Culture in Portugal

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Before you get there you may want to learn about Portugal's culture and heritage. Knowing something about Portuguese history can help you to understand the culture and, as so many of the primary works of Portuguese poetry and literature have been translated into English, you have no excuse for not reading some of the most important texts for yourself. A contemporary classic is Lídia Jorge's The Migrant Painter of Birds, a beautiful novel about a girl's memories of growing up in a rural community near the Atlantic. José Saramago won the 1998 Nobel Prize for literature and his novels are a great read. Try Ricardo Reis to ease you into this writer's experimental and fascinating style. For poetry, Fernando Pessoa, Pedro Tamen or Sophia de Mello are all excellent exponents of this branch of Portugal's culture.

If you are looking for a more general introduction to Portugal's culture, history and politics, you could try reading a one of the many literary travel guides. Lord Byron's Selected Letters and Journals contains some musings on travel in Portugal, with an amusing transformation from enthusiastic novice to fuming old hand, but Marion Kaplan's The Portuguese: the Land and its People covers much more about the wine, poetry, family values and culture of Portugal in an accessible style. David Birmingham's A Concise History of Portugal is a good introduction to Portugal's history up until 1991, but José Hermano Saraiva's Portugal: A Companion History is a more recent and accessible history written with the foreign visitor specifically in mind. There are many beautifully illustrated tomes about Portugal's architecture and art, some with lavish photographs to inspire you, including Patrick Bowe's Houses and Gardens of Portugal.

Portugal has produced some fine films but they are not well distributed internationally. Manoel de Oliveira is the most famous Portuguese director, now in his nineties, and has produced 17 films since he was 60 including the famous The Convent with Deneuve and Malkovich, who also appear in Je rentre à la maison, set in Paris. A new wave of directors is exposing the darker side of life in Portugal, such as Joao Pedro Rodrigues' controversial O Fantasma. Emerging from Salazar's reign, the Portuguese theatres now have more funding and support from private companies, which means that there is a huge variety of theatrical productions on offer, especially in Lisbon and Porto. Dance is also on the up with the Festival Internacional de Dança Contemporânea in Lisbon attracting huge crowds every November.