Câmara Municipal do Porto

Porto’s Municipal Building is a beautiful structure.  The building was originally designed by British architect Barry Parker, whose plan was approved in 1916.  After several delays and modifications of the original design, the Câmara was finally opened in 1957.  Located at the north end of Avenida dos Aliados, the Câmara is the much photographed centerpiece of Porto’s tourist district.

Camara Municipal de Porto2

Dom Luis I Bridge, Porto

This beautiful bridge, which spans the Ria Douro, was designed by Théophile Seyrig, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel.  It has multiple levels, and is open to Metro, foot and automobile traffic.

Gustave Eiffel is most famous for the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  His mark, through his work and those of his students, can be felt throughout Portugal.  Besides the Dom Luis I Bridge, the Maria Pia Bridge in Porto is an Eiffel work, as is the Eiffel Bridge in Viana do Castelo.  The Santa Justa Lift in Lisbon was designed by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, a student of Eiffel’s.

Ponte de Luis 1

 

Street Scene, Porto Portugal

I really like photographing street scenes and cityscapes. This photograph was taken from near the Porto Cathedral.  I love the colors of Porto, with the azulejos of various colors.  Another thing that I find fascinating is the juxtaposition of the old and new.  The modernity of the cars and satellite dishes and graffiti don’t really seem out of place against the buildings, some of which are hundreds of years old.

Porto Street Scene

Stairway, Porto, Portugal

I really like the way the severe stone stairway leads to Porto’s Cathedral.  If you were so inclined you can imagine that you’re climbing a stairway to Heaven.

Stairway to Heaven

São Bento Railway Station, Porto Portugal, March 2018

Portugal is full of beautiful and wonderful sights.  From the beaches of the Algarve to the wilderness areas of the Minho, beauty is found everywhere.  Porto is home to one of the most beautiful railroad stations in the world.

The Convent of São Bento da Avé Maria originally stood where the São Bento Station now sits, but the original convent was destroyed in a fire in the 18th century and the rebuilt convent was in a state of disrepair when the decision was made to raze the convent and to build the station.

Porto architect José Marques da Silva was chosen to design the station.  The French Beaux-Arts was opened in 1900.  The exterior is quite striking.

Sao Bento Exterior
The Beaux-Arts exterior

The interior of the station, though, is what puts the São Bento Station on the list of most beautiful railroad stations.  Between 1905 and 1916, renowned artist Jorge Colaço covered the walls of the station with hand painted azulejos depicting historical events and scenes from around Portugal.  Colaço created many works of art throughout Portugal but São Bento Station is arguably his best work.

Sao Bento 6
The lobby

While most of the artwork are the blue and white tiles most commonly used, the top border is a mural of polychromatic tiles depicting the history of transportation.  One of the larger murals depicts Infante Dom Henrique’s victory at the battle of Ceuta.

Sao Bento Detail 2
Celebrating Infante Dom Henrique’s victory at Ceuta

Another mural celebrates the marriage of João I to Philippa of Lancaster.  The murals are all quite beautiful.

Sao Bento Detail 1
Celebrating the wedding of João I to Philippa of Lancaster

It’s important to remember that the São Bento Station is a working railway station and is a major transportation hub in the north of Portugal.  It may look like a museum but it still serves its original purpose and moves a lot of people every day.

Sao Bento 10
The busy station platforms

São Bento Station is a beautiful landmark and a can’t miss destination if you’re traveling in Portugal.

Igreja de São Francisco, Porto Portugal, March 2018

The Franciscan Order has had a presence in Porto since the early 13th century.  Initially, the order was persecuted by the existing religious community and the order left for Vila Nova de Gaia.  During the reign of King Ferdinand, it was ordered that their property in Porto be restored to them and around 1425 the Igreja de São Francisco was completed.  Despite many changes to its interior and a 19th century that destroyed the cloister, the church remains Porto’s finest example of Gothic architecture.

Sao Francisco Rear

The Franciscans were a mendicant order and the plain exterior of the church is in keeping with the simple austerity of the order.  The only adornments are the crosses and a beautiful rosette window.

Sao Francisco Front

During the 1833 siege of Porto, a fire broke out, caused by gun fire, that destroyed the cloisters and damaged the church.  The facade was rebuilt with the rosette window being the only remnant of the original Gothic facade.

The heavy stone exterior hides one of the most amazing interiors of any church in Portugal.  Over the centuries, many prominent families became supporters of the church.  The families poured their wealth into the church and during the 17th and 18th centuries much of the original austerity gave way to in incredible display of wealth.

The interior was entirely lined with elaborate gold-covered carvings.  There’s really nothing that can prepare you for stepping into the space.  Photography in the main interior is not allowed, but this photo from Wikimedia shows the amazing interior.

2048px-San_Francisco_Porto
By Asmodaeus [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Next to the church is an annex that houses a museum, a chapel and the catacombs.  It’s very interesting, especially the catacombs.  Before the first public cemeteries, most people of wealth were interred in the church catacombs.  The the walls and floor of the catacombs has individual tombs. You were good for 10 to 15 years, but eventually the bodies were removed from the tombs and placed in an ossuary.  There’s a glass window in the floor where you can look down and see the many bones that were placed there over the centuries.  It could have been worse, though.  If you were poor and died, your body was usually just thrown in the river.

Among the museum items was a really nice collection of alms boxes.

Alms Boxes

Finally, there’s a beautiful chapel attached to the church.  While not as extravagant as the main church, it is quite beautiful.

Sao Francisco Chapel Interior

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Porto, please add the Igreja de São Francisco to your list of must-see places.  Until then, though, there’s a really interesting website that provides a virtual tour of the church.  It’s well worth checking out.

