Hints of regeneration in the “inner territories” of Portugal

A few weeks ago, an article published in the national newspaper Público caught me eyes: “There are still islands of dynamism in the unpopulated ocean that is the interior” (see image 1). 
The Portugal’s reference to “interior”, or inner territories, is closely related to Re-Place work on left-behind areas. Between 2018 and 2021, I have carried out a project on one of these areas, the council of Bragança in the region of Terras de Trás-os-Montes. What makes it an “inner territory” is not obvious at first, since it is a border region with Spain, and a region of traditional migration. I have found that it is much more international that the label may carry. But 4 people in 10 have left the region in the last 50 years, and Terras de Trás-os-Montes is the target for regional development programmes and fiscal incentives (see the article I published in 2022 in the Portuguese journal Cidades, Comunidades e Territórios). 
As for the concept of “islands of dynamism” that the geographer João Ferrão uses while interviewed for this Público piece of news, it had a strong resonance with me. I immediately thought of migration scholar Landau’s work on archipelagos and the way various localities are entangled, and embedded in wider networks. 
Ironically enough, the publication of the article coincided with a weekend I decided to organise to revisit my former fieldwork. I therefore wondered if Bragança and the villages forming the council were indeed showing signs of renewed dynamism. 
At least from this short visit I made, and from the conversations I had with the persons I had interviewed back in 2019 and 2020, there were several improvements and hints of regeneration. 
Visually at first, I was surprised by large wall paintings, very similar to the ones we usually see in Lisbon Metropolitan areas, but here focused on rural life (see image 2 and image 3). One of the entrepreneurs of the village I know well told me that this was the result of an external project. 
The touristic appeal of the villages was also reinforced with new hikes, and fresh and visible signs (see image 4). 
Tourism continued developing too through rural lodging, with new houses refurbished and turned into touristic accommodation (see image 5, image 6 and image 7). Although the interviews I conducted back then, and the conversations I had this August confirmed that migrant persons were not necessarily the majority owners of these houses, it is still interesting to note that the residents that had an experience of migration are, as Rossana Santos’s article shows, part of the process of maintenance and improvement of the landscape that enables tourism. 
The continuous relations between the villagers’ and the country where they had an experience of migration is still visible in the surrounding cities, notably through direct coach connections (see image 8). 
Tourism here seemed like a major engine for these changes, and the perception of these new activities were valued by the residents I met again. It brings life, they said. While mass tourism and lifestyle mobilities are in the crosshairs in Lisbon and Porto areas, one might wonder what will be the overall impact of tourism in the area, and what are the other possibilities the region offers for regeneration and for countering demographic loss. 

By Amandine Desille, IGOT UL