Travel

Notes from Obidos

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Cited by the UNESCO as a heritage village, the place is preserved in its original motor-free state and close to the way it was many centuries ago

A benevolent fate took me and four others — a hispanist, a poet, a novelist and the secretary of the Sahitya Akademi — to the village of Obidos. I had never heard of Obidos before I saw the castle in whose walls it is located looming on the horizon as we drove towards it from Lisbon.

The whole landscape had by then taken on a dreamlike quality. This feeling intensified when our car barely squeezed through a couple of medieval arches and stopped at the hotel. We tumbled out of the car and stepped back a few centuries. Since we weren’t princes we carried our luggage up and down a couple of cobbled streets to another section of the hotel set higher up.

In a time capsule

Obidos (Latin for citadel) is a time capsule. Occupied and inhabited since Palaeolithic times by (in turn) the Celts, Phoenicians, Romans and Moors, the castle was finally wrested from the last mentioned occupier by the Portuguese king in the 12th century. Cited by the UNESCO as a heritage village, Obidos is, for the most part, preserved in its original motor-free state and close to the way it was many centuries ago although a mammoth earthquake in 1755 did some damage. Patronised by the queens of Portugal since 1210 when it was first gifted to Queen Urraca, it has an informal title: town of the Queens.

In Dec 2015, UNESCO named Obidos a literary village, as part of the creative cities network programme designed to promote cooperation with and between cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for urban development. Obidos has just over 3,000 permanent inhabitants but hosts 14 bookshops, nearly all in Portuguese, though Spanish and French do have their language share with English bringing up the rear. Even a fruit and vegetable shop is stacked with shelf upon shelf of books.

Books everywhere

The highlights of our visit were The Literary Man restaurant and the Santiago Bookshop. The Church of Santiago a place of worship dating back to the 13th century is now the bookshop, Grande Livraria de Santiago. The altar, pulpits and pews spaces filled with books adds to the sacrality of the atmosphere. Livraria da Adega was the other memorable experience. Located in a wine cellar and restaurant filled with antique books, we were welcomed by the proprietor, Jose Pinho. On learning that we were from India he showed us a book on elephants, written in Latin and printed in the late 15th century. A collector of rare manuscripts and books he never travels without his two-foot high statue of goddess Saraswathi.

Is there a better way to find routes and roots in the world than through the domain of books topped off by the superb liquor which is a speciality of the region? Oppidum Ginja de Obidos — a cinnamon-flavoured liquor brewed from ginja berries is served most memorably in tiny chocolate cups. For rapid transport to a higher loka, drink the ginja and eat the chocolate cup before moving from one bookshop to the next.

The writer coordinates a programme of translations for the Tamil Nadu Textbooks Division.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 6:45:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/notes-from-obidos/article30535287.ece

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