Livraria Lello, Porto

Another stop on our Portugal trip was a visit to one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, Livraria Lello e Irmão.  Opened in 1906 by brothers José and António Lello, the bookstore is now a protected historic building.  Famous for its interior, the building’s Art Nouveau exterior is no less impressive.

Livraria Lello has, in recent years, become an attraction for fans of the Harry Potter franchise.  Rumor has it that J.K. Rowling was so inspired by the beauty of the library’s central staircase that she based the fantastical staircases of Hogwarts on them.   Livraria has fully embraced the notoriety, even occasionally hosting Harry Potter themed “Dinner for Fans” nights.

There are negatives to all the attention, though.  The bookstore has become crowded with tourists visiting the site that inspired Hogwarts rather than coming to buy books (and yes, I realize that I was one of those tourists).  Access is now controlled by a doorman and the bookstore has begun charging an admission fee (which is refunded with any book purchase).

For me, the bookstore was so crowded that our visit was much less enjoyable than I had expected.  Bookstores are something to be savored, lingering over the shelves to discover something new and interesting.  I’m not sure how people manage to actually browse the bookshelves at this point.  I would have loved to experience this beautiful bookstore before the notoriety.

Lello Interior 5

São Bento Railway Station, Porto

One of my favorite stops on our Portugal trip was São Bento Railway Station in Porto.  Opened in 1916, Porto’s train station is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world.

The vestibule of the station is what makes it so special.  Over 20,000 azulejo tiles adorn the walls.  The tiles are the work of Jorge Colaço, an important Portuguese artist who specialized in painting large murals using azulejos.  The walls are covered with blue azulejos depicting scenes from Portugal’s history.  Polychromatic tiles border the ceiling and show scenes from the history of transportation in Portugal.

São Bento Railway Station may look like a museum but it’s a working railway station with lines to Braga, Guimarães, and Aveiro as well as being the starting point for the scenic Douro Line.

Sao Bento 6

The Royal Palace of Coimbra

For many years, the Portuguese royal family lived in Coimbra.  The first king, Afonso I, is buried in the Santa Cruz Monastery, and the city was the home of the Portuguese House of Burgundy.  Their home was the beautiful Royal Palace of Coimbra, now the Old University of Coimbra.

University.jpg

The University is one of the oldest universities in the world.  Originally established in Lisbon in 1290, the university was originally moved to Coimbra in 1308.  The university was moved between Lisbon and Coimbra several times before moving permanently to Coimbra in 1537, where it was permanently installed in the Royal Palace.

There are several beautiful spaces in the palace that harken back to the days when the Royal family lived here.  The Great Hall of Acts was once the Throne Room of the Royal Palace and the room where, in 1385, King John I was proclaimed king of Portugal.

Great Hall

Portraits of the kings of Portugal line the walls of the Great Hall.  Interestingly, there are a few exceptions.  The three Hapsburg kings- Phillip I, Phillip II and Phillip III- are not to be found here.  From 1581 until 1640, these three kings, Spanish by birth, ruled Portugal.  The Hapsburg rule ended when John II, Duke of Braganza, claimed the throne as the great great grandson of King Manuel I.  The rule of the Hapsburg dynasty is still, after many centuries, still a sore point with many Portuguese.

Another great space in the palace is the Private Examination Room.  This was originally the king’s private chamber and sleeping quarters.  As a part of the University, the room was where doctoral candidates underwent a private oral examination.  Portraits of the University’s rectors line the room.

Private Exam Room

The Arms Room houses the weapons of the Royal Academic Guard.  Today, the weapons are used only during formal ceremonies such as the formal beginning of classes and the investiture of a new rector.

Arms Room

There are plenty of other great spaces to explore at the University beyond the walls of the Royal Palace.  The Joanine Library and Saint Michael’s Chapel are not to be missed.  The University is a great place and well worth the time you’ll spend exploring.

