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HOME > Classical Novels > Through Portugal > IX SETUBAL, TROYA, AND EVORA
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Tyneside itself cannot be more disagreeable than Lisbon on the rare occasions when really bad weather comes up the Tagus from the west. Smoke of unusual blackness and abundance is poured without let or hindrance from innumerable industrial chimneys by the water-side, and the heavy sea-mist, clinging and wet, holds the carbon in its embrace until the atmosphere would hardly disgrace a London particular at Blackwall. I had stood it for a day, but as I knew I could get away from it by a short railway journey out of the valley of the Tagus I determined to endure it no longer, but to fly to the other side of the hills. The weather was as bad as ever when I started the next morning by the ferry-boat to cross the four miles or so of river to Barreiro, which is the terminus of the southern system of railways for Lisbon. Through an arid-looking country of vines producing the famous Lavradio 265wine, but ugly and poor, on the slopes of the Tagus watershed, we gradually rose to the region of pines and eucalyptus. Leaving all the mist and rain behind us we topped the sandy hills and descended towards the south in an atmosphere brilliantly clear and as exhilarating as nitrous oxide gas.

Portuguese railways are slow, and it took an hour and a half to cover the eighteen miles between Barreiro and Setubal—the Saint Ubes of the English geographies. A clean spacious little town, beautifully situated, is this metropolis of sardines and salt. The days of its saline preeminence, it is true, have passed away—the times of humming prosperity at the salt-pans, when the harbours was wont to be crowded by ships loading salt for England and elsewhere; but still the local trade is considerable, and the great extension of the tinned sardine trade in Portugal has made up for everything, there being as many as thirty-four sardine-packing factories at present in full work at Setubal. Five minutes after we had got clear out of the Tagus valley and over the last ridge, the aspect of the land had changed as if by magic. Oranges, lemons, and almond-trees stretch in groves and orchards on all sides; 266broad tracts of cereal land and dark olive plantations mix with the vineyards, telling of a country of overflowing fertility; whilst long lines of tall eucalyptus trees, with hanging strips of bark, add a strange and exotic note to the scene. This fertile plain descending to the sea on the south is enclosed by high mountain ranges, especially towards the west, upon an outlying spur of which, a great isolated hill, stands aloft Palmella, another of those stupendous fortresses for which Portugal bears the palm. At the foot of the plain, on the edge of the sea, sits the sparkling little town of Setubal, with Palmella, six miles away, looming behind it, but in the marvellous clear air looking as if within reach of one’s hand.

Before the town of Setubal, and three miles away across the estuary, there extends a long sandy spit or island completely enclosing the harbour and river mouth on the south, the only entrance being from the west where a rocky point, an extreme spur of the great Arrabida range, runs out into the Atlantic facing the sandy point. This land-locked haven of clear blue water is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, especially when entering it from the sea. The climate of Setubal is perhaps the warmest of any 267in Portugal, and the fertility of the country at the back is remarkable, the hills behind it completely shutting off the winds from the north.

And yet the people in this part of the country present an undefinable trace of poverty and hardship, such as is never seen in North Portugal. They are hard-working and frugal, but they are somehow less upstanding and independent in their bearing, and their conditions of life are evidently inferior. The difference is no doubt to some extent racial; for here the sturdy Teutonic and Celtic stocks left fewer traces than in the north: but the land in the south is mostly owned in large estates, and not by the small cultivators themselves, as it is in North Portugal, and this has probably more to do with it. A population of wage-earners is never so well conditioned as one of independent workers, and in some such direction as this, surely, must be sought the explanation for the marked difference between the people of the north and south of a country so small and so homogeneous as Portugal.

The long sandy island across the bay was my objective, and I lost no time in bargaining with the owner of a sardine-boat to carry me across. The boat was a heavy, clumsy craft, as it needs 268to be for the sardine fisheries, the shape of a crescent-moon with pointed prow and stern, a high-peaked lateen sail of red canvas stretched on canes, and long sweeps which worked over a pin in the thwarts, fitting into a hole in a mighty block of wood in the centre of the oars instead of between rollocks. If the craft was picturesque the crew was still more so: the owner, a sturdy old seaman, and his son, a bright lad of twenty, wore the universal bag-cap, when they wore any head-covering at all, which was seldom. The old man had boots as well, evidently more for appearance than use, for he took them off for good as soon as the bargain with me was concluded. A flannel shirt and trousers tucked up to the knees, and girded at the waist by a red sash, completed the costume. The other member of the crew, presumably a hired hand, was a striking Levantine or Greek-looking fellow of about seven-and-twenty, far more intelligent than the patr?o or his son, brimming over with eager interest in the expedition, an incessant talker, with all sorts of queer lore and information about the strange place we were going to see. He, for all his intelligence and readiness, had but two ragged and scanty cotton garments 269to cover him, and made no pretence of head or foot covering.

