The fascinating mystery of the seven skirts

Witnessing an old Portuguese tradition that lives on…

We stared across the waist-high parapet, dumbstruck by the glorious view of Nazaré and the Atlantic Ocean below. From the large Sitio Square at a mountain ridge over 100 meters above sea level, the softly curved sandy shores, the curling white waves on the beach and the tranquil blue-green shaded waters seemed unreal, untouched, perfect.

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Behind us, the camera was rolling and so was she. Preening proudly. Posing flamboyantly. Smiling gleefully. Onlookers paused to gaze, and so did we. It was clear they were filming the traditional women of Nazare, possibly a story about the seven skirts that they wear. The chosen model was an old Portuguese woman selling peanuts, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and dried apricots on a makeshift stall. Photo-finished with her twinkling eyes and weathered wrinkles…no airbrushed makeup here.

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But the real show happened after the TV crew moved away. She danced. She danced with pure, unabashed joy…like it was the happiest day of her life. She danced with abandon…as if she hadn’t a care in the world. She danced without finesse…like it didn’t matter what anyone thought. She danced with innocence….as a child who had just been treated to his favourite candy. She danced with vanity…like the exultation of a chosen one. She was in seventh heaven.

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Her large gold earrings swung cheerfully and the turquoise pins studded on her hair bun glinted in the afternoon sun. I studied the pretty lace edging on her mauve-and-black outfit. The mauve-pink-green stockings on her legs were perfectly color-coordinated. She continued flaunting her seven skirts, her claim to fame. Her face was red with excitement…the day was going to keep her awake all night. She would be the talk of the town for several days to come, and she would narrate the story to everyone for weeks. Her family would gloat about it and her grandchildren would gather around her, watching the televised coverage again and again and again.

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So, seven skirts of Nazare…perhaps they are a symbol of the seven days of the week or seven colours of the rainbow or just the lucky number seven. A tradition from the times when fishermen’s wives waiting for the safe return of their husbands on the beach in cold, wet, windy conditions, used to clothe themselves in multiple layers to keep warm. My curiosity was connected not so much to the seven layers, but rather this: if they wear seven skirts everyday, do they own skirts in multiples of seven, i.e. fourteen, twenty one etc…how else would they have a fresh set every day of the week??

We moved away to inspect the beautiful 16th-century Shrine of Our Lady of Nazareth, known as Nossa Senhora da Nazare nearby. The richly decorated main altar had us staring for a long time. But I couldn’t help thinking about the seven-skirted woman on cloud nine.

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Later, as we mingled with pilgrims and tourists in the small chapel of Ermida da Memória, we learned about an even more famous local legend…that of Dom Fuas Roupinho, who was saved from a certain death by Virgin Mary while chasing a deer.

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In the small fishing village, 130 km from Lisbon on the west coast of Portugal, where tsunami-like waves push crazy surfers beyond limits of sensibility to perform inhuman feats in water, these women still wear seven skirts in winter. Two kinds of traditions live on…you choose your favourite! I know mine.

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68 thoughts on “The fascinating mystery of the seven skirts

  1. What a colorful place. I have not heard of the seven skirts, so interesting! Perhaps they just wash the underneath or outer one moving them along as they wash. Seems hard to have so many sets of 7!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure 7 skirts is a very flattering look either. I think you have to be very slim to wear 7 skirts and get away with it.
    Interesting tradition though; I had never heard of it. And you got some great photos too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an interesting story! I had never heard of this tradition and now I am definitely intrigued! I think wearing 7 skirts at once seems awfully bulky but what do I know 🙂 I’m heading to Portugal in the spring and would love to check something like this out 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your descriptive language in this article was so colorful. You inspired me to read the Rick Steve’s article on the same subject. He offered no better explanation for the origins of the seven skirt tradition. Perhaps, the undifined ubiquity is what gives this story its last charm.

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  5. What a great story! first and foremost, I have to say I love your style of writing! It’s so poetic and original! It makes you want to wonder in the streets of an old village or drink a cocktail with a book by a nice swimming pool (haha at least me^^) I wish I knew how this tradition started but I guess keeping the mystery is more interesting 😉 Great pics too !! xx

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  6. How intriguing! Are all seven skirts ornately decorated like the top one, or are the under ones more plain? I love that you saw her dance with happiness after the TV interview, that’s such a lovely moment to have witnessed.

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  7. Such an interesting story to read! I started wondering about the sets of skirts as well, but maybe they mix and match? I could only imagine the dance and the overall feeling of this place. The Lady of Nazareth Shrine looks fantastic! Such an opulent decoration!

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  8. Fascinating bit of culture. Did the Portuguese woman dress up specially for the film crew or is that her normal everyday attire? Portugal is high on my list.

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  9. Very interesting tradition, although I’m not sure I got it right. The woman in the first pictures is supposed to be wearing 7 skirts? Anyways, great post, lovely pictures, and lovely outfit (yours, loved the top). Cristina

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  10. Never heard about it but always like to read about the new places that’s what I always look for. Every new post increase my knowledge about this world. Thanks Sunita.

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  11. Lovely writing :). I just got back from Lisbon and Sintra. I actually saw an old woman dancing with abandon at the marina in Lisbon (though she was wearing a sweatsuit…! ahhahaha) and I will say there is nothing better than watching a woman in their 60’s or 70’s dancing without a care in the world, jiving and grooving without any concern about what they look like and pure joy on their face 🙂

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  12. I love the perspective you use in writing this post. Oftentimes, when we write or read travel blogs, there is a focus on the place and sights. But it is the locals of the land, the people, that also make a place what it is!

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  13. This is such an interesting story! The place looks wonderful but it was also great to read about the unique culture of the place… in this case, the 7 skirts! Fascinating! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I hoping to get to Portugal for the summer of 2018. The seven skirts tradition sounds fascinating. Like you I’m thinking how they can have enough to keep it up. How cool to happen upon so much unbridled joy as your lady danced. These are moment we remember!

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  15. Seriously, the way you described her dancing just gave me the chills. Nice storytelling! Definitely gotta dive in deeper into Portugal’s culture at some point… Oh and btw, I absolutely love your logo!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I love this story! I actually felt like I was there with you. I love the tradition of the seven skirts, but like many other commenters I’m curious as to how many she actually owns. I feel like this is the kind of tradition you see in real life and it sticks with you for a long time afterward.

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  17. I’d never heard of the Seven Skirts, how interesting. This little village looks like a really friendly place & the church is absolutely stunning. I’m planning on heading to Europe next year, Portugal is on the list, saving this article so I can remember to check this place out!

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  18. I’m super curious about the seven skirts now and the history behind it. I wonder if you have to have different sizes of skirts to go over the top of each other? It seems like to many layers and would be interesting to see! Also how cool to see footage being recorded and to stumble upon on your travels. The church photos are also very beautiful!

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  19. What a neat thing to stumble upon. I’m curious about how they purchase their skirts as well. You really seem to have a good knack find chasing history! I’m going to see if I can find out more about the seven skirts. Thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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