Multi-millionaire British philanthropist helps Setúbal become centre of culture

Fortress || Octogenarian benefactor Helen Hamlyn is stepping in to help Setúbal council put its town on the cultural map.

The multi-millionaire British philanthropist who has been transforming buildings of “global historical significance” for years has now set her sights on the 17th century fortress of Albarquel which has been abandoned to the elements for decades.

It is a coup for the council, whose mayor Maria das Dores Meira described the State’s release of the building into the council’s possession as “an historic moment”.

The Helen Hamlyn Trust will now plough at least €2 million into refurbishing the ancient structure originally built as a defence in the glittering reign of Dom João IV.

Standing at the mouth of the Sado River, the fortress could be ready to open its doors to the public within a year.

Plans include a museum that will mount temporary as well as permanent exhibitions and cultural events.

They have in fact been ‘on the cards’ for years, but “only this government” took the necessary steps to make it possible, explained the mayoress.

The passing of the fortress to Setúbal council for 32 years went ahead under a Portuguese Law covering cultural donations – but without the British Trust’s input none of the transformation plans would be possible.

“There is no money!” Maria das Dores Meira told reporters, describing how Helen Hamlyn is “passionate not only about fortresses, but also about Setúbal”.

The 81-year-old, whose multi-millionaire husband Paul gave her a charity for her 50th birthday, already finances the town’s popular music festival.

Concerts, poetry readings, plays and other recitals promise now to play a much larger part of Setúbal life as they will have the fortress as a new potential venue.

German benefactors also involved.

Mayor Dores Meira also revealed interest from a resident expatriate German couple of art collectors who plan to restore the space around the fortress, constructing a walkway to link with the town’s nearby park and beach.

Hans-Peter Bühler and Marion Buehler-Brockhaus not long ago paid for the restoration of a tile panel in the town’s marketplace.

“There is no other way we could do these things,” the mayoress reiterated – hinting that once all the renovation works are completed, there “will be the right conditions for a five-star hotel on the land adjoining the fortress”.

There are “interested parties” as well, she told Diário de Notícias.

Reader commentary following the story welcomes the news, highlighting the fact that Setúbal is a town “full of incredible potential”, a “paradise just waiting to be discovered”.

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