Once known as the Portuguese Manchester, Covilha is now mainly a city powered by UBI, the University of Beira Interior founded in 1986, when the old Instituto Politecnico da Covilha, founded in 1973, evolved to become university. Five or six decades ago more than 200 wool factories gave Covilha the epitome “Portuguese Manchester” hence the strength and power of these set of manufactures working and transforming wool, one of the most common raw products in the region. Back then it was a city of almost full employment; some families had all their members, five or six at times, at work and the vast majority of the city workers, apart from those working at the production lines, used to been seen wearing a suit and a tie.
In a city of extremes, where one has no option but to constantly climb up and down very steep inclines, Summer is extremely hot whereas Autumn and specially Winter are exceedingly cold. The highest portuguese peak is just 12 miles up the road; the city itself sits between 450 and 800 metres of altitude and it is the closest to the summit of Serra da Estrela.
Using a very similar approach to Inside Out and focusing on the collective as opposed to the individual, John Gallo played with the hard light and with the extreme shadows cast by the city's buildings trying to replicate how comfortably numb these citizens seem to be, resigned to live with scarcity imposed by years of dodgy management, by unfair competition from the emerging economies and by four years of cuts imposed by the IMF and the European Union – the bailout program that Portugal had to accept to avoid insolvency.
Covilha is no longer the Portuguese Manchester; in many ways Manchester is no longer the driving force behind United Kingdom's economy and both cities are now a faint shadow of what they were in not very distant past.
UBI is the pearl of the city – roughly 8000 students are committed to find a place in the sun, learning the secrets of the wool while buying and using clothing manufactured on the other side of the world by ruthless and unscrupulous brands and sold at insipid shopping centres – wonder if these young boys and girls will be brave enough to turn this around and give back to the city the splendour it once had.