Welcome to my blog. Please feel free to roam around and learn a bit more about Portuguese History. To find your interests, please, have a look at the right side of the page, where you can find all the posts arrenged into labels, such as "Society", "Politics", etc. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


For this 2nd monthly post I had something completely different in mind but I'll post it some other time. On the other hand, I also wanted to post one about bottle gourds, after I saw something about that on the Woodsrunner's diary blog and. In the meanwhile, I went to visit the Museum of Oriental art in Lisbon (about what the Portuguese brought back from that part of the world in the 16th to the 18th century) and I saw this gorgeous painting of a Portuguese princess that introduced tea into British life. So, this post will be a quick reference about those two issues.


The bottle gourd is a dried calabash used to store many different things, mostly water, since it keep it clear and cool for a long period of time. The plant is from the same vegetable family as the pumpkin or the cucumber and is also used in cooking and has been used since earlier then the Roman period.
The word calabash come from the Arab and has translated into the Iberian word Cabaça (in Portuguese) or Calabaza (in Spanish).
There are many geographical variations to this plant – like the African calabash or the use they give it in Brazil to make a birimbau – but mostly, in western history, are more familiar with the image of the Santiago of Compostela pilgrims or Iberian peasantry up to the mids of the 20th century.

Calabash beig harvested during the Middle Ages, Tacuinum Sanitatis, 1385.

Painting by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1730, depicting an 18th century pilgrim of St. James with a bottle gourd.

In Portugal, the common knowledge says that it takes up to 2 years for this “pumpkin” to dry and it would be dine so by storing them on top of the houses' roofs to expose them to the sun. Even after dried and used as bottles one shouldn't let them get damp or else it would ruin it's storage purpose. Know, what I don't know is how it gets from the vegetable state to the dried and hollow without rotting.... Beats me!

My bottle gourd hanging in a closed and sunny balcony, with room for cat, dogs and a urban vegetable patch! Picture taken by me.

And if you want to have some extra fun, here's a calabash jam recipe (same used for a common pumpkin jam):

Use a ripe calabash, peel it and remove the seeds.
Cut into little cubes and leave them for a few minutes on a sheet of fabric or kitchen paper to remove a bit of their moisture.
Store the cubes over night covered in sugar in the same amount as the calabash (+ 1/5th of it's weight).
The next day, you can mush or peel into strings the calabash that has rested over night before you take it onto the fire.
Let it cook in a pot in a medium heat with the sugar until desired thickness (it takes about 1 hour) and Bon Apétit!

And onto our next and last subject: tea!
What is the 1st thing you think about when it comes to tea? England? China? India? Any particular brand or flavor?
Yes! That's exactly what I mean: Portugal! It's the most logical and historical accurate assumption to make when speaking about a tea drinking Europe. Here's why:
1st, for all what was exotic and new in Europe, it were the Portuguese that brought it over, followed by the Spaniards, with the maritime discoveries. It's a given fact that everyone should always have in mind. Only a couple of centuries later did the British and the Dutch created a highly successful commercial development in these extra-European regions. Before the Brits moved into Africa and India, it had already belonged to us. Even Australia and New Zealand saw their 1st white man as being Portuguese.
So, it isn't wrong to assume that in Portugal (and Spain) people were exposed to new ideas, people, habits and food sooner then the remaining countries.
Secondly, and this is where I wanted to go, a Portuguese princess:

Dona Catarina de Bragança, Queen consorte of King Charles the 2nd of England. Picture taken by me, Museu do Oriente.

D. Catarina de Bragança, daughter of the Portuguese King Dom João IV, married to the English King Charles the II, in the early 18th century. She wasn't declared Queen or very much loved by the English people because of her Catholic background but there were many things she left behind after she returned to Portugal after the Kings' death. One of those things were the fashionable drinking of tea, while others were the use of cutlery (according t medieval costume, fingers and a knife were still used), smoking tobacco and orange jelly . It is also said that she had an affair with the Earl of Sandwich and he used to make little buttered pieces of bread covered in vegetables, cheeses and cold meats for her. If this is true, I don't know, but it's all looks like a bit of to much romanticism to me.
Now, you might dispute my comment of this Portuguese princess introducing tea in England. Please remember, I haven't' said such a thing! What I said is that she made it fashionable to drink. Tea was already known and sold in England. The difference is that D. Catarina de Bragança introduced her personal tea drinking habit into the English court. It was the Duchess of Bedford that then made it into the 5 o'clock tea.
So, this should be your reference when you think of tea.

Paining by William Hogarth, The Tête-a-tête, scene from the "Marriage a-la-mode", 1743/45. It shows in a humorisitc way this new fashion called tea for 2, where a couple would sit around a small table drinking tea. From here tea sets for 2 are developed.

Another curious fact is that this princess is the one behind the name of the American county Queens. New York was called New Amsterdam and when the British settled in they called the former dutch territory Queens and founded a new borough in 1640. Something that I like to call an interesting Atlantic Triangle.


I hope you enjoyed this quick research of mine. And here's a completely wild idea, why not eat a calabash jam covered slice of bread next time you have your tea?


