The inland regions of Portugal are important to its identity and culture. The country’s Roman origins lay in Evora to the south but its historical birthplace is in the north at Guimarães, where Alfonso Henriques was born; the man who secured Portuguese independence from the Spanish in 1139. Subsequently the Portuguese developed a separate identity from their larger neighbour, and from the 15th Century this was heavily influenced by The Atlantic Ocean and in the development of the coastal cities of Lisbon and Porto.

The searching soul of the Portuguese

Imagine the look of a surfer, board under arm, as they contemplate the ocean in front of them. It’s a look of awe, respect and deference. And there’s a bittersweet feeling attached; the ocean is so beautiful yet so innately dangerous, there’s pleasure to be gained from the waves yet those very same waves could drown them. They can be ridden but never tamed.

Why do I mention this? Is surfing big in Portugal? Actually it is, some of the world’s biggest and best waves can be found in Nazaré. But it’s this bittersweet feeling that also exists within the Portuguese, partly down to their association with the ocean as well.

During the time of exploration, sailors would leave port sailing into the unknown, with a fear at what might lie ahead and a sadness at what was left behind; a love for a country and a longing for it that grew the further they sailed.

This feeling partly describes saudade; the presence of absence, a nostalgia-esque emotion which still remains within the Portuguese psyche today. For them life, like the waves, can be ridden, but there’s an innate feeling that it can never be tamed. Life is always lived at a distance, never fully grasped in that moment. Saudade has shaped Portuguese thinking accordingly, producing great artists and writers, one of the best being Fernando Pessoa.

My favourite quote from the Portuguese

‘True experience comes from restricting our contact with reality while increasing our analysis of that contact. In this way our sensibility becomes broader and deeper, because everything is in us – all we need to do is look for it and know how to look.’

Fernando Pessoa