Whilst the boat was being brought round to the stair, I explored the town and found a fine old Manueline door in the church S?o Juli?o at the corner of the spacious pra?a called after the eighteenth-century poet Bocage, who having been born at Setubal is the principal literary glory of the town.

Not a breath of wind was stirring, and the lumbering sardine-boat, with its big sweeps weighing nearly half a hundredweight each, was a heavy pull for two men. But the patr?o and his son put their backs into the work cheerfully and with good will, the vivacious, black-eyed tatterdemalion of a crew chattering incessantly whilst he held the tiller; his being by far the easiest job, apparently as a concession to the superiority of mind over matter. No ripple stirred the blue, clear water as we slowly pushed out into the bay and got clear of the town. The air was of exquisite clarity and fineness, with some sort of subtle pungency in it that seemed to blend the freshness of the salt sea with the languor of the lotus land; and as we receded from the shore there gradually opened out 270behind us, in clear, sharp outline sparkling with colour and brilliancy, one of the most striking coast panoramas I have ever beheld. The bay was almost land-locked, and at the brink of the blue water shone the town as white as snow in the sunlight. Behind, in a great amphitheatre, rose the hills from the deep green masses of the orange groves upon the broad plain at their feet. Bright red earth glowed in big gashes upon the slopes, amidst the varying verdure of olives, cork, and pines; and then above the trees and hills towards the west soared the peaks and crags of the great Arrabida range, tinted in this golden morning from orange to ochre and from ochre to violet, with shadows here and there of deepest indigo. Right behind the town the great stronghold of Palmella, upon its sudden hill six miles away, seemed to stand sentinel over the verdant plain and white houses: and there, in the near distance, on the west, upon a promontory of rock forming the point of the inner bay, was another ancient fortress, that of St. Philip, looking sheer down into the sea. Beyond that as we advanced we saw still another castle on a point; and, farther off, the end of the Arrabida range, whose towering peaks 271dwarfed all the lower hills, pushes far into the sea its precipitous bluff, bounding the landscape on that side.

An hour’s hard pull brought us close to the long island. A wild, uninhabited place it looked as we approached it, all blown sand in dunes and hillocks overgrown with coarse rank tussock and esparto. Even before we reached the sandy shore, fragments of walls and broken tiles in abundance could be seen through the pellucid water, half-buried in the soft, sandy bottom; and when I landed upon the beach of pure sand some twenty feet or more wide, a glance sufficed to show that this was the site of a place where many people had dwelt in the long ago. A long sand dune, some fifteen feet high, runs parallel with the sea, and in the face of this dune strong walls, doorways, and ruins of all sorts are embedded. The sand in many places has been removed sufficiently to uncover entire rooms and passages, and the whole beach below is literally covered with broken tiles, apparently Roman, which presumably formed the roofs of the ruined dwellings. The walls are usually formed of undressed stones, with some rubble cement almost as hard, the courses, and sometimes 272corners, being composed of coarse red bricks or tiles eighteen inches long by twelve broad and two thick.

Mounting the top of the dune I saw beneath me the houses that at various times had been excavated, and partially cleared of sand by the successive adventurers, who, for the sake of profit or curiosity, have undertaken the work. It has been done unsystematically and unscientifically; but in the three-quarters of a century or so that have elapsed since renewed interest has been displayed in the place, an immense number of Roman coins, some of the latest period of the domination, have been found; and numerous relics of Roman, and, as I believe, of a much earlier civilisation have also been discovered, many of the objects being now in the Belem museum. Mr. Oswald Crawford wrote an amusing account of a visit he paid to the place about thirty years ago, and advanced some attractive theories with regard to it; but apparently the excavations that have taken place since his time must have been considerable, as some of the most significant features noticed by me were presumably not uncovered when he was there, as he does not mention them.