Lines and Shadows

These two photos- one of the Atrium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the other of The Grove Arcade in Asheville, North Carolina- have a similar feel.  I like the way the light coming through the overhead windows create a shadowy grid in both pictures.

At the Met, the shadows fall high on the structure and emphasize the openness of the atrium.  The shadows seem to cast a protective net over the atrium, protecting its occupants from the outside world.  You’re still aware, though, that despite the beautiful natural light, the park-like feel of the atrium is, in fact, artificial.

Art Museum
Atrium, Metropolitan Art Museum, NYC, 2004

The Grove Arcade is a much different space.  The shadows fall directly below and onto the floor, and the heavy lines of the shadows seem to guide you along the arcade, while the narrower cross shadows direct you to the shops on either side.

The natural lighting gives the arcade a much larger, more open feel, which, as you can tell from the photo, is not the case.  The arcade is long and narrow, and would be quite dark if not for the overhead windows.

grove arcade i, asheville, 2008
Grove Arcade, Asheville, 2008

I find the juxtaposition of the natural light and greenery with the man-made structures quite interesting.

Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s First King

Much has been made of Portugal’s influence on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  Rowling was living in Porto when she began working on her wonderful series of books, so it’s no wonder that Livraria Lello, the beautiful bookstore in Porto, inspired Diagon Alley’s premier bookstore, Flourish and Blotts, as well as Hogwart’s wonderful moving staircases.

Another potential Portuguese influence on the Harry Potter series may be the legendary Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.  Born in Guimarães in 1106, Afonso Henriques was the son of Henri of Burgundy, a French noble, and Teresa of León, the daughter of King Alfonso VI of León and Castile where Portugal was, at the time, a county.  While Afonso Henriques was not a wizard, his French and Galician parentage could make him Portugal’s “half-blood Prince”.

Afonso Henriques
Statue of Afonso Henriques in Guimarães

Afonso Henriques took the first step towards Portuguese independence in 1128,  when his army defeated Galician forces, led by his mother and her lover, Count Fernando Peres de Trava, in the battle of São Mamede.  Afonso’s fight to make Portugal an independent kingdom reached an important point in 1140 at the battle of Valdevez, when Portuguese forces defeated the army of Alfonso VII of León.  The victory led to Alfonso VII recognizing Portugal as a kingdom with the Treaty of Zamora.

Sao Bento Detail 4
The battle of Valdevez depicted on the wall of São Bento Railway Station in Porto

The victory over Alfonso VII’s army was an important step towards independence, but it wasn’t until 1179 that Portugal was recognized as an independent kingdom, and Afonso as king, when Pope Alexander III issued a papal bull recognizing the kingdom.

Afonso Henriques, now Afonso I, made Coimbra his residence, where he funded the construction of the Santa Cruz Monastery and the Sé Velha, or old cathedral, and is buried in the Santa Cruz Monastery.   Afonso Henriques died in 1185, after leading Portugal for 46 years as the country’s first king.

Old Cathedral
The construction of the Sé Velha, or old Cathedral, was funded by Afonso Henriques

Understandably, Afonso Henriques is a Portuguese hero and his legend has not dimmed in the 900 years since his birth.  Portugal’s first king is honored with statues and paintings throughout the country.  He has also been the subject of several postage stamps, including this heroic likeness from 1940, which commemorates the 800th anniversary of Portuguese Independence.

Portugal Anniversary

George Wythe House, Williamsburg, VA.

This beautiful house, photographed several years ago after a snowstorm, was the home of America’s first law professor and signer of the Declaration of Independence, George Wythe.  Born in 1726 and admitted to the bar at the tender age of twenty, Wythe was a respected scholar, educator and judge.

As a teacher at the College of William and Mary, Wythe was mentor to future Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe and future Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall.  Wythe and Jefferson remained life-long friends.  When Wythe died in 1806, a victim of suspected poisoning by his sister’s grandson, George Wythe Sweeney, Wythe left his extensive library to his friend Jefferson.  Years later Jefferson followed his friend’s example and left his library to the University of Virginia.

