Ephemeral gardens in Viseu

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Every year, the Ephemeral Gardens festival jolts Viseu, a serene city in the interior of Portugal. Sandra Oliveira organizes this grand event, inspiring a large troupe of collaborators to adorn Viseu with modern art and serenade it with contemporary music.

Shops become installation spaces, ancient churches double as music venues, old walls serve as canvases for street art. Every plaza seems to have its own DJ, every garden its own sculpture show.

Stores, bookshops, restaurants, and bars stay open until late. The flowers of the linden trees blend their fragrance with the aromas of chocolate, vanilla and popcorn. There are workshops to attend, movies to watch, performances not to miss. It is a wonderful celebration of the many ways in which the old inspires the new.

The Ephemeral Gardens (Jardins Efémeros) festival runs from July 1 to 10, 2016. All events are free. Click here to see the program. 

The great Vasco

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Vasco Fernandes worked as a painter in Viseu during the first half of the 16th century. His prodigious talent earned him the nickname Grão Vasco, the great Vasco. According to legend, he once painted a fly that looked so real that his apprentices tried to shoo it away.

It is easy to believe this story when you’re standing in front of his masterpiece, a painting called Saint Peter that is the crown jewel of Viseu’s Grão Vasco Museum. The intricate architectural elements and background scenes are influenced by the work of Italian, German and Flemish painters. But the pope’s rugged face and gentle look are Portuguese.

Who was the model for the painting?  We like to think that it was a shepherd from the Estrela mountain. That the great painter trusted the keys of heaven to someone who on earth lived a simple life.

The Grão Vasco museum is located at Adro Sé in Viseu, tel 232 422 049.

 

The coolest place in Viseu

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The coolest place in Viseu is called Carmo 81. It is an art gallery where you can have a drink, listen to live music, watch a movie, attend a workshop or simply hang out. Located on a winding street in the heart of the old city, the name of the gallery doubles as its address: Rua do Carmo, 81.

The gallery occupies a space that was for many years a farming equipment store. The thick granite walls and elegant oak beans retired from a hard life of selling irrigation equipment to pursue their dream of being surrounded by art.

Viseu is already the coolest place in Portugal during July, when the Ephemeral Gardens festival fills this ancient city with art installations, live music and modern dancing. Now, with Carmo 81, Viseu is cool all year round!

Carmo 81 is located on Rua do Carmo 81, Viseu, tel. 232 094 366. Click here to see a list of upcoming events.

Wood saints

Christmas Card 2015

The Grão Vasco museum in Viseu houses an exquisite collection of wood statues from the 18th century. The names of the sculptors who created these pieces have long been lost. What remains is the mastery with which they used their mallets and chisels to breathe life into wood.

The Grão Vasco museum is located at Adro Sé in Viseu, tel 232 422 049.

Viseu turned upside down

Mesas

Roman cities are generally organized around two perpendicular streets, the “cardo” and the “documanus.” In Viseu, an elegant city in the interior of Portugal, the cardo is called Rua Direita. This ancient street has been turned upside down by an installation called Mesas (the Portuguese word for tables). Artists Pedro Rebelo and Ricardo Jacinto suspended in the air tables once used by jewelers, tailors, office workers, school children, card and ping-pong players. These tables project sounds recorded while they were in use, inviting us to celebrate the people who study, work, and play in this city.

Mesas is part of Ephemeral Gardens, a great annual event which fills the streets of Viseu with art, music, dance, theater, and gastronomy. Click here for more information.

Summer feasts

CavalhadasIn the 17th century, the Viseu region depended on the waters of the Pavia river to irrigate the farmland and power the watermills. In 1652, after a terrible drought, farmers built dykes that reduced the river flow to a trickle. As a result, the watermills in the village of Vildemoinhos stopped working. The millers clashed with the farmers over water rights until, in 1653, the royal court resolved the case with a verdict favorable to the millers.

To show their appreciation for this life-saving decision, the millers organized a cavalcade called Cavalhada through the city of Viseu. The Cavalhada was so successful that it became an annual event. It is held on June 24 (St. John’s day). Farmers sell pots of wild basil and children feast on Viriatos, a local sweet. There are marching bands, traditional dancing troupes, groups of drummers, and giant paper-machê dolls.

This Cavalhada is one of the many Summer feasts organized everywhere across the country. If you see a sign for Festa Popular (popular feast), be sure to stop by. They’re always fun events. And they celebrate the ancient traditions that make Portugal more than just a pretty landscape.

A childhood treat

Farturas are similar to Spanish churros but they are larger and softer.  A light dough made of eggs and flour is squeezed out of a pastry bag to form a large spiral shape. The dough is gently fried in oil and then cut into pieces with a pair of scissors. These pieces are sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and served immediately. Eating a warm fartura makes you feel like a kid again: everything is simple and wondrous and the infinite future looks sweet.  You can find farturas in many fairs. Our favorites are from the São Mateus fair in Viseu. This year the fair runs until September 23. So, you still have time to go and be a kid again.