Portugal’s historical heritage in ruins.jpg

Portugal’s historical heritage in ruins

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

As much as one third of Portugal’s architectural and historical heritage is falling into ruins because the state cannot afford the upkeep of it.

According to ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­IGESPAR, the Portuguese architectural heritage institute, World Heritage monuments such as the Norman Sé cathedral in Lisbon, the Gothic monastery in Batalha, the cathedral at Évora, and Manueline Convento de Cristo convent in Tomar are all in a desperate state of repair and conservation.

In Tomar, the famous intricately carved Manueline window at the one-time seat of the Knights Templar is cracked and covered in moulds and lichens while the extremely rare paintings decorating the Medieval Altar in the Convent are in urgent need of restoration.

In the Gothic church of São Francisco in Évora, which houses the famous Capela dos Ossos, Chapel of Bones, the wooden beams that hold up the roof of Iberia’s largest nave are rotten and in need of replacement.

Within the cloisters of Lisbon Cathedral, one of the city’s most visited landmarks, Roman and Moorish archaeological ruins are open to the vagaries of the elements, damaged by the acidic excrement of pigeons and littered with plastic bottles and bags.

World Heritage monuments like the convent of Alcobaça need government and European investment for their costly upkeep.
World Heritage monuments like the convent of Alcobaça need government and European investment for their costly upkeep.

Restoration urgent

The fortress walls at Valença do Minho are in parts falling down while ancient medieval city walls at Campo Maior, Serpa and Estremoz in the Alentejo are also in a sorry state of repair.

The ruined walls at Cacela-a-Velha in the Algarve are in such a ruined state they are hardly recognisable, not to mention the dreadful state of Silves Cathedral and the rapidly disappearing Roman villa of Balça at Tavira.

All told, of 3,297 classified listed monuments, 793 National Monuments, 2,085 Monuments of Public Interest and 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one third are in desperate need of restoration and conservation.

The Ministry of Culture has been examining the Spanish model of setting aside two per cent of revenues from companies for restoration work, but the proposal has up until now remained in the drawer while two new Lei do Património heritage laws governing such restoration only come into force this year.

IGESPAR has set aside 2.8 million euros for restoration work for UNESCO monuments while 27 million euros of funds have also been set aside from the European Union, Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of the Economy and Turismo de Portugal.  

The problem is that the Portuguese state has not as yet come up with a definite set of proposals to remedy the situation, despite knowing that the country’s tourist industry is reliant on the careful conservation and upkeep of its historic and archaeological heritage.

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