Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Phred Firecloud and the Temple of Bones

Campo Maior and Elvas, Portugal

Our objectives today are to drive south to see the Chapel of Bones in Campo Maior and the aqueduct and world class fortifications in Elvas.

Castelo de Marvão (Marvão Castle)...located at one of the highest points of the Serra de São Mamede range, Marvão’s colossal castle is one of the strongest examples of military architecture in the region. We are staying in an old building inside the fortress walls for two nights.

 Aqueduto da Amoreira (The Amoreira Aqueduct)...This centuries-old aqueduct is  the project of the famous Portuguese architect, Francisco de Arruda – founder of the iconic Belém Tower in Lisbon. Taking over 100 years to reach perfection, this 24,500 foot-long structure still has 843 of its original arches, some reaching over 100 feet high and it continues to provide water to the town of Elvas.

The castle and fortress at Campo Maior has seen better days. The town seems very poor and most of the buildings show a need for paint and other maintenance. We park and search the twisted alleys for the "Chapel of Bones".

People are living in tents near the dilapidated old castle. Portugal has very high unemployment right now.

Capela dos Ossos de Campo Maior (Chapel of Bones, Campo Maior).. This18th Century chapel is connected to Campo Maior’s main church and was built after an abrupt gunpowder magazine explosion occurred in the town in 1732. Covered with the bones of the 1,500 victims that were killed in this tragic accident..

Even after nearly 300 years this room is filled with the stench of death. Mrs. Phred asks why some of the skulls are so small and I explain that children have small skulls.

These skulls have been arranged to form a vaulted ceiling arch...I'm reading a book called "Chindi" which is the Navaho name for spirits of the dead.

In Navajo religious belief, a chindi (Navajo: chʼį́įdii) is the ghost left behind after a person dies, believed to leave the body with the decedent's last breath. It is everything that was bad about the person; the "residue that man has been unable to bring into universal harmony".[1] Traditional Navajo believe that contact with a chindi can cause illness ("ghost sickness") and death. Chindi are believed to linger around the decedent's bones or possessions, so possessions are often destroyed after death and contact with bodies is avoided. After death the decedent's name is never spoken, for fear that the chindi will hear and come and make one ill. Traditional Navajo practice is to allow death to occur outdoors, to allow the chindi to disperse. If a person dies in a house or hogan, that building is believed to be inhabited by the chindi and is abandoned.[2]

This Chapel is bad ju-ju....I still have the smell in my nose. There is a bigger one in Evora...I think we will skip it....

This is an artist's conception of the Elvas fortress. It has been under construction since the Moors started the fort in the 8th century. The interior twelve sided fort has walls that are twenty feet thick. Cannos have interlocking fields of fire to chop up any invading force.

The Elvas fort is currently filled with housing, stores and twisted alleys.

Another shot of the aqueduct.

"Ok men. Let's take that hill!"

"We're right behind you Lieutenant."

Monday, 29 April 2013

Rainbows and Neolithic Monuments

Castelo de Vide and Marvao, Portugal

The Neolithic Era, or Period, or revolution, from νέος (néos, "new") and λίθος (líthos, "stone"), or New Stone age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 10,200 BC, and ending between 4,500 and 2,000 BC. The Neolithic is a progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domesticated animals. Keep that definition in mind for the end of this blog.

Bushes with yellow flowers are common at certain elevation.

We pass a giant finger on the way to Castelo de Vide and Marvao. These are both ancient hilltop fortresses near the city of Portalegre and the Spanish border.

The old Jewish Barrio, like the others, is located near the castle. They make this one easy to find by placing symbols on the sidewalk.

Mrs. Phred is entering the Synagogue/Museum. It is the oldest one in Portugal. No pictures are allowed. We don't know if there is still a Jewish presence in the old Jewish Quarter.  No mezzuzahs are on any doorway.  They were forced to convert or fled about the time Columbus was taking credit for discovering the West Indies.

'The Castle and walled city is similar to all the others.

