Feast days and Traditions
Traditional Arts
Festivals and Shows

Feast days and Traditions

Land of fairs and popular festivals, feast days and processions, Portugal keeps hold of its traditions, from the most religious to the most pagan, all enriched with music, colour  and joy.

In Lisbon, the month of June is reserved for Santo António, the patron saint of lovers and jokers, the source of prayer for the single and the reason for the most enjoyable parties in the city which celebrates its birth on the 13th. ´Saint Anthony was an exemplary Franciscan, and considered the protector of sailors, milkmaids, the poor, young men looking for partners and healer of infertilities.

The fame of Saint Anthony grew and intensified after the 1755 Earthquake, with the coming together of Christian and pagan practices. On the night between the 12th and the 13th, the old quarters turn into one big Country fair and in particular the historic quarter of Alfama - which on this night becomes the very heart of the city - and everyone in Lisbon goes to the street, to eat the characteristic grilled sardines, have a glass of wine and try out their folk dancing skills. It is the largest and liveliest feast day in the city, which also includes the procession of the marchas populares with representatives from each district of Lisbon.

Marchas populares, Lisbon

In Oporto, it is the feast of S. João, held on the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June. You cannot stay at home on this day and the citizens of Porto flood the historic districts armed with their leeks and toy hammers aiming to hit each other on the head. Then there is the feast day itself with folk dancing on every street corner, typical snacks and fireworks to mark the feast days of São João, which are of pagan origin, linked to and celebrating the summer solstice. 

If you are in the Centre of Portugal in July or August try not to miss the Festas da Ria, in Aveiro, which bring life and liveliness to the city and are famous due to the river regatta involving moliceiros, the characteristic coloured boats of the region which at other times take in the river's produce, a traditional economic activity of the area.

. Typical Aveiro boats,  

Coimbra is nearby, where you can attend the Queima das Fitas (the burning of the ribbons), an academic tradition with secular origins, which is held during the month of May. This tradition of burning the ribbons goes back to the 1850s. There are news reports of the period when «groups of students, having learnt that they had passed their 4th year exams, joined together in their Faculty groups at the Porta Férrea and marched in procession until the Largo da Feira and there their ribbons received their dues: they were burnt in a small hole in the ground where a small fire was burning.» The streets are filled with parades, folk dancing and those wishing to serenade one another in one of the oldest university cities in Europe. 

A few more kilometres to the North and we are in Santa Maria da Feira, a city which every August turns into a medieval village where knights in heavy armour wield great swords in jousting tournaments. For ten days, the historic city centre becomes one large fair from out of the Middle Ages with merchants, artisans, blacksmiths, bakers, mule-drivers and liquor salesmen all joining together. Inside the castle, you can get a feel for what daily life must have been like and outside it you can participate in the famous banquets and savour the delights of another age. In the streets acrobats, musicians, jugglers and fire eaters show off their arts and take the visitors on a journey through time. 

Also unmissable is the Festa dos Tabuleiros in Tomar, one of the oldest religious and cultural events in Portugal. As it is only held once every four years, mark June 2007 down now to travel to this city of the Templars to witness this unique event. The festival has its origins in the worship of the Holy Spirit, which was established by Queen Santa Isabel. The trays (tabuleiros) which the women carry on their head were originally offered to the Holy Spirit. The blessing of the trays, the decorated streets, the quilts placed in the windows, and the flowers thrown over the procession onto the hundreds of young girls who carry the trays on their head, makes for an unforgettable spectacle.

Golegã Fair     

Also unique is the National Horse Fair (previously known as the Feira de S. Martinho) in Golegã in November, and perhaps one of the most traditional festivals in the country, which goes back to the 18th Century. Thousands of people watch the various displays by the magnificent Lusitanian pure-blood horses And, as the saying goes «Pelo São Martinho prova o teu vinho» («Saint Martin's place is fine to have a taste of that wine»), there is always new wine or água-pé in small barrels available for the visitors, along with the tasty roasted chestnuts, eaten hot or cold?

If you go down to the Alentejo, do not forget to visit Campo Maior during the Festival of Flowers and see how a village can be decorated so colourfully. The roads are bewitchingly full of paper flowers in happy and colourful designs. This is normally held in the first week of September, subject to the wishes of the people.

But traditional Portuguese festivals are also strongly linked to the religious calendar and there is no city, town or the smallest village which does not form a procession to go out and celebrate its saint.

Viana do Castelo Feast   

One of the most important is the Festas da Senhora da Agonia, in Viana do Castelo where for three days the streets fill with thousands of people to witness the veneration of the city of the Virgem da Agonia, whom the fishermen pray to for mild seas.

Or Semana Santa, Holy Week, in Braga, the former Catholic capital of the Iberian Peninsula, when the city is decked out in decorations with themes referring to the period and the «Passos», street side altars, are filled with flowers and lights, to enhance the sumptuousness of the churches.

