House on the hillside

Costa da Caparica – the woman and her rich cape

We have had some questionable weather these past first weeks of summer but, with the sun finally starting to shine through and with the new and cheaper Navegante Metropolitano pass which extends the public transport to all 18 municipalities of the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, it is finally time for me and the rest of Lisbon to flock to the sandy shores of Costa da Caparica.

Costa da Caparica is located in the municipality of Almada along the western coast of the Setúbal Peninsula, around 20km from Lisbon. Due to the receding ocean, the coast divides into various continuous beaches, expanding over 30km. As a result, Costa da Caparica is the perfect destination to take long walks, dip in the ocean and discover the small houses built upon the sandy hillsides. As a matter of fact, the name Caparica originates from an old legend about an old woman who dwelled upon one of those very hills.

“One afternoon, many years ago, a young girl sat along the coastline of what is now known as Costa da Caparica, as she watched the sun slowly disappear behind the deep blue horizon.

All the while, an old man who lived upon the sandy hillside had been observing the young girl who peacefully sat upon a rock as if time itself stood still. Once the sun had finally set and no one had come for the young girl, the old man took it upon himself to call out to her. He later discovered that she had been wandering the lands alone her whole life, boasting nothing but a cape wrapped around her shoulders which she had carried with her for as long as she could remember.

As the old man also lived by himself, he decided to take the girl in and together they lived upon the hillside as he grew old and she grew up. Each day they watched the sun go down just as they had done the very first day, until one night the old man felt cold, so she covered him with her cape and together they fell asleep. However, after that night, the old man never awoke again.

From there on, the young girl became a young woman, living a lonely life atop the hillside in the former old man’s house. Once again, her only company was the sun, the sea and the clouds that gently passed by above her.

As the years went by, rumours spread throughout the land of a lonely old woman who lived atop the hillside, who crafted gold and possessed sinister magical powers. Word of a malevolent witch eventually reached the King who then had her brought to the castle. ‘They say you are a witch’ – he blasted. ‘They say you are powerful, capable of magical hexes and spawning gold.’ But the now old woman contested, confirming that she was nothing but a poor old woman whose sole possession was nothing but a cape she had carried with her since the day she was born. With no evidence proving the contrary, the King eventually let her go, ashamed that he could not see what others made her out to be.

The days went by and the seasons changed, but the rumours did not. Eventually, time caught up with the old woman and, after a long absence, the local villagers later found her covered by her cape, just as she had once covered the old man. Resting upon the cape was a letter addressed to the King.

«My Lord. I leave you the cape which I have carried with me my whole life. Within it I found all the gold that I was always rumoured to possess. It was put there by an old companion of mine before he passed but, having only found it now in my old age, I no longer have any need for it. Use it as you wish to enrich this land. It turns out, after all this time, I didn’t just possess a cape, but a rich cape»

With the gold, the King fulfilled the old woman’s request and, from there on, the coast was named Capa-Rica, which translates to Rich Cape.”

The coast is also famous for its surf centre and its celebrated cuisine. According to legend, in 1824 King John VI of Portugal was visiting the coast whilst staying at a house known today as the Casa da Coroa. During his stay, it is said that he tried a seafood stew so delicious that he ordered that the royal coat-of-arms be raised along the front of the house. Unfortunately, the house no longer exists, however, you can still enjoy delicious seafood in any of the many restaurants that extend along the beaches.

By Jay Costa Owen
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Jay recently graduated from the Faculty of Fine Artes in Lisbon. Jay’s interests are exploring new cultures through photography and the myths, legends and history that define them. 

Sandy hillsides
House on the hillside
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