273The place has been called Troia by the Portuguese from time immemorial; but it agrees in position with, and probably is, the important Roman town of Cetobriga. The name of Cetobriga can hardly be of pure Latin origin, nor is the situation of the place, at the end of a barren, low-lying sandbank, such as Romans usually chose for a settlement. It is known, however, that a people called Bastuli, some of whom Strabo says lived upon a narrow strip of land by the sea in this part of Portugal were of Ph?nician origin, and inhabited this coast[8]; and this at once provides a clue to the original founders of the city. The Ph?nicians and their successors in the Peninsula, the Carthaginians, were a Semitic people whose trading dep?ts were carried to the extreme of the then known world. At first, and for many centuries, purely traders and men of peace, they made no attempt to dominate, but established their factories, with defensive stockades and walls around them in places, which, though unadapted for aggression, were capable of easy defence. It is difficult to imagine an easily accessible place, well situated for maritime traffic, better calculated than Troia upon its 274sandy island opposite a fertile plain for the purposes of such a people as this; and the opinion of antiquarians since the re-discovery of Troia has been in favour of its Ph?nician origin.

The later Roman period, it is true, has provided most of the remains unearthed. I saw and measured myself, amongst many other houses, two of undoubted Roman construction, one apparently a temple, to judge by the now empty niches which are constructed round three sides of the inner wall, and the doorway of well-dressed stone in the fourth side. Another house near it, of which the chief apartment was twenty-two feet in diameter, possessed a dressed stone piscina or font in the wall, and what appeared to be a bath of five feet in diameter and nearly six feet deep of rubble and tiles. These houses and practically all the others stood some fifteen feet below the present top of the dune, but in no case has the excavation been completed, sand silting up almost to the door lintels in most cases. On the beach itself near the point, I noticed what appeared to be the base of a hollow tower ten feet in diameter, which may well have been a pharos; and in many places not much above sea-level are 275square cemented tanks, which some authorities assert were used for fish salting, although its suggestion is not a very convincing one considering the position of the tanks.

The largest house that has been excavated is of undressed rubble for the walls, the angles and doors and window frames being squared with tiles, and the principal doorway topped by a flat arch of brick, the pitch of the roof being evidently angular. On the other side of a sandy peninsula facing the south, and farthest from Setubal, a very large villa has been partially uncovered, presenting the same construction as the rest, but with the base of a round tower at one corner; whilst on the point of the beach there is a house containing four uncovered very large square concreted tanks, sunk in the ground some twenty-five feet deep, apparently reservoirs—perhaps vivaria for edible fish. There is no indication—at least to a layman in the matter like myself—that these buildings are earlier than the Roman occupation, though, of course, some of them may have been, whilst a large building standing high at the very end of the point, which the energetic boatman who constituted himself my companion insisted was “the chapel,” is evidently much later than 276Roman times, and may probably have been a Christian church.

Mr. Crawford advances a theory to account for the foundation of a populous settlement upon a mere sandbank. He is of opinion that when the town was originated the sand did not exist there, but has been blown or cast up since. Although the dune facing the beach has doubtless accumulated greatly since the city was finally abandoned, I cannot believe, after looking well at the buildings, that the level has changed more than perhaps a dozen or fifteen feet since the town was inhabited; and there must, I think, have been hills of sand here from Roman times at least. Still it is possible that a thorough excavation would establish that the remains of the Ph?nician town on solid earth underlie the Roman buildings now existing amidst the sand. The most interesting object that I saw at Troia is not mentioned by Mr. Crawford, though as it stands at the highest point of the sand dune (though perhaps with a base of solid earth beneath the sand) it is curious if it was not uncovered when he visited the place. In any case, there it is now, the most convincing proof possible that the city was Ph?nician, notwithstanding 277the extensive Roman remains of a later time. Upon a square base or plinth there rises a smooth conical column, some ten feet high, four feet in diameter at base and tapering conically to a diameter of less than two at its apex. There is no mistaking the shape of this column or its significance by any one who has studied the beliefs of the ancient peoples and the symbols of their worship. The column is apparently composed of red tiles smoothly covered with fine white cement; and standing, as it does, in the most conspicuous position over the settlement, it seems to prove that the Nature-worshippers, Ph?nicians, Carthaginians, or those who inherited their traditions, must have been the constructors of this column supporting nothing. It may be advanced that this sign of ancient paganism would not have been allowed to remain by the Romans for four hundred years after the Christian era; but it is possible that even then the ritual symbolism of the column had been lost sight of or forgotten, and that it remained as a landmark.

