Is it possible to find beauty in ruins? Can one see artistic glimmers within a place that is in a state of decay and neglect? The answer undoubtedly is yes, and Portugal is a testament to that answer.
When I first moved to Portugal, almost two years ago, I was fascinated by what I saw as my wife and I traveled through every niche and crevice exploring our new home. We saw many remains of castles and a few grand buildings which are an exoskeleton of their former grandeur. Particularly intriguing were the smaller villages and towns which had a curiously inviting battered and ramshackle visual appeal. As an amateur photographer, I am always looking for something contrary, something artistic in things not generally associated with art. Thus, I found the decomposed state of this beautiful and old country, my new home, to be intriguing.
Portugal was a former world power but the 15th and 16th centuries were a long time ago. Still, its worldwide economic, political, explorative, and cultural influence existed, which is why I was curious as to why its villages do not today have the imposing grandeur and architectural valor possessed by other European countries. Simply put, the towns in the heart of Portugal are conspicuously small, compact, and unimpressive; at least on the surface. Often, these structures are a train of buildings compressed into the contiguous mass with no distinct visual appeal or fascination; that’s if you are looking at the forest and not the buds on the trees.
Within certain towns, you will find many uniquely colored buildings painted with a pigment that can only be replicated by time and history. These buildings have stones peering through broken plaster facades of blues, oranges, and greens that cannot be reproduced by today’s artisans.
Some of the most beautiful visuals in Portugal are seen through broken windows and falling down doors which are only those objects in the academic sense of the words. They once had glass and frames. They once had hinges and doorknobs. Today, these broken portals peer into braided vine and flower covered living spaces while clutching what was once the interior of a house. They can also be merely holes in the one remaining wall of a building that is crumbling but which overlooks a tapestried landscape of burgundy and rusting-green vineyards in late October.
This kind of inconspicuous beauty is found everywhere in Portugal; you must want to see it. A person must have an appreciation for beauty in the most unusual places. You must look and imagine. In the same way you discern floating clouds of mountains which hover over a seaside village. It is like a little boy looking at clouds and seeing an elephant or the profile of a head. This is how you must "see" Portugal to perceive its beauty despite its decay.
Now, I find these obscure artistic treasures appealing, but what is even more unusual is that it appears Portugal is comfortable with its current dilapidated state.
Portugal is an old man. It is an old man who has been wearing the same musty grey clothes for scores of years, and he seems unwilling or resistant to change. This old man is content with his clothing no matter how frayed and stained they may be, and if you do not like it, well, he didn’t ask for your opinion. Occasionally, he will wear a colorful new tie that was given to him by some “immigrant” cousin and that strangely accents his decade's old outfit.
Yes, that’s Portugal, and I love that old man.