Hidden Portugal-Unusual Things to Do in Portugal
1-Porto’s Livraria Lello
When you first enter Porto’s Livraria Lello, you might think that you’ve entered a church instead of a bookstore.
Its Art Nouveau façade hides a beautiful Neo-Gothic interior, with a stained glass ceiling, carved wood paneling, and a breathtaking, curvaceous staircase that stretches across the store.
Designed by Xavier Esteves, over the windows can be seen figures painted by José Bielman, representing “Science” and “Art.” Along with a stained glass window bearing a monogram of “Lello and Brother” with their motto Decus in Labore (“Honor in Work”), are plant motifs and geometric shapes.
Opened in 1906, Livraria Lello is an established bookstore, but it has certainly aged well over the years. It is consistently named one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.
Know Before You Go
There is now a ticket office to pre-buy your entry at the corner to the left of the Livraria. Be prepared for crowds of Potter-heads.
2-Chapel of Bones in Évora
The Chapel of Bones in Évora, Portugal, is part of the larger Royal Church of St. Francis, and was constructed by Franciscan monks in the late 16th century.
The Chapel’s story is a familiar one. By the 16th century, there were as many as 43 cemeteries in and around Évora that were taking up valuable land. Not wanting to condemn the souls of the people buried there, the monks decided to build the Chapel and relocate the bones.
However, rather than interring the bones behind closed doors, the monks, who were concerned about society’s values at the time, thought it best to put them on display. They thought this would provide Évora, a town noted for its wealth in the early 1600s, with a helpful place to meditate on the transience of material things in the undeniable presence of death. This is made clear by the thought-provoking message above the chapel door: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.”
The design of the Chapel of Bones in Evora is based on the ossuary of San Bernadino alla Ossa in Milan, Italy. The immediate view as you enter the Chapel gives you some idea of its scale and the sheer number of bodies that are interred here — some 5,000 corpses. Among them, in a small white coffin by the altar, are the bones of the three Franciscan monks who founded the church in the 13th century. Also included are two desiccated corpses hanging by chains from the wall next to a cross. One is that of a child.
The purpose of the Chapel is made clear by a poem (translated below by Rev. Carlos A. Martins), written by Father Antonio da Ascencao, that hangs from one pillars:
“Where are you going in such a hurry traveler? Pause… do not advance your travel; You have no greater concern Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.
Recall how many have passed from this world, Reflect on your similar end, There is good reason to reflect If only all did the same.
Ponder, you so influenced by fate, Among all the many concerns of the world, So little do you reflect on death;
If by chance you glance at this place, Stop… for the sake of your journey, The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be.”
Just in case all that death should cause you to despair, at the end of the Chapel, above the altar, you can read the Latin phrases: “I die in the light” and “The day that I die is better than the day that I was born.”
3-Drowned Village of Vilarinho da Furna
In a rare occurrence, during a particularly dry spell in Portugal’s Minho region, Vilarinho da Furna emerges from beneath the water to reveal the bare walls of a 2000-year-old town destroyed by an electric company.
In 1967, construction began on a dam that would flood areas of the River Homem, and provide massive hydroelectricity to the region. Amid some protest, the Portuguese Electricity Company paid off residents to leave their homes, as the dam would completely submerge the small village of 300 people. In 1971, the last resident left the town, and its barren structures awaited the deluge that would bury it beneath the river.
In 1972, the town was submerged, plunging over 2000 years of history in the village into water. According to oral accounts, the town was founded by Romans in the 1st century C.E., and was prosperous throughout its history. Today, the barren walls, windows and doors rise mysteriously when the dam water levels fall.
A museum dedicated to the lost city was built in nearby São João do Campo, and other commemoration efforts have taken place since the town was flooded 40 years ago. Recently, boats with transparent bottoms have also taken tourists near the village so the remains of the city can be seen and the history not lost forever.
4-Boca do Inferno
Boca do Inferno (in English: “Mouth of Hell”) is a scenic cliff formation located west of Cascais, Portugal. It gets its name from the rough ocean waves which crash against the cliff face, forcing their way into a cave system, and spraying angrily from an opening above.
