Luz – Ocean Light

The new cultural project that wants to bring the past back to light

Even though the name Praia da Luz (which translates to ‘Beach of Light’) simply comes from ‘Nossa Senhora da Luz’ (as it was once called in the Middle Ages), if you were one of the few tourists to visit this quiet seaside village on the southwest coast of the Algarve in the 1970s, you could have been forgiven for thinking the name must have something to do with the abundance of lights you might see if you looked at the ocean at night.

Apparently the locals would try to trick the most gullible of these tourists into believing that these lights were Morocco. But, of course, they were actually the lights of the many fishing boats in what was then this thriving fishing village, heading out to sea.

However, times have changed and these days visitors may well come to another conclusion regarding the origin of the name of this village. You see, the “Luz” quickly moved from the ocean and made its way to land. This beautiful little coastal town has seen tremendous development over the past 30 to 40 years and has become a tourist hotspot. Fish canning factories have been closed and the bright lights of restaurants, hotels and even nightclubs now line the shore.

These days, those floating “string lights” that once shimmered at sea have begun to fade, and with them, an important part of the village’s past is fading as well.

Bringing the sea back to light

This is why the German journalist Monika Högen teamed up with anthropologist Tiago Goncalvez. “The waves of life”, as Monika said, brought her here last year and she became very interested in the culture and history of the place. Tiago is originally from Lisbon but used to holiday in Praia da Luz every year and witnessed the rapid changes first hand.

Together with a group of like-minded enthusiasts, they started a project called Luz – Light of the Ocean and they want to put the spotlight on the sea and the fishermen again. Their vision is to open a cultural center in Praia da Luz which will host exhibitions, events, performances, music and art – anything related to the sea. They want visitors to the beach know what it was like and use those memories of the past to build a bridge to modern times.

Surf the waves of life

To publicize this project, they organized an event at the Hotel Vila Luz on April 29 which I attended.

The original idea was to bring local fishermen to the event and have them tell their stories. Unfortunately, the ocean had other plans. At the last minute, Monika learned from these fishermen that they were stuck at sea and could not make it.

You just can’t argue with the power of Poseidon, and Monika has done an amazing job overcoming this latest surge. Very impressively, a local choir composed mainly of German singers called the “Cora da Primavera” led by musician Pedro Perreira serenaded us all with a collection of beautiful Portuguese songs about the sea. Vincent Jonckheere, from Conserveira do Arade – Saboreal and Pedro Evangelino of Algarve Dolphin Lovers stepped in to tell us about their plans and to help cover up the anglers we didn’t quite catch.

There were also wonderful displays by a few different local artists with sea-themed artwork. There were huge colorful papier-mâché fish by Tineke Smit, beautiful paintings by Els van der Laan and by Eva Herre, as well as incredible photos made using an ancient photographic printing process called cyanotype by Christina Kuhn.

The project is still in its infancy but Monika told me later that “The overwhelming feedback and the many people who came to our first event show the interest that exists for such an initiative. Nowadays, people want more than sun and beach. We hope to further convince local authorities that it could bring more tourists and interested people to the area (also out of season) and it can also be a business case for the local economy.”

They are always looking for partners, sponsors and funding and if you would like to get involved or maybe even attend a future event (which fingers crossed may feature anglers next time) please follow them on Facebook @luzoceanlight or email Monika @ [email protected]

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