Porto, Portugal

I love the look and feel of Porto.  The bright colors of the buildings seem to reflect perfectly the vibrant feel of this city.  It may, in fact, be very old, but Porto seems to have a young feel to it.  It helps that it was a beautiful day when we ventured across the Dom Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia.

Porto 1

São Bento Railway Station, Porto

The São Bento Railway Station is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. While the azulejos in the São Bento Railway Station are the stars of the show, I love the floor to ceiling windows on the front face of the building.  The yellow tinted glass ties in nicely with the multicolored azulejos that top the walls and adds a warmth to the interior while the windows provide plenty of light to help display the wonderful blue tiles on the walls.

Sao Bento Windows

São Francisco Catacombs, Porto

Porto’s São Francisco Church is best known for its ornate interior, which is virtually covered with gold.  Below the church, though, is a interesting part of Porto’s history.

Cemeteries are a relatively new way of handling the dead.  The original method, according to one of the docents at the church, was to simply throw the body in the river.  This went on for many years.  Obviously, it’s a great way to spread disease among the surviving community.

Eventually the churches discovered that the wealthier members of the community would pay to be interred under the watchful eye of the church. This is where the catacombs comes in.

There are three distinct sections of the catacombs.  The first, where the wealthiest are interred, are the private tombs.  Each tomb displays the the name of the individual lying inside.  This section, to me, was made especially creepy by the stylized skulls at the top of each row of tombs.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 2

A step down from the personal tombs was to be interred in the floor, where each wood section was a tomb.  It took a few minutes for us to realize that we could potentially be walking on the dead, but a docent came to the rescue and said there were no longer bodies in the floor, so we no longer had to worry about where we stepped.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 4

According to the docent, the floor tombs were basically rented by the family, and after a period of time the body was removed to make room for the next paying occupant. So what happened to the occupant whose lease was up?  Around the corner, towards the back of the catacombs, lies the answer.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 5

Located in the floor is a glass and grate covered opening, a window if you will.  If you look through the window you’ll see the prior occupants of the floor tombs as well as those who could not afford private interment.  I’ve seen ossuaries before, most notably the one at the Verdun battlefield in France, but it’s still a bit of a shock to see.

While the gold covered main chapel at São Francisco is the undisputed highlight of a visit to the church, the catacombs and museum are well worth a look.  Just watch where you step.

Episcopal Palace, Porto

This beautiful structure has a long history.  It is believed to have been designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, a long-time resident and the designer of the Clérigos Church.  Construction started in 1737 but, due to lack of funds, the original plan was scaled back and the construction was not completed until near the end of the 18th century.

The palace was once the residence of the Bishops of Porto.  The patio between the palace and the cathedral provides a great view of the Ribeira, Vila Nova da Gaia, and the Douro River.

Treasury Museum next to Se

Porto Cathedral

I like this photo of the Sé do Porto.  You get a glimpse of the loggia designed by Nicolau Nasoni, but my favorite is the statue of 9th century nobleman Vimara Peres, the first ruler of the County of Portugal and the way he seems to be saluting the cross at the top left of the photograph.

Porto was one of my favorite stops on our Portugal visit.  I’m looking forward to the day when we can wander the city’s streets again.

Se de Oporto

Torre dos Clérigos, Porto

The immense Torre dos Clérigos towers over its surroundings and is a central point on virtually all views of historic Porto.  The baroque tower was designed by Italian artist and architect Nicolau Nasoni in the mid-eighteenth century.

Nasoni lived and worked in Porto for fifty years and designed many beautiful structures in Porto and throughout the north of Portugal.  Besides the Clérigos Church, Nasoni designed and built the loggia on the Porto Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace, Palace of São João Novo, and the Palace of Freixo, all located in Porto.

It seems that no matter where you are in Porto, your eyes are drawn to the magnificent tower.

Clerigos Tower skyline

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

Praça da Liberdade, Porto

Praça da Liberdade, the main square in Porto, with its many beautiful Beaux Artes buildings, is reminiscent of the grand avenues of Paris.  Its location makes it a great starting point for an exploration of this beautiful and historic city.  It’s within walking distance of the Ribeira, the Mercado Bolhão, Majestic Cafe, Livraria Lello, Sao Bento Train Station and many other places to visit.

Just a few years ago the square was a tree-lined park.  When the Avenida dos Aliados Metro station was built under the square, the park was removed and the area over the Metro was paved in stone.  I would have loved to have been there when the park still existed, but the square still remains a great place to visit.

Avenida dos Aliados

Monument to Henry the Navigator

This beautiful monument sits in a small park in front of Mercado Ferreira Borges and just a stone’s throw from Church of São Francisco and the Bolsa Palace.

Henry was the son of King John I of Portugal and his wife, Phillipa of Lancaster.  Although he left Portugal only once, during the Portuguese conquest of the Moroccan  city of Ceuta, Henry became famous as the initiator of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.  From his palace at Sagres, Henry sponsored many voyages to explore the seas and to claim the newly discovered territories in the name of Portugal.

Among the discoveries made by Portuguese ships were Madeira, the Azores, and Cape Verde.  Henry lived long enough for one of the ships to be the first to round the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern-most point of Africa.  Henry’s influence continued long after his death.  Nearly 40 year after his passing, Vasco da Gama became the first European to reach India by sea.  Just two years later, a Portuguese caravel piloted by navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral reached Brazil.

The monument is a suitable tribute to one of Portugal’s greatest heroes.

Henry the Navigator