Júlio de Matos Photography

JORNAL DE LETRAS ARTES E IDEIAS (9 - 22 / 5 / 2007) [back]

Press Clips



The caravels also led the Portuguese to the four corners of the world. This is the idea that makes up the ballast of the future Sea of the Portuguese Language Museum, which aims to bring History, Linguistics and Literature together in the same space. It will be installed in the building until recently occupied by the Museum of Popular Art in Belém, Lisbon, and is expected to open to the public in June 2008.

The project, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, has been designed by the architect Júlio de Matos, who is working in close cooperation with a multidisciplinary steering committee comprising Fàtima Morna, Francisco Contente Domingues, Ivo Castro and Maria Rita Marquilhas. This is not a conventional museum displaying works of art, even if one considers the Portuguese language a precious artistic treasure. Therefore, according to Júlio de Matos, the "innovative and ambitious" project is a true “land clearance” or “navigation to terra incognita”. And the term navigate is exactly right, since this is a “virtual” museum, whose creation has been a “process of discovery”. A key concern is that it is the harbour for a fun journey and for (re)encountering the Portuguese Language and its Expansion. The “economic issue”, since the projected budget was not high, and "respect for the building", given its heritage value, were two key aspects in the design of this museum, JL was told by Júlio de Matos. And a “cosmetic” intervention, he adds, “non-destructive for the building”. The architect further points out that there was “an intimate link with the programming, adjusting to the concept and content developed by the steering committee”. “There was a continuous dialogue between form and content” and it was an “organic and natural process of interaction between various elements”.

Audiovisual and multimedia technologies will serve the primary objective of this museum, which is intended to be “interactive and enriching”. The Portuguese maritime adventure of the 15th and 16th Centuries, the oceanic explorations of the Discoveries which gave new worlds to the world, were also a factor in the linguistic enrichment, through contact with other cultures and languages, and the dissemination of Portuguese, so it is today the sixth most spoken language in the world. This inseparable historical connection is the cornerstone of the future museum, which also intends to explore potential relationships with the place where it will work, on the banks of the Tagus.


Plan of the Sea of the Portuguese Language Museum

A virtual tour
An area called the “Cardinal Points” is the gateway to the future of the Sea of the Portuguese Language Museum, and it is from there that we start our virtual tour, led by architect Júlio de Matos. The space is shaped like a boat and we head South, to a wing where History and the Discoveries are the main focus, in contrast to the North wing, where Language dominates. Here we are in the New Worlds gallery, dedicated to temporary exhibitions, a place people “will want to keep coming back to”, because the “contents are changeable”. The same may happen with the so-called “Consulting Room”, already within the universe of Language, a room in which paintings of the building itself, properly restored, will be visible. There, there will be “permanent and renewable multimedia and digital content” so another visit will always be justified. We enter the Discoveries Auditorium - of course both names and spaces could be changed up to the deadline for the public tender for the creation of the contents, as the architect warns - where we can see an audiovisual presentation with an overview of what can be found in the museum. A few minutes of “poetic synthesis” serves as an appetiser. And what can be found is mainly to do with the explorations, and not just the Portuguese endeavours. The development of the Portuguese Language and the Discoveries, however, take us via a corridor with a timeline, to an auditorium, shaped like a boat, with a moving platform that simulates the waves. With this rocking - and other sensations, sounds, smells - the way is prepared for the voyage, which will be “memorable”.

Returning to the “Cardinal Points”, following the Pilgrimage, of Fernão Mendes Pinto, we go in the direction of the “Universe of Language”. This opens up a world of possibilities for interactive exploration of the Language, from its origins to literary usage. We can rest a little on the “Prose Sofa” or the “Poetry Sofa”, looking at the images projected in front of us, as the words run by. Or set sail for the adventure "101 Seas of the Portuguese Language” or go into the “Speaking Library”, where we can listen to contemporary authors reading their own texts. The "Laboratory of the Senses" is an invitation to experience Portuguese through the senses, using texts particularly relating to acquisitions gathered during the Discoveries. Stay listening closely, as we continue the journey through a tunnel, on a voyage around the world through excerpts from radio broadcasts in Portuguese. Listen to the various nuances of the Portuguese Language as we pass “Whispering Wall”. And singing can be heard in local dialects, always from an artistic perspective.

Afterwards, the “Patio of Flavours” awaits us. “This is a fun and always educational journey”, Júlio de Matos explains. The names of things and the evolution of the language are the object of a three-dimensional animation, which precedes a final foray into the “Labyrinth of Words”, with portraits of Portuguese speakers in various continents. A maze that makes use of a cloister opening up to the outside, and it should ne noted that the whole museum experience will be created without knocking down any walls, rather as if it were a “second skin”, with “meticulous respect for the memory of the building”. The literary references, with texts by authors from different eras, and language, including vocabulary acquired from other cultures or specifically nautical terms, are, indeed, a constant throughout the visit, to allow visitors a "reading of the present through a dip into the past", as Júlio de Matos puts it. All information will be in Portuguese and English, to enable foreign tourists to also navigate the Sea of the Portuguese Language.

Maria Leonor Nunes
May, 2007

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