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photokhan | profile | all galleries >> Ermida de Alcamé tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Ermida de Alcamé


For quite a long time, I had been targeting this place.

Right next to Lisbon, the Tagus river finally meets its long sought Atlantic
destination after an international relentless and windy descent from the Albarracín mountains, where it initially and continuously sprouts from its most Spanish-flavored sounding source:
Fuente de Gárcia.

In its quest for the ocean and after having been supplemented by the liquid resolve
of smaller contributors like the Tajuana, the Guadarramaor the Zęzere, it pays some final generous tributes, before offering itself to saltier waters.

In a large estuary, just facing Lisbon, the tired and weary flow opens up into a wide water surface that provides both soul and body sustenance.
The southern bank offers extensive low areas of wet land where rice (...and mosquitoes!...) give a small taste of south-east Asia in days of higher relative humidity. The large water surface ("Mar da Palha", literally "Sea of Straw") with its north bank bathing Lisbon, while being an omnipresent view from large parts of our hilly capital, has also proved to be a liquid muse for such artists as Fado songwriters, painters and sensitive poets with all levels of talent up to the sheer genius of Fernando Pessoa.

Just before the "Mar da Palha" there are these small islands called "Mouchőes" that make precarious ground for agriculture and herding, since they pretty much get fully covered with water whenever the Tagus steps out from its usual affable and scenic stance into more aggressive power demonstrations, fed by any long streak of heavy precipitation which can only be regulated up to a certain level by the generous amount of dikes, dams and natural levees, both in Spain and Portugal.

Together with the immediate still low but more solid inland adjacent areas, these islets form a geographical and socio-cultural entity called the "Lezíria", which offers grounds for horse and bovine breeding.

From this area up to the further north also fertile river banks, a series of settlements feature strong presences of bullfighting traditions and, as such, the "Lezíria" is culturally and irrevocably related to them. (check out "Campino" on the web for a taste of an expression of such traditions).

In one of those islets, there's a church (...actually, just a large chapel...) that always tickled my curiosity: The Ermida de Nossa Senhora de Alcamé.

It just stands there, in the middle of those wet lands, right next to the river, an erected testimonial of the traditional entwining between Catholic Faith and Portuguese Bullfighting.

(...when one is willingly to bare-handedly try to stop a running bull, as Portuguese Forcados do, one better also believe in some divine entity, I guess...).

...But it also stands as an absurd, almost surrealistic vision. A brick-and-mortar apparently displaced human endeavor, in one of the most unexpected places it could ever be supposed to exist.

Built in the middle of the 18th century, it served as the central point for traditional yearly religious festivities that included such "pious" activities as cattle blessings (!). Through the ages and with the mechanization of harvesting and the consequential shrinkage of human presence in the neighboring fields, the traditional pilgrimages became intermittent and, in our day and age, the place is only used in the odd year, whenever the local civil and religious authorities feel like a revival of the ancient tradition is appropriate.

...It kept tickling my photographic nerve...

Now...it also so happens that a colleague of mine is an avid gyrocopter hobbyist aviator and had been inviting me for a ride for quite a long time, with an actual opportunity continuously failing to present itself. (...check out "gyrocopter" or "autogyro" in Wikipedia...it's so cool...)

Then I had this idea: Since the ULA airfield from where the gyrocopter operates is not that far from the sanctuary, why not put my photographic itch to rest with the additional benefit of some aerial shots?

I called my colleague and, surely enough, the project went ahead. With the added bonus of having landed a fine day for both ULA and photographic activities, we set to the skies and did our thing.

The ULA ride, itself, was awesome, with actual encounters with flocks of flamingoes, which only failed to turn into a massive photo subject themselves, because we were a bit short on fuel to engage in trailing pursuits (...a bit frustrated about that...May have to set another ride up, on account of those beautiful birds...)

As for the portfolio on Nossa Senhora de Alcamé, I think it turned out quite OK . The aerial shots were duly supplemented by some ground level ones, for a more comprehensive body of work.

I invite you all to take a look and check out how oddity might very well meet beauty with surprising results.


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