 

Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal, March 2018

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.

Lello Exterior

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 BrancoThe 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.

Lello Interior 3

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.

Lello Interior 4

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.

 

Azulejos, Portugal, March 2018

Azulejos, the beautiful decorative tiles that adorn buildings throughout the country, are now synonymous with Portugal, but they have a history that spans several countries and cultures.  Of Moorish origin, the tiles were not only beautiful, they had a functional purpose as well, serving as insulators against the intense heat of the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Azulejos first came to Portugal from Seville, when Dom Manuel I, during his visit to the Spanish city, was struck by the beauty of the tiles.  Originally the tiles were of geometric or floral patterns.  Their use rapidly spread throughout Portugal, becoming a popular building material for the outside of buildings as well as being used to decorate the interiors structures.

Azulejos
Aveiro building with both geometric and pictorial tiles

As the popularity of azulejos grew, so did demand.  During the second half of the 17th century, Delft potter makers, whose blue and white pottery was already popular throughout Europe, began producing tiles.  The popularity of the Dutch tiles was such that they effectively created a monopoly and shut out many Portuguese manufacturers.  Dom Pedro II, alarmed at the rate that the Dutch tiles were taking over the market, banned all imports of azulejos between 1687 and 1698, allowing Portuguese artists to fill the void left by the ban.

Aveiro Station Detail
Detail of tiles on Aveiro train station

Over the next few centuries azulejos remained popular in Portugal.  The influence of the Dutch tiles continued to be felt, as the blue and white tiles were the most commonly used, but more and more the tiles were used to depict scenes and tell stories.  Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs became popular in the early 20th century as artists such as António Costa and Jorge Colaço began to create works of art from azulejos.

Sao Bento 8
São Bento train station

From the stunning São Bento Station in Porto, featuring over 20,000 blue and white tiles, to decorative scenes featuring just a couple dozen tiles, azulejos can be found throughout Portugal.  This art form with an international history is now forever a part of Portugal.

 

Cafés, Portugal, March 2018

Travel can be stressful, with planes, trains, or even ships that must be caught, unfamiliar roads to follow, schedules to be met and new languages to learn.  It’s nice to be able to slow down from time to time and to stop at a café for a coffee or a glass of wine.  We experienced a lot of interesting cafés and we took advantage of them to stop and relax for a few minutes on our journey.  Here are just a few.

Aveiro is home to one of our favorite cafés, A Mulata.  It’s a tiny place on Avenida Santa Joana and a block from the Museu do Aveiro.  A Mulata has a nice breakfast and fresh baked goods with a lot of vegetarian options.  It was also a quiet place to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or beer.  We like quiet.

Porto’s most famous café is Café Majestic.  Opened in 1921, this art nouveau café was a favorite of British author J.K. Rowlings, who is rumored to have worked on the first Harry Potter book here.  The notoriety that comes with being associated with anything Harry Potter means that the café is always crowded with tourists.  We were looking for a nice quiet atmosphere where we could sit and enjoy breakfast and coffee, and Majestic was not the place for us.

Majestic Cafe

Fortunately, Porto has another iconic café just a short walk from Majestic.  Named for a Brazilian indigenous people, Café Guarany has been a popular gathering place for Portuenses since 1933.  It’s a beautiful restaurant.  Renovated in 2003, the interior’s centerpiece are two paintings, “The Lords of Amazonia” by University of Porto alum Graça Morais.  We had a wonderful breakfast at Guarany and, later, stopped there again for dessert and coffee.

Braga has a pair of nice cafés in the Arcada at Praça da República, Café Astória and Café Vianna.  We chose to have breakfast at Café Vianna.  In operation for over 150 years, the café is supposedly where the 28 May 1926 coup d’etat began.  Portuguese novelists Eça de Queriós and Camilo Castelo Branco are said to have been visitors to the café during its long history.  We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast while we planned our day.  Located at the end of Praça da República, it proved to be a nice place to people watch.

Cafe Vianna Interior

Coimbra is home to another interesting historic café.  Located in what was once an auxiliary chapel, Café Santa Cruz has a wonderful interior, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass.  Opened in 1923, it’s another great place for coffee and a snack.  It’s location on Praça 8 de Maio and next door to Igreja de Santa Cruz make the café a good place for people watching.

Mercado do Bolhão, Porto, Portugal, March 2018

One of the more unusual places we visited on our tour of Portugal was Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s famous market in the city’s historic center.  The market dates to the first half of the 19th century, when the city decided it needed a central market for vendors to sell their goods.  In 1914 the current building was opened as the market’s home.  It’s a two-story neoclassical structure with an open courtyard where many of the vendors are located.  In 2006 the market was classified as a place of public interest.

While much of the merchandise is now geared towards tourists the Mercado do Bolhão has been able to maintain the feel of a traditional market.  There are stalls offering fresh vegetables, fish, meat and flowers as well as wine and tourist offerings such as cork products and souvenirs.  The baked goods looked nice and the fishmonger had huge octopi for sale.  One vendor offers live rabbits and chickens.  A few cats laze in sunny spots.

We didn’t experience it, but the female vendors are rumored to use crude language that would rival my own mastery of curse words.  Since the use of foul language is supposed to be a sign of higher intelligence in people, we’ll give them a pass.

I’ve read that shortly after our visit to Portugal the Mercado do Bolhão was moved to a temporary location while the existing building is renovated.  I’m glad that the city values the market so that they will renovate it rather than tear it down to make space for a new venture.  Hopefully the market will retain its unique character when it returns after the renovation.