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Projecting our Heritage | Portuguese Farms

Farm or Estate?

Our architectural heritage is unique, spread throughout our geographical territory and manifested in the most diverse forms. Architecture is catalogued according to its type of use. Today I would like to focus on the Quintas and Estates. We have already started with two different terms. The term "quinta" (farm) is widely used in the agricultural properties north of the Tagus River, the "Herdades" (estates) appear in the same context, but in the Ribatejo region south of the Tagus River and the Alentejo, and they recover their denomination of "quinta" in the Algarve.

Portuguese Farms

The big difference between these two types of estate is related to their extension and the type of crops they farm. The Herdades are located in regions of large estates, and most of their crops are irrigated, enjoying the situation of the Ribatejo and Alentejo plains. Our territory is marked by the particularity of our history, our relief and our climate, which determine the genesis of each region and influence the modus Vivendi, the appropriation of space and agriculture, with a very strong consequence on architecture. Throughout the history of our territory's existence it has received different users who have left their mark on it.

The Portuguese farms have evolved from the North to the South of the country since their origin. While in the North it was common for the houses to be inhabited by their owners, resulting in properties with a more noble architecture, many of them bearing the coat of arms of the owning family and the characteristics of a manor house, in the Ribatejo area, north of the river Tagus, we find farms with an architecture that is also noble, but simpler when compared to the large quintas in the Douro or the Solares in Minho. The area where we find the noblest quintas coincides with the Douro area.

These are imposing manor houses with more than one floor. They were generally raised so that the living floor was not in contact with the ground, avoiding humidity and possible flooding, thus avoiding health problems and all associated constructive pathologies. Floor 0 was generally used for support and storage areas. It was common for the larger and more important properties to have a chapel where the prior would go to celebrate mass for his family and employees. Many of these estates became privately owned after the inquisition, as many of these manor houses derived from former convents or houses of monks and nuns, who had their residence there accompanied by an agricultural area, where they cultivated what they consumed: vegetables, vines and fruit trees.

It is therefore common to find many of these farms with chapels.

The first floor was the most noble floor. It was the floor of the halls and social areas.

There are two types of plan most commonly used, the first with the main room in the centre, where a number of other rooms are added to one side, and the rooms will fill a second wing. Or a central core zone with the living rooms and common areas which articulates two wings of rooms and a service core to the rear where the pantry connects to the kitchen through the dining room.

Portuguese Farms

It is common to find in the houses of these farms a succession of rooms that connect to each other. This happened for two reasons, the first was social, the corridors were places of passage and less noble. It was understood that guests should move from room to room without having to return to the corridor, always remaining in the most important spaces of the house. The second reason was functional and concerned the maintenance of the ambient temperature. temperature. The temperature was maintained more easily the less often the door was opened to the corridor.

These were good-sized rooms, with walls that were usually stuccoed, although in the In the Douro region and due to the English influence, worked wooden panels and paper wall coverings began to appear in addition to other decorative elements. The ceilings are generally in wood of coffered ceiling or skirt-board, which gives a great sobriety and dimension to the space. In staircases, kerbs, piers, wedges and jambs, stone dominates, which, depending on the areas, could also be found in the masonry itself. In the North it is common to find In the North it is common to find houses with granite, but in other areas schist is used. When they had masonry walls the colour white was often used, but it is also very common to find buildings with bright colours such as yellow and old rose. In these manor houses it is possible to enjoy beautiful gardens where the shady areas and shelters allowed to take advantage of beautiful views during the hottest days.

When it comes to the estates, the type of architecture used is different. We are talking about the typical Alentejo houses, simpler and humble single-storey houses, whitewashed and with a bar of colour that was usually related to the farmhouse to which it belonged.

Portuguese Farms

In its genesis, the farms were used for agricultural exploitation and had main houses that served for occasional use by the owner. Most of the buildings belonged to the workers who lived there and installed real miniature cities, everything worked as if it were a factory village. Many had a chapel, where the workers gathered on Sundays, often in the presence of the owner, and visited during the week to deliver their sacrifice for the success of the crops, had the oven house, with a wood oven where bread was made and other delicacies. The houses of the caretakers were simple, usually with only two rooms, a living and kitchen area living and cooking area and a second one, the bedroom.

Most of the main houses were not houses for daily use, they served as support, or for seasonal use and to receive guests on specific days, so their spatial genesis was oriented towards interior and exterior social areas, they were used by the owner when he visited the estate and it was therefore common to find very generous common spaces and smaller spaces and rooms, a situation that evolved over time. The living room is usually dominated by a large fireplace that serves as a meeting and social point. There people gather, put the sausages in the smokehouse, chat or warm up.

The fireplace is a very important element in this type of houses and its soul in winter. In summer, the fireplace is replaced by outdoor spaces and the meeting point moves to the porches, very characteristic of this type of houses or to other shaded areas. The porch had a double function. We are talking about hot regions, the porch allowed the creation of the shadow area outside and at the same time prevented the sun from hitting the wall directly. Basically, the principle of passive shading systems.

The materials used in the external walls are stone masonry, which due to its thickness and characteristic of this material helps in thermal control. The interior walls are generally in brick masonry, the same material used in vaulted ceilings (Alentejo vaults, with a closing piece). Often the vaults are left in their natural colour. In the south of the country it is still possible to find some properties built with adobe, which is a traditional building technique in which bricks are shaped with a mixture of earth and straw. This is a heritage that has been in danger due to the loss of position of agriculture in our economy and the loss of population that the interior suffered. However in recent years there has been a growing interest in these properties, helped by the contribution of the tourism and wine business that has emerged as an economic motor from the north to the south of the country. The recovery of the architectural heritage is the first great advantage.

Portuguese Farms

Many farms were closed and forgotten and saw in these businesses the reason to be rehabilitated. The wineries and the entire agricultural part regenerated so that the agricultural function is not lost and gains quality. With the birth and growth of the wine tourism business, many producers have opted to build new wineries that are better adapted to today's needs and demands and are pieces of architecture of great quality. They are architectural pieces of great potential and architectural uniqueness that Each farm and each estate tells its story and the way in which it tell their story and the way they do it is unique. Intervening in these buildings opens the door to the recovery of our heritage and the creation of a dialogue between the new and the pre-existing.

These are projects with history.

Salvador Morais | in TGP Magazine


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