One of the many things I love about Portugal is its art. And I’m not talking about the kind of things that hang on the walls in galleries and museums but the type of art that’s out there on the streets.
Portuguese public art can take many forms – some forms to be found in many parts of the world, some that are pretty much unique to this small but often surprisingly vibrant country.
One art form that typifies Portugal and gets a lot of attention in tourist guides etc. is its ‘azulejos’, painted tiles used for everything from small decorative panels and signs to creations covering a building’s entire walls (inside or out).
Another highly visible art form but one that doesn’t get so much attention is Portugal’s pavements.
Created using small cubes of stone, often marble and granite, they can be visually incredibly striking. Although the downside is that they are not good for cyclists and can be lethally slippery when wet (striking in a less pleasant fashion).
There’s also a quirky side to Portuguese art, evident in everything from murals on buildings, ‘grafitti’ on derelict structures and some more subtle touches. The cat and mouse in the selection below is one of my favourites.
It’s also probably not intentional, but when I look at the statue of Dinis and Isabel from Trancoso, it does make me think of Prince Farquaad from Shrek.
In more recent times, big murals and festivals of street art have become common in larger towns and cities but public art isn’t uncommon in villages and towns that more rarely feature on the tourist trail.
The cockerel and the monkeys in the selection below are by grafitti artist Artur Bordalo, who uses street rubbish for his ‘trash art’ as a warning about pollution.
Sometimes murals are used to highlight specific events or culture, such as an art festival, traditional music or a selection of local faces. Or just to bring some colour and life to a bus stop!
But a tribute to Portugal’s public art wouldn’t be complete without a mention of their roundabouts!
Portugal does roundabouts like nowhere else I’ve ever visited. Tributes to the country’s bombeiros (firefighters) are probably the most frequent – the majority of bombeiros are volunteers and, as well as dealing with fires, both domestic and enormous forest fires, they’re often the first on the scene at any accident or disaster.
But roundabout sculptures aren’t just limited to one theme. Scale also tends to be BIG and villages are as likely to have something eyecatching as the nearest big town.
The Mad Max-style firefighters’ tribute from Almodovar, with the bombeiros motto vida por vida (life for life), is by sculptor Aureliano Aguilar, who’s also responsible for the Archangel in Vila Nova de Milfontes.
The giant granite musicians are on the outskirts of Ferreirim, a village that had a population of 457 in 2011 and celebrate the 20th anniversary of its town band.
Trancoso is a larger town (population of almost 10,000) and two roundabouts on the approach celebrate the 1385 battle when a local army trounced a much larger force from Castille.