I was glad to embark in my sardine boat again, for the glare and heat of the sun beating down upon the shadeless sand was almost intolerable, 278and the treacherous black sandflies, so harmless looking and so venomous, in the three hours I had been at Troia had rendered my face unrecognisable by my nearest friends, and turned my hands to agonised dumplings. So, with a slight puff of breeze now and again to help us, we slowly crossed the blue bay to Setubal where much needed refreshment awaited me.

I was bound for the ancient city of Evora, and I could have gone by train to Pinhal Novo junction, where the train to the south was to receive me. But the plain over which Palmella lords it had captivated me, and I decided to traverse by road the ten miles to the junction. As I drove out of Setubal, with its clean white houses, and gaily decked women in a long kneeling row washing their linen in the river, the glamour of the south was over all. Cactus hedges lined the way, the glistening green of the orange trees with the abundant fruit already showing, the bronzed vines and the grey olive orchards chequered the light red earth; the rolling slopes were thickly wooded to the summits, and nestling amidst the verdure on many hill-tops were glistening white houses, abandoned cloisters, or shrines of pilgrimage. The aspect was Andalusian, as were 279the traits of the people, and North Portugal seemed very far away. Before us always towered the huge castle of Palmella, with its tremendous stretches of battlements and square towers, seen first from one side and then from another, as we gradually wound round and round the base of the eminence upon which it stands. The way is always upward, and on all sides spread below us, growing more extensive as we round each successive rising turn of the hill, is the fertile plain and the sea beyond. Wheat, maize, olives, and oranges grow here luxuriantly, the lower folds of the sandy hillsides are covered with vines, and the rich brown velvet trunks of the stripped cork-trees are all along the way.

My coachman is one of the talkative type of south Portuguese, almost oriental in the voluble vehemence of his manner, and his eagerness to impart information. Ah! yes Troia, Setubal, and Palmella were all very well in their way: but Evora! That indeed is a place. What a pity his Excellency was not going to see Evora. His Excellency replied that Evora was his present destination, and the patriotic Eborense, for, of course, the voluble coachman came from Evora, broke out into unrestrained panegyric of 280his native city. Lisbon was nothing, Oporto was nothing, to Evora; why, Evora was a great city and a capital when they were villages: Evora made Portugal what it is—and much more to the same effect the wild-eyed coachman rattled off with much gesticulation, whilst the patient horses, left to themselves, slowly toiled up the winding road to the town of Palmella, now to the right now to the left, and anon straight overhead, apparently inaccessible.

At length we entered the town, a poor squalid looking place upon the steep slope; and whilst the tired horses rested I climbed the top of the hill to the castle. The tremendous outer defences covered with yellow lichen, and the round bastions of the inner circumvallation, are evidently of Moorish origin, whilst the great square battlemented towers inside appear to be medi?val. The whole of the top of the hill is occupied by the fortress; the outer walls following the contour, with corner bastions on the spurs of the summit. The views obtained from the battlements of the salient bastions are tremendous. The central keep, standing high above the rest, is veiled with mist, though where I stand upon the battlements is clear and bright. Over the vast 281plain spread below me bathed in sunlight dark patches of cloud wander, and, on the south side beyond it, is Setubal and the sea; whilst on the other, towards the north, far away stretches the broad estuary of the Tagus, and the distant mountains loom upon the west. Ancient as the castle is, it shows signs of more recent habitation than is usual, indeed a row of humble dependencies within the walls are still occupied by poor people. The roofs of the principal buildings are everywhere destroyed; and upon the very ancient walls of one portion there rises the ruin of a sixteenth-century palace; whilst by the side of the great medi?val keep is the shell of a beautiful chapel of Romanesque Gothic. The inner gateway of the fortress bears upon it a tablet with the arms of Portugal and the date of 1689; and I was informed by one of the residents in the row of dwellings that the place had only been entirely dismantled in living memory. All is silent and abandoned now; and the great Moorish stronghold which Affonso Henriques captured from the Moors in 1147, the royal fortress of the Commandery of the Order of Santiago, and the seat of the powerful Dukes of Palmella, as the place successively has been, has now become what for 282all future time it will remain, a worthy compeer with the rest of the proud old Portuguese hill-top fortresses, whose sturdy walls dismantled though they be, refuse to crumble into dust. Long may they rear their noble towers intact from man’s destroying hand, and tell their silent lesson of heroic times to a generation that sorely needs it.

