Viana do Castelo – Portugal

My second-last day in Portugal, Pedro and I headed out for a day-trip to Viana do Castelo, a town with a gorgeous historic centre and strong ties to the sea.

Our first stop was the Basílica de Santa Luzia, a massive, domed, Neo-Byzantine construction that was clearly inspired by the architecture of the Sacré Coeur in Paris.

Basílica de Santa Luzia

Something that always fascinates me about these large religious buildings is that they usually seem a heck of a lot smaller inside than what they appear on the outside – and the Basílica de Santa Luzia is no exception.  The other surprise here is that this is a relatively recent construction – only finished in the 1950s.

From the Basílica, we drove into town and strolled through the narrow and very white streets in the beautiful, historic downtown area.  We took time out for a Bola de Berlim and coffee, and then headed off to explore the Gil Eannes Hospital Ship, which is now permanently docked in the Viana do Castelo port.

Gil Eannes hospital ship
Gil Eannes Hospital Ship in Viana do Castelo

This was a very cool museum!

The Gil Eannes Hospital Ship was built in 1955 in the Viana do Castelo shipyards.  Its main purpose was to support the Portuguese cod fishing fleet in the seas around Newfoundland and Greenland, and aside from offering medical services to the fishermen, it also served as a maritime authority, mail ship, tug, ice breaker and general support ship for the Portuguese fishing vessels.

Gil Eannes hospital ship

They’ve done an amazing job at restoring the ship, though it is clear that they are still working on it.

Gil Eannes hospital ship - quarters
Captain’s quarters (left) and an as-yet-to-be-restored crewman’s quarters

I was amazed to find how well-equipped the kitchen and galley was, though given the isolation of where the ship operated, I guess this shouldn’t have been surprising.  I was most impressed that they had a whole separate bakery, as well as significant wine and grain stores. 

Gil Eannes hospital ship - kitchen and stores
I was super-impressed with the size of the pan (middle-left), but I guess there were a lot of people to cook for!

But of course the main fascination for visiting this museum ship is to check out the medical aspects of it.  One of the first things you discover as you make your way down through the ship is the x-ray lab.  

Gil Eannes hospital ship - x-ray lab

Another interesting location was the pathology lab – this guy scared the crap out of me as I poked my head around the door initially.  I was not expecting to see anyone!

Gil Eannes hospital ship - pathology lab

And the operating theatre, with an elevator to bring passengers down to this low level in the ship, and a window through to a viewing room. 

Gil Eannes hospital ship - operating room
Elevator to bring patients down to the operating level on the ship (left) and the operating theatre (right). 

I thought this was so incredibly well done – very impressive!

There were many, many other interesting nooks and crannies, everything from a sterilization room, dispensary and hospital ward, through to the engine room and wireless rooms, through to a barber’s shop.  And, of course, we had to get a picture in the bridge 🙂

Gil Eannes hospital ship - wheelhouse
Pedro showing how it’s done! And yes, I love maps

So, an incredible restoration, where each of the rooms is well labelled.  But what is currently missing is all the other interesting information.   I had so many questions!   On average, how many passengers did they have at any one time?  What were the most common things they treated?  How and how often did they re-supply the ship?  

Still, totally worth the few Euro it costs to get in!



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