Aga Khan Foundation wants to help the Portuguese state to value a monument in Aljezur

The Aga Khan Foundation wants to form a "partnership" with the Portuguese State to enhance the Rîbat da Arrifana, the ruins […]

Minister of Culture at Ribat da Arrifana_er_01The Aga Khan Foundation wants to form a "partnership" with the Portuguese State to enhance the Rîbat da Arrifana, the ruins of the monastery-fortress founded by Ibn-Qasî in the 2013th century, on the coast of Aljezur, classified as a national monument since XNUMX.

The objective is to continue the archaeological excavations, which have been carried out since 2002, under the responsibility of archaeologists Mário and Rosa Varela Gomes, and to build, on this promontory of the Costa Vicentina, an Interpretation Center. However, for this, it is necessary to first resolve the issue of ownership of the land where the ruins of Rîbat are located, most of which are private.

To discuss all this, the minister of Culture Luís Castro Mendes visited, on Friday, the Rîbat da Arrifana, to meet with the president of the Chamber José Amarelinho, members of the Association for the Defense of the Historical and Archaeological Heritage of Aljezur, the director Algarve's Cultural Affairs Bureau and the Director of Cultural Goods of the DRC, in a visit that was also attended by Commander Nazim Ahmad, representative in Portugal of the Aga Khan Foundation for Development.

Negotiations with the owner of a large part of the land have been going on for years, without any result so far, as he, a German citizen, Sul Informação found out, has required 1,2 million euros. It is an amount that both the Ministry of Culture and the City Council of Aljezur consider exorbitant, since, in that area, on the edge of the cliff, in the middle of the Natural Park and now classified as a national monument, no tourist facilities can be built that would justify somehow inflation in the price.

Speaking to our newspaper at the end of the visit to Rîbat, the Minister of Culture stressed the interest the Government has in defending this monument. For now, he announced, "we are going to look first at the question of the appropriation of this space by the government, so that we can build the necessary structures here and also contract out the continuation of the archaeological work".

If the negotiation path does not work, as has happened so far, will the Ministry of Culture admit resorting to expropriation? "For sure! The law exists for that. This is a national monument, listed since 2013 and there is a decree restricting the use of space. Since it is a national monument and is included in a ZEP, in a Protected Zone, it is clear that the State can always exercise its right to appropriate this territory”, replied Minister Castro Mendes.


Minister of Culture at Ribat da Arrifana_er_03

During the visit, and taking advantage of the presence of a representative of the landowner, the minister had already warned that this is a «site that should be valued in terms of museology» and that in that place «it is not possible to build tourist developments».

The government official, in his interview with the Sul Informação, added that the Rîbat da Arrifana is «an extraordinary heritage, a XNUMXth century Sufi monastery that can be recovered and where we would like the archaeological work to continue, in order to recover the visibility of the structure of this small citadel, which was a place of prayer , but also of military training».

The objective is, he underlined, «to value and expose these ruins and build here an interpretive center that can explain to visitors, scholars, the meaning of this monument».

In addition, the minister added, the Rîbat “is in a beautiful place, in one of the most beautiful places imaginable and has great historical value, because there are only two known rîbats in the Iberian Peninsula, monasteries of Sufi warrior monks, one in Alicante and this one». In other words, “because of its location, its historical value, its cultural and heritage value, it really is a treasure of our country”.

As for the participation in the Aga Khan Foundation process, Luís Castro Mendes recalls that it is “a very important historical vestige of the Islamic presence in Portugal”.


Minister of Culture at Ribat da Arrifana_er_06

“For this reason, for the great connection that the Aga Khan Foundation has with Portugal, as its headquarters will be transferred from Switzerland to Portugal, for the great relationship that the Ismaili community has with Portugal, since a large part of Muslims in Portugal are Ismailis, they came from Mozambique, Goa, India, being a community very integrated in our common life», there is great interest from the Foundation in supporting the Portuguese State in this project.

The Minister of Culture reinforces: «the Aga Khan Foundation was interested in this heritage, for cultural reasons, for reasons that have to do with the presence of Sufi Islam in Portugal and because the Aga Khan Foundation has helped Portugal a lot in the cultural area, in various domains. This interest is natural and welcome».

The Aga Khan Foundation's great interest in this national monument was also highlighted by Commander Nazim Ahmad, its representative in Portugal and one of the leaders of the influential Portuguese Ismaili community. «It is very important to be able to put this piece on the world map. It can be very useful economically, socially and culturally, for Portugal and Aljezur, but also for students, universities, archaeologists and other researchers, for the Islamic world», Nazim Ahmad said in statements to Sul Informação.

