The Sagres Fortress Exhibition Centre, an interactive and multimedia venue dedicated to the Portuguese Discoveries and Infante D. Henrique (or Prince Henry the Navigator), was inaugurated on Sunday by the Regional Board of Culture of the Algarve (DGRA).
“This is a very happy day because this was a difficult process,” said DGRA boss Adriana Freire Nogueira.
“This is the result of an idea that had been announced long ago. The project started in 2009 and ended in 2012, with the renovation of the outside spaces, walls, tower and this very building,” Nogueira explained.
In 2012, a public presentation was held detailing the goals of the project, followed in 2018 by an update of the technological components, because “technology is always evolving”.
“I know there was great effort from those who preceded me (Dália Paulo and Alexandra Rodrigues Gonçalves) for this to happen, an effort that I continued and which, thanks to the whole DRGA team, led to the start of procedures at the end of 2019 to launch the public tender, and to this very moment.”
The overall cost of the investment represented around €3.1 million, financed by national tourism authority Turismo de Portugal (45%), the European Regional Development Fund (35%), and PIPITAL – Public Investment Programme of Touristic Interest for the Algarve (20%, with part of the funds coming from Turismo de Portugal and regional development commission CCDR Algarve).
The new centre is divided into two sections.
“The permanent exhibition – or better yet, the long-duration exhibition, because permanence goes against the investigation and reflection we hope it will generate – is located on the ground floor,” Freire Nogueira explained.
The exhibition looks to the past with critical eyes, she said, leading visitors to question and reflect upon it.
“We call it ‘permanent’ because it won’t change a lot in the coming years, but due to its richness and intensity, it is not an exhibition to be visited only once and it will certainly be updated,” the regional culture boss said.
“Different moments in the history of this territory can be discovered, from Infante D. Henrique to the expansion of the East, the cult of São Vicente and maps of the era. The good and the bad of the Portuguese discoveries. There is also a half model of a ship with spices,” she said.
It is, in essence, a multisensory exhibition with lighting effects and olfactory experiences, Nogueira added.
The upper floor will be dedicated to temporary contemporary art exhibitions.
“Seeing Sagres Fortress as a centre of contemporary art as well is the challenge that we pitch to our visitors,” said Nogueira.
The plan is to have two major temporary exhibitions per year.
Adriana Nogueira said that the gallery, which will open with the “Invisible Territories” exhibition by Manuel Baptista, “intends to provide new perspectives and views, either through historical content or a more contemporary vision”.
This exhibition is being curated by Miriam Tavares and Pedro Cabral, from the Centre of Investigation of Arts and Communication (CIAC) of the University of Algarve, with which DRGA is working on a protocol for this space.
Hopes are that this new attraction will help expand upon the fortress’ success.
According to Freire Nogueira, the monument is already an international attraction, having welcomed over 454,000 visitors in 2019, making it the third most visited monument in Portugal.
In 2021, a year still affected by Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the fortress registered 232,848 visitors, helping it climb to the second spot on the national ranking.
The latest numbers show that the fortress has welcomed 401,952 visitors between January and October, just a few ticks below the 421,268 that visited the monument during the same period in 2019.
Around 84% of visitors were foreigners in 2019, while the percentage dropped to 69% in 2021 (very likely due to the restrictions still in place last year).
“The numbers speak for themselves and echo Sagres Fortress’ recognition as one of the most important national monuments and, consequentially, one of the most visited,” the culture boss celebrated.
“They also show that recognition comes from foreigners as well. It was this very acknowledgement that led to the project being presented here today,” Nogueira said.
Vila do Bispo mayor Rute Silva described the opening of the centre as “very gratifying” for all that Sagres represents and said it will be an “asset” that will add another reason to visit the municipality.
João Neto, president of the Portuguese Association of Museology (APCOM), also praised the new centre and said it is “very important for our Portuguese identity”.
“We cannot forget that Sagres, Infante D. Henrique and also Vasco da Gama are three international brands that Portugal has. This centre fills a gap that existed not only in the Algarve but across Portugal.
“It uses technology which facilitates the understanding and communication of such an extensive matter as our history and cultural heritage. It is an old desire that has materialised and, without a doubt, was needed,” Neto said.
Meanwhile, Adriana Freire Nogueira revealed that a Group of Sagres Fortress Friends is already being created with the goal of helping organise activities at the centre very soon.
The concept for the content of the Sagres Fortress Interpretive and Exhibition Centre was created by CHAM, the Humanities Centre linked to the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of Lisbon’s NOVA University and University of Azores.
The works were led by professor João Paulo Oliveira e Costa, with the help of Carla Alferes Pinto, José Ferreira and Sofia Diniz. Meanwhile, Professor Fernando António Baptista Pereira developed the programme and content and selected the items and texts displayed.
Portuguese company Edigma was responsible for implementing and coordinating the global project.
Photos: BRUNO FILIPE PIRES/OPEN MEDIA GROUP