53_CatherineCatarina Valença Gonçalves

Founder & CEO of SPIRA – Heritage Revitalization

Alentejo's mural painting had its origin in all sorts of patrons (nobles, confraternities / brotherhoods, religious missions, commissions), and it coved all the region, existing both in religious (ermitages, chapels, churches and monasteries) and civilians buildings (palaces). The peak for the mural painting in Alentejo was in the end of the 16th century and first half of the next one, while the use of gilt, tiles and painting on wood or canvas were growing in the rest of the country.

One of the main reasons for this is the type of religious buildings in Alentejo: mainly ermitages and chapels with a single nave, covered in stone, and known by the sturdiness and opacity of the side elevations (sustained by abutments that allow the construction of brick vaults) elements that protected the buildings from the high temperature. Meaning, there was available a large surface ready to be decorated, inviting to the monumental painting.

The same theme was used until the first half of the 17th century, a composition mainly figurative with decorative details, a trait of the late-medieval period, it is shown in every mural in Alentejo, enriched however with other regional styles: a staging of the depicted theme, evident in the theatricality of the characters; strong colours – due to the natural colorants found in Alentejo -; a focus on the whole and not in the detail of the stroke, most of the time, of average quality.

Overcoming the absence of technical mastery is reinforced by the choice of compositions that covered the entirely of hermitages and chapels: the mural painting, in Alentejo, in the 17th century, is often the single artistic element on the building, filling it exclusivily, in a clear expression of fear of empty space.

Another curious thing about Alentejo's mural painting is the fact, the most part, have remained until today. This is due mainly to three factors: first of all, most of the painting were made using the fresco technique; on other hand, the lack of finantial resources that allowed a change to the buildings; and, the use of lime when the painting was worn out, allowing the preservation of the mural and subsequent rescue (if it was needed) almost unscathed. Growing desertification with the oblivion of Alentejo's patrimony during the 20th century, also determined the almost absence of tampering with the paintings.

An artistic moment kept like this, Ironically, adverse socio-economic vicissitudes of this region of the country and that, today, as more specimens are studied, gains a unique specificity in the framework of the collection of mural painting in Portugal.

The Fresco Route - the first cultural tourism route to emerge in the country - intended to, since its emergence, democratize access to the Alentejo's cultural and natural heritage and promote their knowledge, sharing the discovery of mural painting - the unknown treasure of Alentejo.

Rota is based on a network of local partners - heritage owners, public entities, merchants, local development associations - with the aim of promoting the sustainable development of the territory covered and the preservation of its cultural legacy. Each visitor to Rota do Fresco thus actively contributes to the preservation of this heritage, since part of the revenue goes to the development of programs for the valorization and obtaining of patronage. / sponsorship for the conservation of this common cultural heritage.

Open to all throughout the year and covering more than 15 Alentejo municipalities, the Fresco Route is an example of valuing and sharing a common heritage, unknown but, after all, with immense potential.