Or the Festas de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, in Lamego, where every year in September you can see the Procession of Triumph, the most symbolic of all the events, where a Senhora dos Remédios is carried on a yoke of oxen, to make Lamego the only place of Catholic worship where the image of the Virgin is transported by animals.

Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, Lamego  

Fátima is also a very unique place, where the apparitions of Our Lady turned the place into one of the major centres of worship to the cult of Mary in the world. The largest manifestations of devotion take place on the 13 May, with the Procession of Candles on the night of the 12th and the Farewell Procession on the day of the 13th, which brings the celebrations to a close. Every 13th day of the month until October, Fátima is visited by thousands of believers from all the world.

The archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores are also home to lively popular festivals which are filled with tradition.

In Funchal, the streets are full of life during Carnival and the Festa da Flor, held in homage to the flowers of Madeira. During the Festa da Flor the main streets of Funchal are invaded by a parade of creative floats which bear witness to the variety of floral species, which leave subtle wafts of perfume in the air. But the high point is actually the end of year party in Funchal, which is considered one of the most famous in the world, due to the spectacular firework display which marks the passage of each year.

The Azores consists of volcanic islands in constant activity and frequent tremors, so devotion is the only refuge of the people, expressed through the cult of the Divino Espírito Santo and Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres which brings thousands of visitors to the Azores at Easter time.

Espírito Santo Feast, Azores  

In S: Miguel a large party is held to honour the feasts of Senhor Santo Cristo, in which the image of the Convento da Esperança is carried in procession through the streets on the fifth Sunday after Easter in Ponta Delgada; a festival spirit and lights play their part to create a lively atmosphere. And finally on Terceira Island, the feast days of S. Joaninas take place in June, the major non-religious festival in the Azores and a veritable calling card for many tourists who make for Terceira to experience and share the local customs and traditions. 

To know more about portuguese touristic regions:

Alto Minho
Verde Minho
Alto Tâmega e Barroso
Nordeste Trasmontano
Serra do Marão
Douro Sul
Rota da Luz
Serra da Estrela
Costa Azul
São Mamede
Planície Dourada

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Traditional Arts 

Traditional pottery 
For centuries Portuguese craftsmen and craftswomen have moulded, spun, woven, painted and embroidered unique special treasures which have reflected the soul of their land like nothing else. These traditional arts have been renewed at the hands of contemporary designers and artists to bring a new meaning to the term tradition. Skilled and patient hands continue to give shape to filigree, cross woollen threads, shape the clay and work the glass. This is the pride and traditional knowledge of craftspeople in harmony with the Portuguese creative spirit.

The quality of our handicraft products has already gone beyond our borders. Did you know that the White House in Washington has Portuguese porcelain? And that Portuguese crystal and glass is one of the most admired worldwide? And that Arraiolos carpets cover the floors of great European palaces? Or that embroidery from Madeira forms part of the trousseau of princes and princesses? These are just small examples of the best that is made in Portugal.

A Country of Tiles
Tapestries and Embroidery
Glass and Crystal
Ceramics and Porcelain

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A Country of Tiles

Panel of tailes

In Portugal, the tile has always been used in an original way. An inheritance from the Romans and Arabs, who occupied the Iberian Peninsula for centuries, the tile has become, as in no other European country, an artistic expression and a privileged medium for interior, façade or garden decoration.

Walking on foot through Portuguese cities is the best way to get to know tiles from any style or period. To start off, it is best to choose Lisbon and visit the National Tile Museum, where you can learn everything about its historical, technical and artistic evolution, from the 15th Century until the present day, and learn how the tile reflects Portuguese contact with other cultures.

Then just walk through the city and admire the colours and patterns which cover or decorate the inside and outside of so many house, palaces and churches. In the streets of Alfama, notice how the popular devotional saints protect the quarter, in small panels placed at the entrance of houses, and how La Fontaine's fables are recorded on the panels of the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, in a kind of cartoon strip from the 17th Century.

Throughout Chiado or the Bairro Alto, the tile façades will mark the rhythm of your step. And do not forget to visit the Metro stations, where you will be surprised by a gallery of subterranean art, with masterpieces of contemporary tiling, signed by artists of international renown. Your walk could extend to Sintra so you could visit the Town Palace and get to know some of the most beautiful and ancient tiles in existence in Portugal.

But if you want to go further you will have to go by train from Lisbon to Porto on the northern line where you will find tiles at some of the stations along the way, and finish up in the splendour of the tiles in the São Bento railway station in Porto.

While travelling through the country, you will discover an actual living museum of tiling but it is in the National Tile Museum, in Lisbon where you can get to know, in one place, all the history and technical and artistic evolution from the earliest days up to their manufacture nowadays.

