I love books and I can spend hours in a good bookstore. Porto’s Livraria Lello & Irmão was on my short list of places to visit in Portugal.
Livraria Lello, or the Lello Bookstore in English, is one of the most beautiful and, thanks to J.K. Rowlings, one of the most famous bookstores in the world. When J.K. Rowling lived in Porto, she began work on the Harry Potter series. She was a frequent visitor to the bookstore and the amazing central staircase was the inspiration behind the moving staircases of Harry’s Alma Mater, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Livraria Lello began life in 1869 as Internacional Livraria de Ernesto Chardron. When Senhor Chardron passed away, the bookstore was purchased by Lugan & Genelioux Sucessores who eventually sold the bookstore to the Lello brothers in 1894. The brothers Lello decided to build a new bookstore and hired engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves to build the new bookstore on Rua das Carmelitas, in the shadow of the Clérigos Tower The new Livraria Lello & Irmão opened its doors in 1906.
The bookstore is truly beautiful. The exterior is a Neo-Gothic with vivid Arte Nouveau paintings, including the two figures of Art and Science, painted by Professor José Bielman. Just above the door, in gilt lettering, the name “Livraria Chardron” celebrates the early history of the bookstore.
The bookstore saw an increase in visitors who, driven by the popularity of the Harry Potter books, just wanted to see the interior that gave birth to the fantastic architecture of Hogwarts. Because most of the visitors were not actually there to make a purchase, Livraria Lello began charging an admission fee in 2015, with the price of the admission ticket being deducted from the price of any book purchase.
The interior is truly special. There are busts of some of the greatest Portuguese writers, including Eça de Queirós and Camilo Castelo Branco, The interior has a lot of art deco touches, including the stained glass skylight and the famous forked staircase. The interior seems to be of wood, but it’s actually plaster painted to look like wood.
As you can see from the photos, browsing through the books is a bit of a chore. You have to fight your way through the hundreds of visitors. We did manage to look through the cookbooks but, alas, the selection of English language Portuguese cookbooks was extremely limited. Once I’ve learned enough of the Portuguese language to read in the language I’d love to go back to peruse the selection of Portuguese classics. What I’ve read so far- Jose Saramago, Eça de Queirós and Fernando Pessoa- have whetted my appetite for more Portuguese literature.
My dream is to be able to visit Livraria Lello when there are no crowds so I can browse the shelves for literary treasures that may be hidden there. And while I’m searching for treasure maybe I’ll try to catch a few photos of this amazing store.