The cave has been a tourist attraction for centuries. One of the first “actuality films”, A Sea Cave Near Lisbon (1896), was shot from inside the cave to showcase the majestic waves pouring in.
Boca do Inferno is better known as the place where Aleister Crowley, the famed astrologer, magician and occultist faked his death in 1930. With the help of poet Fernando Pessoa, he was able to give the appearance of a suicide (perhaps inspired by the death of the Greek philosopher Empedocles, who threw himself into a volcano). Pessoa handed Crowley’s suicide note to newspapers, helpfully explaining the Thelemic symbols and translating the mangled Portuguese to police and media alike. Crowley reappeared three weeks later at the opening of an exhibition of his works in a Berlin gallery, suggesting this whole affair was more publicity stunt than anything else. The content of the note also indicates it was intended to annoy his lover and magickal partner.
Today, there is a small white plaque mounted on the rock commemorating the event. It tells the story of the pseudocide and provides the text of Crowley’s suicide note: “Não Posso Viver Sem Ti. A outra ‘Boca De Infierno’ apanhar-me-á não será tão quente como a tua,” which translates roughly to “Can’t live without you. The other mouth of hell that will catch me won’t be as hot as yours.” That might be touching if any of it were genuine.
here has been controversy since the first photos of the Stone House, or Casa do Penedo, emerged on the internet. The Portuguese cottage seemed too unlikely to be real and doubters immediately sprang upon the home as a photoshop hoax.
Those doubting the authenticity certainly had their evidence. Most of the photos of the house were taken only from two angles, and the had clearly been edited significantly. People set up in camps of opposing internet communities, each stating their cases and hoping to sway cyberspace toward their conclusion.
After intense debate, a conclusion bolstered by a Portuguese television channel special and an article in the Daily Mall tipped the scale. Despite some artistic liberties on the part of the photographer, the house in the Fafe countryside was in fact real. The house has even been featured in a Portuguese film called “Moon.”
Sandwiched improbably between two boulders in the midst of majestic Portuguese countryside, the Stone House is a wonder. The construction was inspired by the Flintstones. The interior is simple and sparse and makes a strong architectural statement. It is also worthwhile to be reminded that in an age where anything can be fabricated, the world is a big place and holds wonders beyond photoshop.
The property is now surrounded by a 1.5m wire and barned wire fence on all sides. The front slip also is covered with bracken. The small swimming pool building is an area to investigate.
Know Before You Go
From Fafe take the N311 to Moreira de Rei and just before the exit to Varzea Cova go right up the hill on a stone road to Lameirinha. The road is very steep and care must be taken. Access is possible via the road from the other side, albeit with a narrow village road to access. On top of the mountain is the house. No trespassing allowed though and a fence has been put up around the property.
6-Bordallo Pinheiro Garden
A beautiful small garden in the Museum of the City of Lisbon, where the amazing (and a little frightening) giant porcelain creations of Portuguese 19th-century artist Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro bask in the sun.
Scattered in huge and unlikely scenes amongst the trees, bushes and live peacocks are oversized snakes, lizards, toads, bees, shellfish, mushrooms, cats – all made of china. While much of the artwork is obscure, one piece is well-known – the gold medal that Bordallo Pinheiro won in the Paris International Exhibition of 1889.
Directly across the Campo Grande from the City Museum is the Rafael Bordallo Pinhiero Museum dedicated to the artist himself.
Know Before You Go
The fountain with the crabs is no longer decorated with anything. There is only red and white perimeter tape around it.
7-Conimbriga Ruins and Museum
With an estimated population of around 10,600, Conimbriga was not the largest Roman city in Portugal, but it was close, and it is the best preserved, remaining mostly unearthed until the 2000s. The city was inhabited between 9th century BC and 7th or 8th century AD.
Built over several different periods between 5000 and 4000 BCE, the Almendres Cromlech are the finest example of Neolithic structures on the Iberian Peninsula, though it remained undiscovered until 1966.