To know more:
The Tile Museum

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Tapestries and Embroidery

Arraiolos carpets 

Arraiolos Carpets and Tapestries from Portalegre are the jewels in the crown of our textile tradition. In Arraiolos, in the heart of the Alentejo, this art goes back to the 16th Century. The carpets, internationally famous, are embroidered in pure wool. The first designs were influenced by figures from ancient Persian carpets, but nowadays there are an infinite number of motifs which skilled craftspeople continue to embroider, whether making copies or one-off pieces.

Also in the south, embroidery work is carried out in Portalegre, a true expression of the Portuguese creative spirit. By innovating traditional techniques, the design is constructed point by point, to allow impressive detail of around 25 thousand stitches per square metre. The detail allows the faithful reproduction of plastic works of art with such perfection that we challenge you to discover the differences between the tapestries and the originals painted by Vieira da Silva, Júlio Pomar and Paula Rego.
The Carpets from Beiriz also have great international prestige and occupy a prominent place in the artistic industry, and have received prizes in the best exhibitions in Portugal and abroad. These carpets are characterised by their exuberant decorative variety and represent one of the most characteristic manifestations of handicrafts in the country. 

Small pieces of needlework are more popular expressions of the art of sewing. Those from Madeira or Vila do Conde are true treasures. Also unique worldwide are the coloured handkerchiefs of boyfriends and girlfriends, which originate from Viana do Castelo.

Bobbin lace is presently a form of handicraft which has a limited number of artisans who engage in it. It was, however, a very widespread activity until a few dozen years ago, and seamstresses were a very characteristic figure (women who dedicated themselves to trades such as dressmaking and Bobbin lace), with their own style of dressing. Documented for centuries, this activity greatly increased in the 19th Century. However, with the advent of industrialisation, bobbin lace underwent a retreat. This area is currently safeguarded and promoted in Peniche, Vila do Conde and in Póvoa do Varzim, regions where the practice of this handicraft has existed since ancient times.

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Glass and Crystal

Glass Factory 

From sand and fire comes forth glass. From glass comes pieces of art. In Portugal, the capital of glass and crystal is Marinha Grande, a region with a centuries old tradition of glazing. Glass and crystal are born in similar ways, but it is the great purity of the raw material which gives crystal weight, brilliance and beauty. Portuguese glass and crystal pieces, whether traditional or more modern in design, are today one of the most important Portuguese exports. The glass route, which includes a visit to five factories in the area, is an excellent way to get to know everything about Portuguese glass.

To know more:
Glass Route

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Ceramics and Porcelain

Portuguese porcelain

Portuguese ceramics have been an expression of the artistic side of the people since the shaping of clay in Prehistory. However, it was during the Discoveries, through contact with the Orient, which rekindled the flame and the Portuguese became specialists in the art of ceramics. 

The Vista Alegre factory, which has been operating for centuries in Ílhavo, is an example of the best of Made in Portugal. Its pieces are well known all over the world and the factory also houses a museum and a centre manufacturing original pieces. Chosen as presents for Kings and Heads of State, the Vista Alegre pieces are spread throughout the world, and are to be found at dinner in the White House, in Washington, or in the house of the Emperor of Japan.

But it is not only porcelain which visitors to Portugal find enchanting. Earthenware, with its broad traditions in the country, also occupies a special place. Clay, whether red or black, has been shaped since time immemorial by talented artisans who have made unique and original pieces. It is not difficult to find different ways of working clay since every region of the country has these. Look closely at the 17th Century reproductions in Viana do Castelo and Coimbra and, if you prefer more popular types, enjoy the pottery from Estremoz, which is very colourful and amusingly recounts Portuguese customs.
Do not forget to also take a look at the crockery from Caldas da Rainha, the birthplace of Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, the unique Portuguese master of the art of Ceramics and the creator of the famous «Zé-povinho» popular figure. Some of his ceramics continue to be reproduced nowadays and admired by Portuguese families.

To know more:
Bordalo Pinheiro Factory
Vista Alegre

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Viana do Castelo Filigree

Filigree is a form of working in gold or silver, using threads the size of a hair on more delicate pieces, and is a unique and fascinating art. Authentic illuminations, made of wavy lines and spirals, the traditional filigree forms continue to be reproduced century after century, never ceasing to keep their shine and attraction of other times. In ringed earrings, bracelets and necklaces, personal use is the most frequent, as can be seen in the Minho, where adornments are the most important part of the traditional costume of the region.

In the heart of the 21st Century, new designers still yield to the noble metal to eternally endow it with new forms. Yield as well and take a piece with you. The most important workshops are to be found in the north of the country and the most well known are those of Póvoa do Lanhoso, Gondomar and Travassos. You can also see more details of this in the Museum of Gold.

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Festivals and Shows

Throughout the year, Portugal is the stage for the most varied cultural and sporting events. From music festivals to gastronomic eat-ins, from shows to exhibitions, from concerts to tennis tournaments or sailing regattas, the country welcomes everyone with applause literally at hand, to make these events unforgettable parties.

  Paredes de Coura Festival   Puppetry   Lisbon-Dakar   National Gastronomy Festival, Santarém

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