P.S.: And to answer an old question running in my head about why in most countries it's called tea or something similar sounding and in Portugal “chá”, I'm glad to say I finally researched it. It seems that words like tea, tee, , a.so. come from the Malayan word for this beverage, while chá comes form the Cantonese and Mandarin referring to picking the plant or using it with a spoon. (added Sept.4th 2012)

Sunday, August 5, 2012


- Bugio -

This post will start a topic very near to my heart when it comes to discussing military strategy during the French Invasions: The defensive line, a maritime one, of the river Tagus, which is to say of the shoal line of Oeiras. Everybody has heard of the defensive line of Torres Vedras and how great it is, which I don't disagree with. Yes, it was planned by Arthur Wellesley and built from scratch, with the only purpose to keep of the French but my predicaments are somewhat different: 1st, I was born and raised in Oeiras; secondly, Torres Vedras' defensive line was the last defensive line against the French, while the one from Oeiras was the primary one in military strategy; this defensive line, made out of seaside fortresses and a fortress/lighthouse built in the middle of the river, existed since the 16th century and it was the one that was involved in the 1st French Invasion of 1807.
So, as you can see, I have plenty of reasons to talk about it and today we shall start with the fortress of São Lourenço da Cabeça Seca, a.k.a. Bugio (the name of the lighthouse).
I will make an exception by starting this topic, obviously, since you know that this blog isn't about the military history of Portugal during this time-period. And the reason why I'm doing it now is that yesterday I had the pleasure of being part of a guided tour to this fortress at the entrance of the city of Lisbon!

The view of the fortres and the lighthouse as we were arriving by boat. Picture taken by me.

As a historical background, one has to explain the reasons that took Portuguese Monarchs to start such an endeavor to built a fortress in the middle of the river. At it's place, where the fortress and lighthouse are standing on today, was always a little island of sand and rocks, also called “cabeça seca” in portuguese (dry head), and it always was part of the imaginary of military strategists, monarchs, engineers to use it for the purpose we know today.
During the 16th century, growing closer to the war for the Portuguese Crown with the Spaniards such idea really went forward. So we had the fortresses on each side of the river that controlled the entrance of the ships, like the fortress of São Julião da Barra (of which I shall talk about later on another post linked to this subject) and the ones on the other side of the river, like in Almada. And therefore another fortress that could interact between all of thos would be an excelent strategic idea. 

 The view of the fortress of S. Julião da Barra from the Bugio. Picture taken by me.
During the Filipine Dynasty, when Portugal and Spain shared the same king for succession reasons, the Italian monk, also an engineer, Giovanni Vicenzo Casale, planned to built this fortress. It took almost a century to be done, since it was only possible to do so during half of the year, while during Winter all that had already been built would be destroyed by the ocean.
The 1st construction was made out of wood, later being slowly replaced by stone, only to be finished after the Portuguese got their crown back in mids of the 17th century. It was during this time that the fortress also became officially a lighthouse (probably before, since it would be necessary to show the fortresses' position at night and during fog).
One of the curiosities of this project was that it was always planned to be of a round architecture, instead of the star-shaped fortresses known from that time. The logic was, ans still is, to have a clearer view of the surroundings and access from all sides alike it enemy stricked, but when it comes to military strategy it fails, since the use of cannons alongside with the seaside fortresses is practically impossible.
But there it is, a magnificent piece of military engineering and architecture, only matched by another similar construction in Brazil. One of the kind! A fortress blocking the passage of ships, together with other fortresses and with the extreme natural conditions of the water currents of the Tagus river, like hidden sand banks, rocks, underwater currents, difficult and unpredictable low and high tides, etc.
Now, you ask, what is it's relation to the French Invasions? The answer: everything and nothing! But nevertheless, a beautiful piece of history.
The French occupied it, like the rest of the country including the fortress of São Julião da Barra, in 1807, according to the peaceful surrender signed between Napoleon and the Portuguese king the Prince-Regent Dom João the 6th, while the British allies started the maritime blockade in 1808. So we have the Brits at sea, later at the fortress of São Julião and the French who remained in Bugio.

 "Lookouts" built around the top of the fortress. Picture atken by me.

 View of the Atlantic ocean from inside of these "lookouts". Picture taken by me.

It was completely covered with trees, branches and shrubbery to keep the scraps of the stonework away from injury when a cannon ball would strike.
According to Carlos Pereira Callixto, author of the book “Fortificações Marítimas do Concelho de Oeiras” (Maritime fortifications of Oeiras), in 1802 it had 26 cannons and in December 1807 was taken by Junot's soldiers. In march the year after the British Naval force strikes with cannon fire without being able to overtake this fortress (something that only happened in September the same year).
So, as you can see, even without having fired once, it was obvious to everyone the importance of it's strategic placement.
Today, it still remains where it was built, being “attacked” daily by the ocean but there's not one person living near the river and it's surroundings that would ever think of this historical land mark to ever disappear.
Unfortunately it has lost most of it's historical interior, but the chapel of São Lourenço still remains, such as the soldiers' wards and the olive oil warehouse (to keep the lighthouse in a time before electricity).

 Soldiers' wards. Picture taken by me.

 The entrance of the chapel of S. Lourenço. Picture taken by me.

 The interior of the chapel of S. Lourenço. Picture taken by me.