The site consists of several classic megalithic structures, primarily cromlechs, and menhir stones. Arranged in patterns of two concentric rings – an eastern circle and a larger oval in the west – the 95 almond-shaped stones seen today represent a gradual process of accumulation and redistribution over time.
The smaller ring to the east is the oldest section of the site, constructed during the early Neolithic period circa 6000 BCE, while the western oval ring is thought to have been built during the Almendres era 5000 BCE. During a third period around 3000 BCE, many of the stones seem to have been repositioned to better align with the moon, sun and stars.
As is common with such ancient sites, the purpose of Almendres Cromlech remains unknown. With the stones’ final repositioning to be in-line with celestial bodies, geometric patterns already found at Almendres Cromlech were strengthened further, making the intentionality of the stones’ presence and arrangement undoubtable, even if the deeper rationale and rituals contained therein remain a mystery.
Know Before You Go
There are no public transport options and the stones are far from any major roads. To the east of Evora just off the main N114 which connects Evora to Montemor-o-Novo. The total distance from the edge of Evora to the historic site is 16km (10miles) and takes approximately 25minutes.
9-Tomb of Inês de Castro
The passionate but ill-fated love affair of Pedro, crown prince of Portugal, and his wife’s lady-in-waiting is the stuff of both bodice rippers and slasher films.
In 1340, the young Inês de Castro met Pedro when she arrived at court in his wife’s entourage. Inês and Pedro fell madly in love, and neither the disapproval of the king nor the machinations of Pedro’s wife could keep the two of them apart.
In an act of desperation, King Afonso IV, Pedro’s father, finally had Inês murdered before her children’s eyes. Pedro, heartbroken and enraged, rose up in open rebellion against his father, but ultimately failed in his quest for revenge and justice.
Two years after Inês’ death, Afonso died and Pedro became king; and here’s where things go a little sideways:
Legend holds that Pedro ordered Inês’ body to be disinterred, her corpse dressed in finery and propped up in the throne room. Pedro then ordered his vassals to pledge their obedience and loyalty to this corpse he called his wife and queen, and further demanded that they kiss her dead hand.
Formalities thus dispensed with, Pedro had his corpse bride installed in a lavish tomb in the beautiful Monastery of Alcobaça, where she remains to this day, interred next to her love.
The monastery itself was founded in 1153 by Afonso Henriques, the first Portuguese king. It survived the 1755 Great Lisbon Earthquake, but was extensively looted by invading French under Napoleon, when the extraordinary library was looted, tombs robbed, and decor demolished. It served its final days as a monastery in the mid-19th century, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The tombs of King Pedro I and his mistress, Inês de Castro, are located in the transept of the church. No one knows who carved the extraordinarily lovely and detailed tombs, but they are amongst the finest in Portugal, detailed with scenes of the final judgement, the couple’s carved likenesses held aloft by angels. The lovers face one another, their tombs inscribed with the phrase “Até ao fim do mundo…” or “Until the end of the world…”
10-National Coach Museum
Created by Queen Amélia of Portugal in 1905, the Museu Nacional dos Coches or National Coach Museum is the home of the most magnificent and valuable collections of royal coaches and carriages in the world.
The carriages reside in what was once the Horse Riding Arena of the Belém Palace in Lisbon. The Neoclassical building is opulent, with balconies and fine works of many Portuguese artists lining the walls, making it the perfect setting to view these transportation artifacts. The coaches themselves are a sight to behold—each one more ornate and gaudy than the next. One favorite attraction is adorned with a gilded scene showing Lisbon being crowned by Fame and Abundance, and a dragon trampling the Muslim crescent with abandon.
Queen Amélia created the museum to showcase the considerable collection of coaches and carriages owned by the nobility and royalty of Portugal, and the assemblage is vast. It does a fine job of displaying examples that span carriage development throughout the 16th-19th centuries—not just in Portugal, but also all across Europe; Spain, Italy, England, Austria and France.
Be a farmer for a day!