Júlio de Matos Photography

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DOURO WORLD HERITAGE (2001)


DOURO — A CULTURAL LANDSCAPE

On 13th December 2001, UNESCO awarded the Alto Douro Wine Region, in Portugal, World Heritage status. The Douro waterway system, from its source to its present estuary, in the Atlantic, is a privileged area that fills our cultural and physical senses. The River Douro was a closed river millions of years ago. Tectonic movements opened its way down to the sea. The Douro that gradually formed, even before being tamed by dams, is an effect of culture. It progressively acquired the configuration that we know today: hills rounded by schist terraces and tiers, the green or reddish cover of the carpet of vineyards, a serene and dark summer river.

Today, the Douro is a cultural landscape and, as such, a World Heritage site. It is man-made and a collective memory. It is thus that our imagination cherishes it: the hills and plateaux of vines and olive trees, the summer bogs where rock-roses and heather surround frail, short-lived poppies.

The earliest photograph of the Douro is by the Englishman, James Forrester, from the late 1850s. In the 1860s, further pictures emerged, all of them marked by the cultural landscape. But the history of the Douro’s landscape is told by Emílio Biel, a German photographer. In the late 19th Century, he undertook a photographic survey of the Douro railway line and another of the vine work – the Douro’s vineyard landscape, the grape harvesting, the transport of barrels on the rabelo boats. Domingos Alvão followed, in the 20th Century, in yet another project, Biel’s trail. In the 1940s, Casa Alvão undertook the most complete survey in the world on Port Wine. The imagery of the Douro was developed from these two authors, Biel and Alvão.

So, there is a photographic imagery of the Douro, more recently enriched by Portuguese and international photographers. And it is in this continuum of views that in 2001 I developed my own photographic tribute to the Douro for a special celebration moment of collective glorification of that cultural landscape. My family being originally from the region, I have been discovering and enjoying it since an early age. My feelings of love and admiration for this landscape would be my lead on a journey which was of (re)discovery and full of emotion.

Júlio de Matos
May, 6th 2009

Notes: The photographs in this gallery are part of a larger body of work, and were made for the large Watchout projection format (9m wide x 3m high), at the official ceremony in Régua, Portugal, in the presence of the Portuguese Prime-Minister António Guterres, on December 21, 2001. Since then, this project has been presented on various special occasions.


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