As we wind down the hill again from the poverty-stricken town beneath the castle walls, carts of little black grapes meet us winding up the hill for the belated vintage, and through the open doors of granges we see the wide shallow tubs being filled with grapes trodden under the feet of swarthy lads. The air is soft and close as the sun sets red and orange behind the tree-clad hills, and I pass the hour waiting for the train at Pinhal Novo under a grove of lofty eucalyptus trees, whilst the shrill twittering of millions of cicadas, and the languorous perfume in the air tell me that I have left the strenuous land behind, and am in a clime where to strive is folly.

The next morning Evora revealed its quaint charms to me, for in the night when I arrived all seemed gloomy and threatening in its narrow tortuous ways. Under a glowing blue sky and 283the fierce sun the place was charming, and few cities in Portugal, if any, present so many attractions to the arch?ologist, the antiquarian, or the simple seeker after the picturesque. The long irregular space of the principal pra?a is lined by ancient arcades like the plazas in Spanish towns, and the people who flock hither and thither under the covered ways are purely Andalusian in appearance, the men wearing sheepskin zamarras over gaudy waistcoats, and upon their heads wide-brimmed velvet cala?eses surmount bright-coloured kerchiefs. We have almost lost sight now of the ox as a draught animal, and big mules, drawing a somewhat light waggon, are universal.

At unexpected corners and unlikely angles relics of unfathomed antiquity meet you: a Roman tower built into a sixteenth-century wall, a Moorish arch, a low-browed doorway that may go back to the time of the Goths, though the house to which it gives entrance may be comparatively modern, fragments of palaces and beautiful bits of Manueline are everywhere. For this city of Evora is an epitome of the historical vicissitudes of Portugal, and under each successive régime has played a principal part. Ebora of the Ph?nicians and Iberians, Liberalitas Julia of 284the Romans, seat of government of the patriot rebel Sertorius, who here defied the legions of the C?sars (80 B.C.), Gothic capital of Lusitania, Yebora of the Moslems for four hundred years, and now chief city of Alemtejo and the south—the walls and towers of its Latin and Gothic masters are still clearly traceable, and the medi?val defences still surround the ancient city.

Its modern Portuguese history dates from its capture from the Moors in 1165 by the freebooter Gerald and his band of desperadoes, who surrendered the place to King Affonso Henriques in exchange for pardon and reward; and from that time its archbishops have vied with those of Braga in the north in wealth and dignity. Infantes of Portugal have often worn its mitre, and one of them, Cardinal Henry, the last of his race, became king. It is difficult to realise, looking at this crumbling old city of fifteen thousand inhabitants, the magnificence of which it was the scene in times when the population must have been much smaller than at present. I have before me as I write an account written at the time by an Italian ecclesiastic in the train of the papal Legate, who came to Portugal in 1571, of the reception of the embassy by the Archbishop 285of Evora (Jo?o de Mello), on which occasion lavishness seems to have outdone itself. The king’s lieutenant, with five hundred followers and ten thousand armed militia of the province, had met the Legate some miles outside the city, and at the gates the governor and magistracy awaited the visitors in full panoply, with several bands of trumpeters dressed in cloth of gold and scarlet caps, many companies of halberdiers smartly garbed in various uniforms, black drummers and cymbal players on velvet-draped mules, the mayor and aldermen and civic officers with their respective armed escorts, followed by—

“Ten boys dressed in green, dancing a Morris-dance to the sound of tambourines, and then ten more dressed in yellow with fife and drum, also dancing, each one carrying an arch which they intertwined and disentangled with great rapidity and dexterity. Then came ten boys dressed as pilgrims dancing round a drum, and singing the praises of the Legate. Then came ten women gipsies dancing their usual dance to the sound of the drum, and performing dexterous tricks with wands and scarfs. Following them came ten gipsy men with a drum, and placing themselves alternately with the women, they made a very pretty chain. Finally at the gate of the city there were ten boys dressed in white with branches in their hands, dancing round a carrying chair of red velvet striped with gold, which was carried by eight little boys with white kilts, and golden haloes round their heads. They bowed low to the Legate as the rest did separately when they danced their measure, and then all together, the dances continuing all the while before the 286............
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