In the afternoon we decide to go in search of the Menhirda Meada. This is a Neolithic stone carving that was unearthed in 1965.

We get the GPS coordinates for the Menir. It's apparently 10 miles north of the castle and a half mile though a field on foot.

We are stymied by a farmer's fence, but find a small road past where the GPS says to go off road.

The road turns into a dirt track which we follow about two miles before it becomes impassable.

The Menhir da Meada: (Standing Stone) is located in the Alentejo, 10 km north of Castelo de Vide, in the Portalegre district. This menhir, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula, stands just over  31 feet  high with a  4 foot girth and illustrates the importance of the area in prehistoric times. It was re-erected in 1995 by the Portuguese heritage. Apparently its height is due to the fact that it belongs to a line of menhir's which were carefully arranged so that each one was visible from the next (The Menhir of Meada stands in a lower elevation than the others)

Eventually we find the Menir near where the paved road becomes dirt.

The Pousada in Marvao is way up inside the walled city. There are no signs directing one to the location. Driving is a challenge. We park and walk to find directions.

The day is cold, rainy and full odd rainbows.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Castles of Sortelha and Sabugal

After breakfast in Mantiegas, we set out in search of hilltop villages with castles.

We drive for an hour over deserted back roads and get hopelessly lost several times in village alleys barely wide enough for one car...

After seeing this sign above we soon spot a strange structure high on a hill. We drive up a rutted dirt road to explore this  spooky and lonely "castle'....what seems strange is that there are signs of new abandoned construction as well as older ruins....also the castle seems indefensible...we walk away confused and puzzled...

It turns out, after searching Google, that this is the old Spa Hotel em Sortelha
Total floor area: 11,000 m² | Total area: 112 Hectares
Price: € 3.500.000,00
The former spa hotel was built in 1915 and is situated near the historic village of Sortelha, a municipality of Sabugal which was known for its underground spring waters that were thought to have therapeutic effects.

There is a rusted and abandoned steam tractor on the's amazing how quickly the works of man crumble before mother nature.....

Later we find the real walled city and castle of Sortelha.

Castle and windmills...

In Belmonte, Mrs. Phred wants to see the Synagogue.We wander around and finally find it behind the castle (no picture of the castle...they all look about the same to us by now)...

Mrs. Phred was confused yesterday by the menorah with only places for seven candles instead of nine. Here we see both seven and nine  in the pictures above and below.

It turns out that the word "menorah" means candelabra and they can actually have as many candles as you want. A CHANUKKIYAH Menorah, the kind that is specifically made for Chanukah, has nine places for candles. The most typical menorahs have seven places, one for each day of the week. These both have been a symbols for Judaism for centuries.

We find a hotel for the night in Castelo Branco. It has tennis courts, but it's very cold and windy today.

Dinner is a very good buffet with lots of interesting salads, codfish, baby goats and chicken soup. We both pig out for a change...

Backroads of Portugal

Our Frommer's has never heard of any of the hilltop towns in Eastern Portugal that we've been exploring. First we hit Trancoso. It's a medieval walled city with this castle inside.

This picture is on the wall of a cafe.

This is the same cafe as the one in the picture.

This is the picture on the wall of the cafe. It all makes my head swim.

We track down the old Jewish Quarters of Trancoso.

This is the Lion of Judah on the wall of a Transcoso residence. Inside a black cat is carved on a lintel so the building is called the Gato Predo building..

Goodbye Trancoso.

A view of Trancoso going away....

Next we headed for Guarda, Portugal. Mrs. Phred wants to find the old Jewish Barrio. We split a salmon and some potato soup with a heavy dose of kale.

This is a foam rubber ski slope that they water so the kids can ski and waterboard all summer. It's next to Mantiegas where we spend the night. Mantiegas is the highest village in Portugal.

The young lady who meets us at the door tells us that the mansion has been in her family for 600 years.It became a summer vacation place when her grandfather went to Brazil and found gold. Now they run the place as a chic hotel.  It's called the Casa das Obras.

They left the 15th century lathe from the old lathe and plaster wall construction.