Last year we enjoyed a fascinating day in Portalegre and I would certainly return. We started in the old town, at the Cathedral founded in 1556, and enjoyed walking through the streets, watching people, taking in the scents (there is always something interesting in the air!), and stopping for coffee and pasteis de nata – I love Portuguese baking!
This must have been a very powerful city – crests and coats of arms were everywhere. The 18C Barahona Palace overlooked a quiet square and I have subsequently read about the Amarelo Palace and other grand buildings – next time!
Portalegre is close to the Spanish border and so was fortified with a castle and walls by King Dinis in the Middle Ages (who else?!) We did not go into the museum on this occasion.
What I most wanted to see in Portalegre was The Tapestry Museum and I was not disappointed. The Marquis of Pombal set up tapestry factories in the 18C but these did not survive and it was only the the 20C that tapestry making was successfully revived. ‘..In 1946, two friends called Guy Fino and Manuel Celestino Peixeiro, decided to produce hand-knotted carpets in Portalegre…’. It was not a success. Then they switched to hand-made tapestry on the suggestion of Celestino’s father, and finally the future was secured with the endorsement of their work by Jean Lurçat in 1952. He was shown the French original and the Portalegre copy side by side the preferred the Portalegre work! (I saw a wonderful exhibition of Lurçat tapestries in Graaff Reinet, South Africa, last year – do have a look here.)
A vast number of colours are used and on display in the museum, with designs and demonstrations of how the weaving is done.
The Municipal Museum was next on the ‘must-see’ list and was absolutely stunning. Situated in one of the grand mansions in the city it is filled with wonderful things and the curator is extremely helpful and friendly – quite different to what we found this year in Castelo Branco.
After all this information we needed some fresh, uncomplicated air and walked in the Park of Miguel Bombarda near the Church of the Calvary, the Monastery of St Bernard of 16C, and the Santa Casa da Misericórdia – lots more to see on another visit!
Do include Portalegre on your next visit to Portugal!