25 April: Vila de Rei experienced a reformist and progressive impulse from the 1990s onwards

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The municipality of Vila de Rei, in the district of Castelo Branco, has only experienced a reformist and progressive impulse since 1990, the vice-president of the municipality told the Lusa news agency, highlighting the construction of road accesses.

Paulo César Luís is part of the generation of politicians born after April 25, 1974. He doesn’t identify with the land’s anthem, which sings of a poor and forgotten people in the interior of Portugal, but he recognizes that this was the feeling of those who lived in the geodesic center of the country.

Today, the municipality is crossed by the National Road 2 bypass, which shortened “the time” to reach Abrantes and Sertã, and which connects to the A23, already completed in the 2000s. Going to Lisbon, he recalled, was “a journey”.

“It was with this road [the National 2 bypass], at the end of the 1990s, that we felt that we really belonged in this country and that we weren’t just a forgotten spot on the map,” said the mayor.

Even trade with neighboring municipalities was hampered by the old, winding road, both north and south. The most direct access to Ferreira do Zêzere was by ferry.

“We only got an extra boost with the construction of the bridge (in 1993/94), which made it much easier for us to trade with the municipality of Ferreira do Zêzere, and again we’re entering the 90s. What we’ve seen is that from April 25th until 1990, it was only from the 1990s onwards that we felt a reformist and progressive impulse in the municipality of Vila de Rei, but not until then,” he said.

In a two-volume edition by the Vila de Rei Town Council (Contrasts and Transformations), the change of regime in 1974 and the “isolation” and “backwardness” in which the municipality was plunged, like “so many others”, are highlighted, as well as the construction of infrastructures in the years that followed.

“There was a strange conviction that roads, especially the national highway, were a bad thing, because they represented an exit door,” reads the second volume. It took almost six hours to travel the 170 kilometers between Vila de Rei and Lisbon.

It was also in the 1990s that the municipality began to be served by a drinking water network from the Castelo de Bode reservoir, which put an end to the precarious and poorly quality-controlled abstraction from boreholes and mines.

“My village had ditches everywhere,” recalled the mayor, confessing that the episode that most marked him about the arrival of progress in the village where he was born, Milreu, was when one of his brothers fell into a drainage ditch: “It was a party [laughs]. For my brother it wasn’t a party, but for us it was, because he fell into a ditch that was much higher than him. You can also see the safety conditions of the works at that time, it was that way anyway”.

The municipality lived off timber extraction and trade was “archaic”, admitted Paulo César Luís. Live cattle were taken to Abrantes for the fair, “on an extraordinary journey”, which was repeated on the way back, “always on foot”.

“It’s indescribable, but that’s how people lived back then,” he said. “The time it took us to get to Abrantes was almost what it takes today to get to Lisbon,” he said.

As well as roads, other paths had to be opened up over the last 50 years. “We had to grow mentally in order to start growing economically,” said the mayor, referring to the steps that had to be taken in education. The vast majority of the population was illiterate or had only a few years of schooling, not even completing fourth grade.

The Senior University of Vila de Rei today brings together people with different types of backgrounds, whether or not they have managed to continue their studies. The range of activities goes from theater to ‘walking football’, a sport in which it is forbidden to run, only to walk. The participants are almost all over 65 and are “very enthusiastic”.

José Costa, 61, takes part in training when challenged. He moved from Azeitão (Setúbal) to Vila de Rei, where his wife has family, and began by attending drama classes. In his youth, he did theater and joined bands that played in the villages. When the drama teacher left the Senior University, he was invited to take on the role.

Now he wants to create a theater group in Vila de Rei: “I have a project here and I’ve already spoken to the council, it’s been approved, to form an independent, amateur theater group and open it up to the community. My idea is to mix people from the Senior University with people from outside. I already have two kids. They read a play I wrote and really liked it. We’re now at the stage of dealing with insurance, all that bureaucracy. My intention is to mix people up,” he said.

Another project he intends to carry out, but has yet to find funding for, is to take the people of Vila de Rei to places they’ve never been. “There are people here who have never seen the sea,” he revealed.

Moti Shabi
Moti Shabi
Moti Shabi

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