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Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Unfortunate But Tolerated Decay Of Relevant Public Property



(Palacete Pinto Leite - Rua da Maternidade, Porto)

I visited a palace, a few days ago. I didn't know much about it, but it was a ten-minute walk from my flat and I was in an escapist mood, so I decided to just grab my camera, make my way there, and learn.

Well I hate to say it, but it's been a while since I've been this disappointed by a touristic endeavor. The state of the gardens is apparent in the photo above. It left a negative impression on me, right away, but I was willing to excuse it - since it's February and the weather hasn't been exactly picture-perfect. So I walked in, up the steps and into the opulent front room. Intricate columns and ceilings, a red carpet leading up a staircase, and a small peek of a stained glass window above. My excitement returned. I smiled at the man who walked up to me, asked him if I could wander around as I pleased, he said yes. I asked about pictures. He said no, not inside the palace. That... I hadn't expected.

He directed me to the service staircase (a smaller, narrower little thing to the right of the main one), since it was the only one who could take me up to the attic and down to the basement if I wished to see them. Hell yes I did. He walked away, leaving me to judge the state of the staircase by myself. Now, let's establish something here. I like UrbEx, right. I'm used to looking at wooden steps and deciding on a whim whether they're going to crumble under my weight - or not. This staircase was yet to reach the state that makes me doubt... but I had that gut feeling that maybe I should tread carefully.

Up I went, hand on the railing, until I reached the first floor and was momentarily blinded by both the light that entered the windows and the sheer beauty of the rooms. I found myself behind the stained glass window. Next, I found a gigantic old cabinet, the only piece of furniture in the house. I was the only visitor and I could hear the man I'd spoken to walking on the ground floor. I considered pulling my camera. I did not.

Fast forward a few rooms, I started to see the first serious signs of decay. The walls were peeling off. The floorboards basically complained - in pretty allarming ways - when you stepped on them. In one room, the corner of the ceiling had fallen off. On the basement, some doors frames were being held up by random pieces of wood. The more I explored, the more I saw these little things that annoyed me. I understood why they hadn't made me pay an entry fee - but I also understood why they hadn't let me take pictures.

I suppose it'd be bad for business, if every random visitor decided to walk out bearing evidence of the state this so-called palace is in. Fine. I didn't take pictures, but I fully intend to, one of these days (maybe with a smaller, quieter camera, since you can probably hear a shutter across five walls and two staircases in this kind of old house).

It messes with me, to witness this kind of situation. I can't decide whether it's better to leave a crumbling place open as a "touristic attraction", or just close it down so people don't have to actually see what the country isn't doing to keep its patrimony on its feet - even if the palace is constantly being used to host exhibits and workshops. There was even a Christmas market in 2011... my head aches just thinking of the disastrous possibilities of hundreds of people stomping around this place. (And it's been brought to my attention that some of the people who were present in that market had opinions just slightly more caustic than my own.)

So... now that we're reaching the end, forgive the extremely negative post. If you have the chance, do visit the palace. It's the stuff of dreams, really, with neat details front and center - it's the conservation, or lack thereof, that leaves much to be desired.

xx

PS - You can see photos of the interior of the palace here. Not mine, and taken almost a year and a half ago, but hey... at least you get the idea.

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