Not just one or two but three in one. This is a former convent with the second oldest museum collection in the region and on some afternoons includes recitals of guitar and fado. Of additional interest, we discovered elsewhere, is that the convent was purchased as a museum for the municipality by one of its few Jewish families, late in the nineteenth century.
Fado was the attraction, but of course when they told us the ticket included access to the collection we took full advantage. Wine beforehand, someone said: what more could we ask?
It is easy to imagine a small provincial museum being rather dusty with little of interest on display. Anything but here; plus it begins with a thematic arrangement of Islamic ware in context. Not that the Ummayyad settlers (from Ifriqiya – modern Tunisia) were the first; there had probably been Greeks, then Romans, and later Visigoths. The major antiquities are, however, Roman and Islamic.
We found a beautifully arranged display of domestic ware, emphasising the central role of women in Islamic households: worth bearing in mind when we hear of women in subjection nowadays. One dish has the “daisy-wheel” design, suggesting – as in medieval houses and churches here – protection from evil. There was a lamp in the shape of a shoe, giving a practical role to the turned up toe.
On a grand scale, and several centuries older, is a mosaic discovered under a house near Faro station. This shows a personification of the ocean, with geometric patterns and an inscription commemorating an early nobleman. The suggestion is that it was related to the villa at Estoi, 10 kilometres away, where the capital of the province of Ossonoba may have been, with Faro as its port.
Some paintings from the medieval or later period have interest, but the museum also doubles as a contemporary gallery. We found an installation based on the popularity of hats, an amusing exhibition of graphics and a display of twentieth century paintings linked to folk tales of the supernatural. Some of the paintings were gripping. They were an ideal prelude to the fado talk and recital to follow.
We were invited to the cloister, where a barrel served as bar and a choice of white, red or rose was on offer. Afterwards, it was back upstairs to one of the galleries, where we discovered our barman doubled as guitarist and narrator. There was a short film on the origins and development of fado, from the slums of Lisbon with the music brought by sailors from South America, a blend of fatalistic lament and rhythm sung by men and women, to its popularisation by such as Amalia Rodrigues, and its classification by UNESCO as a world heritage legacy.
The recital consisted of dramatic guitar, either solo or in duet, then in accompaniment to some sensational singing. Not long enough – we could have listened for hours – but certainly memorable and well worth the small price of 5 euros (including of course the museum).