The Wythe House is one of the most beautiful colonial houses in Williamsburg and is well worth a visit.

George Wythe House

Nazaré Funicular

The Portuguese beach town of Nazaré is divided into two distinct parts- Praia, which is the lower section of the town and built along the beach, and Sitio, which is the more traditional area built atop the cliff that overlooks Praia.  There is a steep walking path that can be used to climb to Sitio, but the easier way is to ride the funicular.

Nazare with Sitio
Nazaré’s funicular connects Praia to Sitio

A funicular is basically a railway car that is moved by a series of cables up and down steep inclines.  Nazaré’s funicular was originally opened in 1889, but the current cars date from the most recent renovation in 2002.  Riding the funicular up the 42-degree slope provides some great views of Nazaré and is pretty fun to boot.  While one railway car makes its way to Sitio from Praia, a second car makes its way back down, passing each other at roughly the halfway point.

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The two railway cars of the funicular approach the point where they pass

The ride takes just a few minutes and is popular with both tourists and Nazaré residents, who use the railway to visit shops in Praia or the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, the beautiful church in Sitio.  The renovated lobby in Praia is quite nice,with a beautiful mural on one wall and traditional Portuguese pavement flooring.

Ascensor Lobby Art
The lower lobby of the Nazaré funicular

Elavador da NazareFuniculars and elevators are quite common in Portugal and have been celebrated by the country with several postal stamp issues.  This stamp, issued in 2010, celebrates Nazaré’s funicular.

If you’re visiting Nazaré, it’s well worth the time to take a ride on the funicular to Sitio.  In addition to the sanctuary, you’ll find the Fortaleza, with the surfing museum, and the tiny Ermida da Memória, or Memory Hermitage Chapel, which celebrates the legend of Nazaré.  You’ll also have some stunning views of Praia and, to the north, the famous North Beach, where world record waves draw surfers from all over the world.

Capitol Building, Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg at dusk is a magical place.  This photo was taken a few years ago after a day of snow.  The H-shaped building, one of the first buildings reconstructed during the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg during the 1930s, was home to the House of Burgesses from 1705 until it was destroyed by fire in 1747.  It’s well worth touring the Capitol Building during a visit to Williamsburg.  It’s a beautiful structure and you get a history lesson with the tour.

Capitol

Gaylord Opreyland at Christmas

Gaylord Opreyland Resort, in Nashville, goes all out when it comes to decorating for the Christmas holidays.  We were there several years ago and were lucky enough to be there during the holiday season.  Here are a few photos of the beautiful holiday decorations displayed at the resort during our visit.

Princess Joana of Portugal

Joana was the daughter of King Afonso V of Portugal and his wife, Isabella.  Born in in 1452, Joana expressed at a very young age the desire to become a nun.  After the death of her older brother, John, she became next in line to become ruler of Portugal, and her desires were postponed.  After the birth of her younger brother, King John II of Portugal, she was no longer the presumptive heir to the throne, but was still known as Princess Joana by the Portuguese people.

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Nuno Gonçalves [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
While her father, the King, refused to allow Joana to become a nun, she joined the Dominican Convent of Jesus in Aveiro.  She died at the convent at the age of 38, and was beatified by Pope Innocent XII in 1693.  Although she was never canonized, she is known in Portugal as Santa Joana.

Today, the Convent of Jesus is the Museum of Aveiro and is the third most popular thing to do in Aveiro, according to Trip Advisor.  The museum is full of beautiful artwork and also contains the tomb of Joana.

Museu de Aveiro
Museu de Aveiro

Santa Joana is much loved in Portugal.  There’s a beautiful sculpture of the Princess on Avenida Santa Joana in Aveiro.

Santa Joanna Statue

In 1953, Portugal issued a beautiful stamp of Joana, based on the painting by Nuno Gonçalves.  If you visit Aveiro, it will be well worth your time to visit the Museu de Aveiro as well as the statue of Santa Joana.

Santa Joana