From The Madeira Island Web Site
The Quintas of Madeira and Portugal today - a socio-political reflection
By Jorge Barbosa
Jun 10, 2008 - 10:42:16 AM
A socio-political reflection of the Quinta heritage in Madeira and Portugal
The vast and formerly aristocratic Quintas, usually owned by a select few, and then oftentimes intertwined, families in much of early 20th century Portugal, saw the rapid dissolution of their ownership, either by the division of their property into parts – many of which were subsequently surrendered to labourers who had lived and worked on their properties, or by being expropriated by the government to achieve some social, industrial or agricultural engineering scheme.
When, under the bloodless coup which overtook the authoritarian government, formerly led by the dictator Salazar, in 1975, many of the still remaining landlords and their surrogates resigned themselves to the fact that their lifestyle was about to undergo the most dramatic change ever. The threat of ensuing communistic undertones in the mid seventies had many landowners scampering to leave the country or selling their properties at cut-throat rates before having to entertain the threat of losing everything they owned. Those landlords that had the courage to remain steadfast faced the total extinction of their feudal lifestyle - either by merciless expropriations under the new government or by the rapid change of the legal system ruling property rights.
As such it is still expressed as recent history the way that Madeira, and Portugal for that matter, dismantled the yoke of feudalism that it had subscribed to for centuries. Many former farmers and labourers on the fields surviving today can still remember the system they endured in the past.
Vestiges of the feudal system still persist in many anachronistic laws here and there. A slow process of correctly distributing land that still has registrations and bureaucracy in its old feudal form still continue to find their way to lawyers, notaries and courts of justice, who assess and award land tenure to either the former landlords and their heirs or to the descendants of the serfs that farmed on them. It is not uncommon for many properties unto which it cannot be determined who the rightful owners are, either because the former absent landlords forgot to bequeath them to their descendants, or due to the resulting confusion descendants of the farmers had as to how to claim their rights to possession of the land under the new laws regarding property rights.
Quintas - still a fight for survival for some
It must not be understated how “loaded” the term Quinta is though - still today. It has political and social connotations that for the casual observer might not be apparent when visiting Madeira and Portugal over a short spell.
The social upheavals Portugal underwent through much of the twentieth century still have some former landlords upset at how their former possessions were affected. Many of them, their descendants or surrogates, still fight to this day to resolve property issues related to the great political changes that transformed their status as legitimate owners of properties they held. A point in case is the Hinton family of Funchal, once one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Madeira, having to take the local municipal authorities to court for claiming damages in the way some of their properties in downtown Funchal were expropriated illegally.
It was under the fear of this type of governmental meddling that some landowners devised ingenious solutions to retain as much land of theirs as possible and prevent the encroachment of public ownership of their property. The Blandy family, for example, another important and wealthy English family that has become part of the history of Madeira, transformed part of their significantly large estate at the Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro into a golf course! The creation of a hotel and the opening of the spectacular gardens – part of the private section of the family property - made it more difficult for the governing authorities to acquire and transform the vast stretches of land they owned into, say, industrial parks or other social or agricultural engineering projects.
At least when these vast estates were being used to provide a positive contribution to the development of the tourism industry of Madeira the local authorities were kept at bay.
But a new attitude, especially with the advent of modern communications in the late twentieth century, has pervaded the governing authorities. Instead of viewing the grand old Quintas as relics of a past Portugal wishes it could forget sooner than later they seek to embrace them now. The Quintas have become important references in a culture that seeks to find its own unique identity in the face of an onslaught of global socio-economic trends that would transform Portugal and Madeira into something indistinguishable from anywhere else in Europe. Also, the reemergence of former Eastern European countries as holiday destinations for travelers, competing for the same vacation trade that Portugal and Madeira enjoyed for decades, forced the local authorities to reconsider re-branding Madeira and Portugal as merely destinations for sun and beach vacations but also as a destination to enjoy culturally interesting tours and holidays.
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