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Legacies of an Age of Exploration
...A Journey Through Portugal's Illustrious Past
Hello, fellow adventurer!
Sitting here aboard this train, I watch the rural scenery of Portugal unfold as we make our way back to Lisbon after an inspiring journey. It’s been a few weeks of fun-filled discoveries, as you will find out below…
This Month’s Adventures - Portugal
This often overlooked European nation has a rich and complex history, having been shaped by settlers and invaders of diverse cultures and peoples. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Germanics, Moors, and many others have left their marks on the region. The Moorish rule, particularly, profoundly influenced Portuguese culture, leaving behind architectural legacies, such as the intricate azulejos (decorative ceramic tiles) that grace many buildings.
The 15th and 16th centuries were Portugal's Golden Age. Being the first of the European nations to explore the world, Portugal initiated the Age of Discovery. Its explorations yielded significant riches, with spices, gold, and other exotic goods flowing into Lisbon. The Portuguese established trading posts, forts, and colonies in Asia, Africa, and Brazil. They were the first Europeans to visit Taiwan, naming it Ilha Formosa (‘beautiful island’), and there’s even speculations that they may have discovered Australia almost 250 years before the British Captain James Cook (thanks to my reader, Robert Dean, for the tip!).
As I explored Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto, I couldn't help but feel the echoes of its fascinating history, reflected in the architecture, cuisine, and the warmth of the people I met. Portugal's history of exploration and the exchange of cultures is not just a tale of the past; it's a living legacy that continues to shape the nation and its outlook on the world.
Coimbra, especially, stole my heart. Home to the country's oldest university founded in 1290, this city takes you on a journey through time. The University of Coimbra, a UNESCO site, provides a glimpse into Portugal's academic prowess. The city's preserved medieval architecture and the captivating Joanina Library are must-see landmarks. Here, the echoes of scholars from centuries past still resonate through the cobblestone streets. And evidence of Portugal’s Roman era can still be found in the subterranean cryptoporticus ruins of the ancient city of Aeminium.
This Month’s Book Recommendation
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See is a historical fiction novel exploring the culture, history, and friendship of the haenyeo, the female divers of Jeju Island in South Korea. The novel spans from 1938 to 2008, following the lives of two haenyeo, Young-sook and Mi-ja, who grow up together in a diving collective. Their bond is tested by the events of World War II, the Korean War, and the Jeju Uprising, as well as their personal tragedies and choices.
I learnt so much about the fascinating UNESCO Cultural Heritage of haenyeo from this story, who have a long and unique tradition of harvesting various kinds of seafood and seaweed from the ocean floor without using any breathing equipment. Known as the ‘mermaids of South Korea’, Haenyeo are renowned for their independent spirit, iron will, and determination, as well as their semi-matriarchal family structure and environmentally-friendly fishing methods. Scientists have studied these women, whose physiologies have been altered by their way of life, making them more adaptable to cold environments. The novel is a story of resilience, loyalty, and forgiveness, as well as a tribute to the unique and endangered way of life of the haenyeo.
As always, I’m interested in your input - so write to me and tell me what you think of this month’s musings 🙂
Until next month, wishing you an enlightening and enriching journey,
A. H. Wang
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