What is intended to be created in that place is "an Information and Study Center, which can accommodate tourists, students, researchers and archaeologists," he added.

And what is the role of the Aga Khan Foundation in this process? "Our interest is in establishing a partnership, in order to support the candidacy [to European funds, guaranteeing the part that belongs to the national contribution] and to subsidize the rehabilitation of the Rîbat, together with the Aljezur City Council", clarified Nazim Ahmad .

Satisfied with the results of the meeting and the visit on Friday was the mayor, José Amarelinho. «It makes us believe that, in fact, the Rîbat da Arrifana will definitely be musealized, the entire estate will be exhibited here at the site, the archaeological excavations will continue and there is very relevant interest on the part of the Government and the Ministry of Culture for that to happen», said the mayor to our newspaper.

As for the fact that, in 2015 and this year, the City Council did not support the continuation of the archaeological work, which did not even continue this summer due to the lack of support, José Amarelinho explains that «we have derived our support from the Association for the Defense of the Heritage for other aspects and for other excavations, namely Barrada».

"What we really wanted is what is happening: a decision on the Rîbat da Arrifana!", stressed the mayor.

"What interests us is to resolve once and for all the issue of ownership of the monument, is to carry out the excavation in a continuous way, but with a project properly framed, in a fundamental intervention", he added.

«This is excellent news that the minister left today in Aljezur», concluded the mayor José Amarelinho.


Minister of Culture at Ribat da Arrifana_er_09
Archaeologist Mário Varela Gomes with Minister of Culture Luís Castro Mendes

A Sufi teacher in arms with Christians

Since 2002, the couple of archaeologists Mário and Rosa Varela Gomes, from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, have been coordinating excavations at Ponta da Atalaia, a small rocky promontory that seems to be advancing into the sea, on the coast of Aljezur.

At its tip, in the troubled XNUMXth century, there was a rîbat, a kind of monastery-fortress, inhabited by Muslim warrior-monks who took vows of poverty, commanded by the famous Ibn-Qasî, a Sufi master who probably lived there, with his community, when it already had at its doors the Christian knights of D. Afonso Henriques.

Over a dozen archaeological campaigns, researchers have uncovered several structures of the former monastery-fortress, including the base of the circular minaret, mosques with their mihrabs (oratories facing Mecca), the daara (madrasa) and the necropolis. As these are short archaeological campaigns, there is still a lot of work to be done, such that only about a third of the entire rîbat will already be excavated.

On Friday's visit to the rîbat, the minister of Culture had as guide the archaeologist Mário Varela Gomes, who showed how much has been uncovered during almost a decade and a half of archaeological work. Right at the entrance, in the necropolis area, Varela Gomes spoke of the two steles with Kufic writing, «very rare, unique because they have been found ,», discovered by researchers in two of the Islamic graves.

The archaeologist spoke of those troubled times of the XNUMXth century, when the fragile kingdoms of Muslim Taifas that then ruled the south of what is now Portugal, were being harassed by the Christian troops of D. Afonso Henriques. But where, even among Muslims, there were great divisions. So much so that Ibn-Qasî was even murdered by one of his closest friends…

In the necropolis, Varela Gomes recalled, in addition to Islamic tombs, two of them marked by such rare steles, "the tomb of a woman and three tombs with a Christian orientation" were also found. "It is possible that in the rîbat there were Christians who fought like Muslims," ​​said the archaeologist, under the watchful eyes of the Minister of Culture and Nazim Ahmad.

Mário Varela Gomes, pointing to the vast sea in front of the rocky promontory where the ruins stand, underlined that Ibn-Qasî, a Sufi master, «had the sea as his desert». And Minister Castro Mendes added: "it was a kind of Sufi military order, allying the contemplative with the warlike."

The Ponta da Atalaia rîbat is considered the most important structure of its kind in the entire Iberian Peninsula and its discovery has aroused the interest of researchers across Europe. It is, according to Rosa Varela Gomes, the «most western Islamic archaeological site in Europe».

Classified as a national monument in 2013 – the only one in the entire municipality of Aljezur – the rîbat is located on private land, and the purchase by the State has not yet advanced, which was even foreseen in the first version of the interventions of Sociedade Polis Litoral South-west.

Over the years of archaeological work, the Rîbat da Arrifana has been visited by numerous citizens of Islamic countries, some of them very illustrious, namely princes, ambassadors and other high dignitaries.

But the place, in Ponta da Atalaia, with an immense sea ahead, is also frequented by many tourists, as was seen during the minister's visit. “Imagine when there is an Interpretative Center here and when the ruins are musealized”, says the mayor José Amarelinho, with a twinkle in his eyes.


Photos: Elisabete Rodrigues|Sul Informação