There are many things I love about Portugal apart from the cycling – the scenery, the history, the wine, the food, the wildflowers and, of course, the people.
But I’m also often struck by the art of Portugal. Not the kind of art you see in galleries or museums but its public and street art. The sculptures, murals and other creations that form part of the everyday backdrop to life, not just in the big cities but also in small villages well off the beaten track.
Portugal’s unique (as far as I’m aware) obsession with putting tiled facades on buildings of all shapes and sizes is one of the most obvious examples.
Sometimes these can create a thing of beauty. Other times it can look more like someone has stuck a job lot of 1970s’ bathroom tiles on the outside of a house or shop.
The country is more justly famed for its azulejos – the tiles used for decorating everything from park benches to cathedrals.
Often blue and white, azulejos can be used both to create often intricate abstract patterns (a throwback to the country’s Islamic heritage?) or to create wall paintings, advertising and information boards.
Black and white cobbles are also used to create some wonderful pavements. Not always great to walk on but unique and beautiful.
There’s also the sculptures to be found in public spaces across the country. Even in the smallest villages it’s quite normal to find large sculptures reflecting both local and national history.
Many roundabouts have statues – often quite elaborate – paying homage to the bombeiros, the firefighters who are also first-responders for most emergency situations.
Other roundabout sculptures can be more individual. One of my favourites is a roughly six-metre high statue of a cobbler by artist Aureliano Aguiar. Erected in the small town of Almodôvar, it’s not even on a main thoroughfare through the town. The stature was created out of pieces of old machinery welded together and reflects the town’s history of shoemaking.
Last week on the edge of a village near Sernacelhe, in the northern Beira Alta, I came across this marching ‘rock’ band.
There are many other examples of information street art and I could go on, but it seems simpler to let the pictures speak for themselves… The images below are a selection of shots I’ve taken across the country in recent years: