INTERIOR After fifty years the central region of Portugal continues to struggle with the consequences of depopulation particularly from the 1960’s onwards.
Important underpinnings to the exodus during the decades of the Estado Novo dictatorship were the conspicuous poverty of a rural majority coupled with economic issues associated with subsistence farming. Amidst a geography of small land plots, low yield soils, and overall challenging conditions to mechanical farming, the subsistence of families and social rituals were then intimately entwined with the artisanal production of olive oil, cereals, and cheese.
Such ways of living and livelihoods were utterly transformed after the 1974 revolution and further integration of the country in the European economic context. The youth, seeking better job opportunities, education, and access to services and infrastructures, migrated to central Europe or settled in Portugal’s industrialised urban regions along the coast.
Today the country’s inland is inhabited by a largely ageing population in scattered villages and small towns. Rural traditions and popular knowledge are at risk of disappearing altogether. Low returns from a thoroughly partitioned rural cadastre and the indifference of absent, urbanised landowners have contributed to the expansion of the unapt or unplanned forest cover and with it the recurrent wildfires that torment the country like a plague. In 2017 and in this area alone, almost 740 thousand acres of forest were caught in the blazes and over 100 people lost their lives in the sweeping wildfires.
Glaringly obvious as it is, here we have most of Portugal’s territory fading away to the oblivion of city dwellers, neglected and concealed by the state administration in the urban coast. Even so, many still call these places their home. The present work is about their life stories.
55% of the world population now lives in urban areas. According to the United Nations 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, this number is projected to rise to 68% in 2050 notably due to the urbanising global south. x
RICARDO LOPES JUNE 2022