ITINERANTE: Lighthouses are always present in your life…
JOAQUIM BOIÇA: Yes, actually. Lighthouses are part of my life. I was born in Aveiro… My father was working at the Lighthouse of Barra de Aveiro…and for many and many years I lived in lighthouses… After Aveiro, we came to Lisbon region and here we’ve stayed… I’ve lived in Cascais, S. Julião, Cape Raso, Roca…
But you’ve never been a lighthouse keeper… When you became a researcher you took hold of all that past experience and began studying lighthouses, didn’t you?
But not immediately. I was interested, of course, but I began with other themes. Then, when the opportunity arose, I didn’t reject it, and I understood immediately that the subject had been little studied from the historical point of view. It still is nowadays in spite of all further progress.
Let’s talk about our lighthouses: when did the first ones appear in Portugal?
There’s a background explanation for it: we are a people who set out to discovery and it’s the growth of our sea trade that will help the development of lighthouses. Thus the first lighthouses date back to the second and third decades of the 16th century. And they are built on three key coastal spots: the lighthouse of Cape S. Vicente in 1520, then in 1528 (this date is confirmed) the lighthouse of S. Miguel-o-Anjo in Oporto, and the lighthouse of Guia around 1537. In the 17th century other three lighthouses are built at the bar entrance of main ports: Lisbon, Oporto and Viana do Castelo.
There’s the feeling that Portugal has never been on the “front line”…
That´s another matter that has been much talked about in the history of Portuguese lighthouses. Our technological hindrance and our delay in lighting the coast gave us the sad nickname of “Black Coast”, but in my opinion that was true between mid and late 19th century only.
We didn’t keep pace with the so called industrialization of lighthouses, other countries went from manual to industrial lighthouses and there were some important builders, mainly French and English. It took us some time to realize that something was changing from the technological point of view and that it was important to invest in lighthouses instead of keeping old instruments working.
But we recovered …
Yes, we did, and now we are fortunately at the same level as other countries. The Lighthouse Board of Directors has been doing excellent work; nowadays there’s great concern for our national heritage.
And what will the future of lighthouses be?
Sunny, I think…The need for lighthouses has been much discussed as well as whether the human element is dispensable or not… In my opinion, lighthouses will go on having an important role. As to lighthouse keepers, I think exactly the same: they are no longer jacks of all trades but skilled technicians who prevent the decay of the spots and grant safety to sailors. Both lighthouses and lighthouse keepers are indispensable to navigation.
And you, what are your prospects for the future?
I want to go on writing monographs about the lighthouses that are more relevant for me and I’d like to make a global analysis of Portuguese lighthouses. There are big thematic groups that must be studied and understood as a whole. For example, the lighthouse of Barra do Tejo (bar of Tagus) and the one of the port of Lisbon. There’s much work to be done yet… Meanwhile I’m collecting material.