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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Siza Vieira’s Scenic Viewpoint Opens Over Portugal’s Appalachian Trail

Updated: May 8


At Miradouro do Zebro, two round glass plates, on opposite sides of the circular platform, allow visitors to look at the rocks below them to the bottom of the valley. Instead of viewing gray pavement and movement, as from The Ledge, a glass balcony in the former Sears Tower, in Chicago, visitors to central Portugal see yellow gorse and stillness. (Photo by R.P., SAPO Viagens)

 

Designed by the world-renowned architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, an iconic scenic platform juts out from the steep-sloped Serra do Moradal mountains, creating a panoramic view as far as the Serra da Estrela range about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away by road.

 

The observation viewpoint, Miradouro do Zebro, offers a dizzying view that stretches across the Ribeira das Casas da Zebreira Valley in the mountain range, which is a wall of schist, granite and quartzite, according to the Parish of Freguesia Estreito-Vilar Barroco.

 

“I hope that people do not feel afraid when they are at Miradouro do Zebro,” said architect Siza Viera, according to Expresso. (Photo by R.P., SAPO Viagens)

 

In central Portugal, the Miradouro do Zebro is located in Oleiros Municipality, Castelo Branco District, in Geopark Naturtejo, which includes seven municipalities.


In 2006, the 5,000-kilometer (3,107-mile) Geopark Naturtejo was the first in Portugal to be integrated by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) into its global network of geoparks, which are sites and landscapes of geological significance managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development, according to Visit Portugal and the UNESCO websites.

 

The Miradouro do Zebro is Siza Vieira’s first such project in the 70-year career of the native of Matosinhos, Porto. It was inaugurated in the Parish of Estreito-Vilar Barroco on April 25.   

 

“It is my first scenic viewpoint, but I saw the project’s potential. The landscape was marvelous, and the topography a challenge: that massif of rocks over an extensive valley without interruption. A clean landscape,” said Siza Vieira, in an Oleiros Municipality video. 

 

“The landscape is photographic, creating an irresistible stimulus. Challenging but, at the same time, kind. It was a gift,” said Siza Vieira, in the Oleiros Municipality video.

 

In December 2023, the 90-year-old architect received the private Ilídio Pinho Foundation award and the government Grand Cross of the Military Order of Sant’Iago da Espada. In 1992, Siza Vieira became the first Portuguese to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an international prize awarded each year to a living architect for significant achievement. The prize was established in 1979 by the Pritzker family of Chicago through its Hyatt Foundation. It is often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel”, according to its website.

 

The architect’s design perches on a cliff 30 meters (98 feet) above the ground, His concrete observation point is a circular platform, 15 meters (49 feet) in diameter, suspended from the rock. Two round glass plates, on opposite sides, allow visitors to look at the rocks below them 150 meters, (492 feet) to the bottom of the valley. reported Expresso (May 1).

 

Instead of viewing gray pavement and movement, as from “The Ledge”, a glass balcony in the former Sears Tower, in Chicago, visitors to central Portugal see yellow broom and stillness.


Zebro


There are also interpretive panels that identify mountain ranges and explain the origin of the name of the observation point, “Zebro”.

 

Zebro was a species of horse that lived in the Iberian Peninsula until the 16th century. The description reads that “it would be an animal similar to a domestic donkey, but taller and stronger, very fast, with a bad temperament and with gray and white striped fur on its back and legs.”

 

When the Portuguese explored the African coast, around the Cape of Good Hope, at the end of the 15th century, they encountered animals similar to female zebros, due to their size and shape,  and gave them the name “zebras”, according to Enzebras in Albacete, a Mysterious Extinct Animal (April 28, 2011), Historia de Albacete. Merriam-Webster Dictionary also traces the word “zebra” to Portuguese for “wild ass”. It dates the first known use of “zebra” to 1597.


International Appalachian Trail

 

The Miradouro do Zebro also overlooks the 37-kilometer (23-mile) International Appalachian Trail, according to Oleiros Municipality. The American mountain chain’s other half loops south to Morocco. The Appalachian-Caledonian Mountains were formed 250 million years ago, when the earth’s plates collided to form the supercontinent Pangea. When Pangea separated to form the Atlantic Ocean, remnants of the mountains ended up in the eastern United States; Canada; Greenland; Scandinavia; the British Isles; Brittany; the Iberian Peninsula, and the Anti-Atlas Mountains on Morocco, according to the International Appalachian Trail website.


“God wills, man dreams, the work is born.”

 

In an effort to attract more visitors, Fernando Jorge, the previous president of Oleiros Municipality, invited the famous Siza Vieira to visit the wild observation site in 2021 with an eye to redeveloping it, according to the municipality. He admitted that the dream was a difficult one. However, he followed the confession with a fortifying quote from Fernando Pessoa’s Mensagem: “God wills, man dreams, the work is born.”

 

Besides former president Fernando Jorge, the inauguration was attended by the Secretary of State for Tourism, Pedro Machado; president of the Comissão de Coordenação e Desenvolvimento Regional do Centro CCDRC), Isabel Damasceno; members of the Municipal Assembly and the executive branch; mayors of the parish councils, and others.

 

The redevelopment of the Miradouro do Zebro cost €596,661.35, having received financing from community funds, through Portugal 2020, in the amount of €414,660.46, according to Oleiros Municipality. 


About 45 kilometers (28 miles) away, between the municipalities of Proença-a-Nova and Nisa, is Siza Vieira’s first work in the country’s interior: the Torre de Vigia da Serra das Talhadas (the Watchtower of the Talhadas Mountain Range), reported ArchDaily (July 1, 2021). It is part of a larger project comprising several structures dedicated to ecotourism, including the Miradouro do Zebro.

 

“It’s transforming a lookout post into an architectural landmark and a new tourist destination. . . . This is also why the interior of the country has a future,” said Secretary João Paulo Catarino, at the watchtower’s inauguration in 2021. (Photo from Noticás do Centro)

 

The four-floor, 16-meter (52-feet) watchtower is built with a lightweight steel structure with photovoltaic panels, very different from most of the architect’s work in scale and materials. It is his first work in metallic structures, reported Espaço de Arquitetura (June 16, 2021). João Lobo, then president of the Municipal Council of Proença-a-Nova, said:

 

“It is with the ability to do something different at each time that we make leaps of evolution and this work presents us with the horizon and invites us to change.”

 

At the watchtower’s inauguration on June 13, 2021, João Paulo Catarino, the Secretary of State for the Conservation of Nature, Forests and Spatial Planning and a native of Proença-a-Nova, said:

 

“It’s transforming a lookout post into an architectural landmark and a new tourist destination. There is now a sculpture by one of the greatest architects in the world in one of the most beautiful places in the world which, in some months of the year, is also used as a (fire) lookout post.

 

“This is also why the interior of the country has a future.”

 

Both of Álvaro Siza Vieira’s projects, Miradouro do Zebro and the Torre de Vigia da Serra das Talhadas, are in Castelo Branco District.

 

In addition to the watchtower, a ramp was built to assist in such aerial sports as paragliding as well as the longest via ferrata in Portugal, with a total of 1,600 meters (5,249 feet), between Miradouro dos Carregais and Siza Viera’s metal structure, reported ArchDaily. A via ferrata is a vertical route equipped with steel cables, clamps and suspension bridges that allow safe ascent to areas that are difficult for those who are not climbers, according to an adventure sports business.

 

The total investment in the redevelopment of the Serra das Talhadas was €625,000, €250,000 of which was financed by Turismo de Portugal, reported Espaço de Arquitetura.

 

 

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