José Saramago House Museum

Celebrating their 13th anniversary

We were reminded recently that it has been thirteen years since José Saramago House Museum opened its doors to visitors, who have turned up in their thousands from different continents and countries. Readers of Saramago’s novels, mostly, the visiting public also include the merely inquisitive callers who may not have been so familiar with his work. Visitors have been able to tour the rooms (many of which are lined floor to ceiling by books) of the writer’s house. Visitors can also contemplate the landscape of Saramago’s sunsets, afforded by the views to Papagayo on one side, and of Lobos and Fuerteventura from the front. The house museum is magnificent building and offers fantastic views of the coastline way down below.

José Saramago (born November 16, 1922, Azinhaga, Portugal—died June 18, 2010, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain) Portuguese novelist and man of letters who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

The son of rural labourers, Saramago grew up in great poverty in Lisbon. After holding a series of jobs as mechanic and metalworker, Saramago began working in a Lisbon publishing firm and eventually became a journalist and translator. He joined the Portuguese Communist Party in 1969, published several volumes of poems, and served as editor of a Lisbon newspaper in 1974–75 during the cultural thaw that followed the overthrow of the dictatorship of António Salazar. An anti-communist backlash followed in which Saramago lost his position, and in his 50s he began writing the novels that would eventually establish his international reputation.

One of Saramago’s most important novels is Memorial do convento (1982; “Memoirs of the Convent”; Eng. trans. Baltasar and Blimunda). With 18th-century Portugal (during the Inquisition) as a backdrop, it chronicles the efforts of a handicapped war veteran and his lover to flee their situation by using a flying machine powered by human will. Saramago alternates this allegorical fantasy with grimly realistic descriptions of the construction of the Mafra Convent by thousands of labourers pressed into service by King John V. Another ambitious novel, O ano da morte de Ricardo Reis (1984; The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis), juxtaposes the romantic involvements of its narrator, a poet-physician who returns to Portugal at the start of the Salazar dictatorship, with long dialogues that examine human nature as revealed in Portuguese history and culture.

Saramago’s practice of setting whimsical parables against realistic historical backgrounds in order to comment ironically on human foibles is exemplified in two novels: A jangada de pedra (1986; The Stone Raft; film 2002), which explores the situation that ensues when the Iberian Peninsula breaks off from Europe and becomes an island, and O evangelho segundo Jesus Cristo (1991; The Gospel According to Jesus Christ), which posits Christ as an innocent caught in the machinations of God and Satan. The outspoken atheist’s ironic comments in The Gospel According to Jesus Christ were deemed too cutting by the Roman Catholic Church, which pressured the Portuguese government to block the book’s entry for a literary prize in 1992. As a result of what he considered censorship, Saramago went into self-imposed exile on the Canary Islands for the remainder of his life.

Among Saramago’s other novels are his first, Manual de pintura e caligrafia (1976; Manual of Painting and Calligraphy), and such subsequent works as Historia do cerco de Lisboa (1989; The History of the Siege of Lisbon), Todos os nomes (1997; All the Names), O homem duplicado (2002; The Double), As intermitências da morte (2005; Death with Interruptions), and A viagem do elefante (2008; The Elephant’s Journey). Ensaio sobre a cegueira (1995; “Essay on Blindness”; Eng. trans. Blindness; film 2008) and Ensaio sobre a lucidez (2004; “Essay on Lucidity”; Eng. trans. Seeing) are companion novels. In 2012 his novel Claraboya (“Skylight”), which had been written in the 1950s but languished in a Portuguese publishing house for decades, was posthumously published.

Saramago also wrote poetry, plays, and several volumes of essays and short stories, as well as autobiographical works. His memoir As pequenas memórias (2006; Small Memories) focuses on his childhood. When he received the Nobel Prize in 1998, his novels were widely read in Europe but less known in the United States; he subsequently gained popularity worldwide. He was the first Portuguese-language writer to win the Nobel Prize. In 1999 the biennial Prémio Literário José Saramago (José Saramago Literary Prize) was established in his honour to recognize young authors writing in Portuguese.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “José Saramago”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 Nov. 2023, Accessed 9 April 2024.

Visitors to the house museum can enjoy a Portuguese coffee in the Saramago kitchen but whenever we visit we take our drink out into the beautiful garden.

The House of the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature José Saramago, in a nod to his novel The Year Of The Death Of Ricardo Reís, opened its doors to the public just nine months after Saramago´s death , on June 18, 2010.

In this way Saramago remains alive not only in the memory of his readers, but also in his house through the people who visit and inhabit it.

Visitors have flocked to tour the magnificent rooms and gardens of the house, situated on the crest of the hill in Tias, with plenty of car parking on nearby open land.

It may be a museum and it is certainly a place of gentle opulence but is often referred to by those signing the visitors books as ‘a very alive house’, a phrase that is repeated in Google reviews, at the end of the tour of the house, gardens and the library.

Tours are mostly undertaken in the company of guides who say they feel like they are part of the Saramago family, because of their knowledge of the author and his work. This is apparent in the quality and warmth with which they tell details of Saramago’s daily and literary life in Lanzarote.

Saramago was, of course, not only a writer both profound and prolific, but also a humanist who stood out for his commitment to defending Human Rights, social justice and peace.

The José Saramago House Museum celebrated this 13th anniversary by toasting with visitors from different communities and countries, Catalonia, Madrid, Euskadi, Portugal, Italy, Germany, France and announcing its next cultural activities for this year 2024, such as the presentation of

On April 26, a highly anticipated event that will be broadcast in streaming, and in which the two House Museums of two Nobel Prize winners, Pablo Neruda and Saramago, will participate, on two islands, Isla Negra and Lanzarote.

Many readers of these pages will also be aware that the Annual Lanzarote Book Fair will be held in Teguise on May 2 to 5 and will feature, for the first time, the participation, of the José Saramago House Museum.

Finally, you might be interested to know that the José Saramago Library is open for reading in the afternoon of every first Tuesday of each month with the ‘Reading Out Loud’ program  organized by the Puerto del Carmen Reading Club, which began in January, reading texts and poems about peace.