this time of the year – many returning to their family homes in the villages for their holidays. Festas are taking place throughout July and August in many villages, in honour of the patron saints, and the villages are festooned with colourful decorations as they prepare for dancing and partying. The local festa is often the highlight of the year, and can bring back together scattered families for a celebration of traditional life.
For those of us ‘estrangeiros’, it is both charming and gratifying to witness the continuation of such tradition, and a privilege to be included in the festivities. It is reassuring to know that the values of community persist despite all the intrusions and distractions of the technological world.
We recently had visitors ourselves, and it is always interesting to see the area again through fresh eyes – as things become familiar, we tend to take them for granted. As we sat outside the restaurant in Góis long after the sun had gone down, and watched small children playing up and down the street, we were reminded that in so many places now such safety no longer exists. Here we can still enjoy tremendous natural beauty, purity of air and water, and the freedom for our children to roam, even as modern communications are on the doorstep. Increasingly, people are finding their way here from harsher environments, in search of these precious qualities of life, and we are received warmly by communities that have experienced decades of struggle and subsequent emigration. The challenge is to contribute to life here in a positive way, to preserve the qualities that make this area so special while offering new avenues for growth and inclusion. It is up to all of us, native inhabitants and incomers, to ensure that this unique region retains its heart as it develops and evolves, so that it can continue to refresh and inspire all those who come here, whether to stay, or simply to recharge.