Óbidos, Portugal

Óbidos became the nineteenth UNESCO City of Literature in December 2015, on the same day as Ulyanovsk (Russia), Baghdad (Iraq), Tartu (Estonia), L’viv (Ukraine), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Barcelona (Spain), Nottingham (UK), and Montevideo (Uruguay) joined the Creative Cities Network.

Nestling on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, between the city of Caldas da Rainha and the municipality of Bombarral, Óbidos is an ancient haven for lovers of Portuguese literature.

With a population of only 12,000 people, Óbidos is the world’s smallest City of Literature.

1. Bookshops

Grande Livraria de Santiago (or Santiago Bookshop) resides in the Church of Santiago, originally built in 1186 at the orders of Dom Sancho I. It was rebuilt in 1772 after being destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. Alongside its collection of books, the bookshop also runs a popular series of film screenings, book releases and exhibitions.

Another bookshop in Óbidos, Livraria da Adega, is housed in a wine cellar, which also provides workspaces which can be rented by creative practitioners. Livraria da Adega is the perfect place for wine lovers and literature lovers alike to relax. Saúde!

2. Folio – the International Literature Festival

Óbidos is home to the FOLIO – Festival Literário Internacional de Óbidos, which was held for the first time in October 2015 as part of the project Óbidos Literary Town. The focus of this festival is to celebrate the wide range of exciting literature from Portuguese-speaking countries. The 2016 festival saw a ten day celebration involving fifty Portuguese writers reading from and discussing their work.

3. Óbidos Literary Town

The project Óbidos Literary Town is an initiative of Ler Devagar bookstore, centred on the promotion of writing and reading through the creation of a network of bookshops in historic buildings, regular meetings and workshops, projections, concerts and the organisation of the International Literary Festival. The project aims to further develop the relationships between local artists, authors, residents, tourists and local decision-makers, so that Óbidos can prosper as a City of Literature. It is supported by a creative writing company called Produções Fictícias, the Town Hall of Óbidos, and Óbidos Criativa.

4. The Mercado Biológico de Óbidos

The Mercado Biológico de Óbidos, a former organic market transformed into a bookstore, can be found on Straight Street in the old Refectory of the House. Ler Devagar, a bookseller from Lisbon, carried out the refurbishment of this building. Alongside a selection of fruit and vegetables, the store also holds a collection of alfarrabista (second-hand books) as well as tomes on travel, food and wine.

5. O Bichinho de Conto

O Bichinho de Conto is a bookstore and publishing house dedicated to children’s literature, providing a home for young people passionate about reading. The building was originally a primary school built as part of the centenary plan carried out by the Estado Novo (Second Republic) in the 1940s and 1960s. The bookstore organises regular meetings with authors, storytelling, workshops and activities for schools, and was part of ‘Tales Along the Way’; a series of workshops run for children between the ages of 5 to 8, to help them trace the Jacobean route to Santiago, evoking the stories told by pilgrims from all over the world.

6. The Literary Man Óbidos Hotel

Located next to Óbidos Castle, The Literary Man Óbidos Hotel is a unique hotel with an extensive collection of books, including best-sellers, illustrated children’s and adult’s books, historical fiction, crime, horror, and much more. The hotel’s collection spans over 40,000 books for its guests to enjoy – that should be enough for even the most voracious bibliophile! Guests can also choose from a literary gin menu and benefit from massages as part of their bibliotherapy.

7. Historical Influence on Literature

According to local legend, in 1282, Óbidos was gifted by King Dinis to his wife, Queen Isabel (Elizabeth of Aragon). Their daughter, Catherine of Aragon, was married to the infamous Henry VIII, and often features in popular historical fiction, from The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory to Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

8. The Medieval Fair

Every year during the summer months, Óbidos takes advantage of its mild climate and rich heritage to travel back in time to recreate the tradition and spirit of medieval Europe. Festivities feature knights in armour, an abundance of medieval theatre, classical music and recreations of medieval food.

9. Óbidos Technological Park

Óbidos Technological Park was a project run by designer Jorge Mealha, with the aim of linking academic research to business production, especially in the field of creative industries. The building is designed to combine elements of the traditional features of Óbidos’s landscape, such as its monasteries and farms, with a modern approach to increase the presence of green surfaces. The impressive-looking building now frames a piece of the landscape, and houses a number of start-up creative businesses within its floating structure.

10. Pelourinho House Gallery

The colourful Pelourinho House Gallery opened in 2004, providing the city with the space to promote new and talented upcoming artists. The Gallery takes its place as an alternative to the Museu Municipal de Óbidos museum, and features exhibitions of contemporary art, as well as housing a collection of books on poetry and the life and works of Portuguese author and literary critic Fernando Pessoa.