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.

Nazaré, Portugal

There are two beaches in Nazaré, Portugal separated only by a promontory jutting into the Altantic Ocean.  The two beaches, Praia da Nazaré and Praia do Norte, could not be more different. The two photos show just how different the two beaches are. Both photos were taken, on the same visit, from the road leading to the fortress located on the promontory.

The first photo shows Praia da Nazaré, the popular beach resort. The beach is wide with a gentle surf. Like most beach resorts, Nazaré’s beach is fronted by hotels, restaurants, shops of all kinds.  It’s a fun little town, especially during the off season when the beach is empty. It’s beautiful, is it not?

Nazare from Sitio

Turn 180 degrees from where this photo was taken and you see Praia do Norte. This beach, one of the most famous surfing spots in the world, looks wild.  There are no buildings lining North Beach; instead, the beach is dotted with rocks and caves and the trees grow right up to the beach.

Praia Norte

There’s a reason the beach is missing the hotels and restaurants that populate the other beach. Waves up to one hundred feet high are common here, and man-made structures wouldn’t stand a chance against these giant walls of water. Local fishermen avoided the area because of the huge waves and several people have been swept to their deaths while walking on the beach.

That doesn’t stop the surfers, though. Each Winter, Praia do Norte is host to the Nazaré Challenge, a stop on the World Surf League’s Big Wave Tour. In 2011, Garrett McNamara set the world record by surfing a 78-foot wave and in 2017 Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa broke the record when he surfed an 80-foot wave.

Nazaré is a great little town and has plenty to offer visitors.  My suggestion, though, is unless you like to live life on the edge of a surfboard, stick to Praia da Nazaré  or watch the world class surfing from the fortress.

 

City Hall, Lisbon

This beautiful structure, located on , is the Lisbon City Hall.  The City Hall has a troubled past.  The original City Hall, built after the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755, was razed by a fire in 1863.   That building’s replacement, which you see here, was seriously damaged by a fire in 1993.  After the fire, the current City Hall underwent major restoration to repair the damage caused by the fire and to bring this building, which has gone through several modifications since it’s construction, closer to the original plan.

There are three things of interest here.  First, I’m a big fan of Portuguese pavement and the pavement in City Square is especially beautiful.  Second, the monument in front of the City Hall is topped by an armillary sphere which I knew nothing about until last week.  If you didn’t see that post, an armillary sphere is a spherical framework of rings representing longitude and latitude and was used by Portuguese navigators during the Age of Discovery.  Finally, the four round windows above the second floor are called oculi, which were a common feature of Neoclassical architecture.

Lisbon City Hall

Mumadona Dias, Guimarães

In honor of International Women’s Day, I present Momadona Dias, who ruled the county of Portugal first jointly with her husband then, after his death, on her own.  She was the most powerful woman in northwest Iberian Peninsula during the 19th century.

During her reign, she founded the Mosteiro of São Mamede in Vimaranes.  To protect the monastery from Viking raids, she had the Castle of Guimarães built.  Vimaranes eventually became Guimarães and the castle became, a century and a half later, the birthplace of the Kingdom of Portugal.

In the statue pictured below, Mumadona Dias holds a cross in her right hand and what appears to be the Castle of Guimarães in her left.  I love how Portugal honors their heroes- men and women- with beautiful works of art that are not displayed in museums but in public where everyone can enjoy the art and remember their history.

Mumadona- Guimaraes

Tower of the University of Coimbra

The Tower of the University of Coimbra is one of the most photographed structures in Coimbra, and with good reason.  The tower, built in the 18th century to replace the old tower, is stunningly beautiful.

The tower’s bells and clocks regulate life at the University.  Ringing a quarter hour behind the town’s clock so as not to confuse students and citizens alike, the tower’s bells signal the start and end of classes and is also used to toll for the death of a teacher and to call the academic community to official acts performed in the Great Hall.

The top of the tower has a platform that was used as an observatory.  You can climb the 180 steps to the top  of the tower.  We chose to forego the climb to allow more time to explore the palace.  Maybe on our next visit we’ll make the climb.

Goat Tower

Two Churches, Viana do Castelo

As I’ve said before, churches in Portugal are like Starbucks in America;  there seems to be one on every corner and, in some cases, more than one on the corner.  These two beautiful little churches, across from the Viana do Castelo railway station, share the same parking area.

The church on the left is the Convent and Church of the 3rd Order of Saint Francis and was built in the 18th century.  The church on the right is the Convent and Church of Saint Anthony, also built during the 18th century.  Both are built in the Manueline style unique to Portugal.  I love the similarities in the two churches, even as both strive to be unique.

I love the facade of the Church of Saint Anthony because of the figures in the niches and the offset bell tower.  I also like the slightly rougher stonework.  It shows that the church is a few decades older than its neighbor. The Church of Saint Francis is slightly younger, with a cleaner facade.  Both churches, though, are really beautiful.

Viana do Castelo is a beautiful little city.

Two Churches

Chafariz, Viana do Castelo

I usually learn something new when I post one of my photos, and this time is no exception.  This beautiful old fountain, located in the Praça da Republica, designed by João Lopes the elder,  dates from 1554 and was once the primary source of water for Viana do Castelo.  The fountain is carved from granite and situated at the top is an armillary sphere and a cross of the Order of Christ.

What, I asked myself, is an armillary sphere?  Simply put, it’s a three dimensional map, if you will, of the stars and other celestial bodies, with the earth as its center and the rings representing longitude and latitude.  It was an important navigational instrument during Portugal’s Age of Discoveries, having been introduced to Henry the Navigator by the Knights Templar, at the time known in Portugal as the Order of Christ.  The armillary sphere is a common element in manueline architecture and features prominently on the flag of Portugal.

To the right of the fountain is the Igreja da Misericórdia.  The original church was built in the late 16th century and was also designed by João Lopes the elder.  In the early 18th century, the original church was mostly demolished during renovations and was replaced by the beautiful structure you see in the photo.  My favorite part of the structure are the two rows of caryatids that help support the facade.

Viana do Castelo was one of our favorite places on our visit to Portugal.  Our long term goal is to retire to Viana do Castelo.  I can’t wait for that day to come.

Old Fountain

Hospital and Church of San Marcos, Braga

There are beautiful churches everywhere in Braga.  The Hospital and Church of San Marcos, located on Largo Carlos Amarante, is one of the most beautiful.

There has been a church dedicated to Saint Mark on this site since the 12th century.  The original chapel, which was also a Templar convent, was replaced by a charity hospital in 1508.  In the 18th century the hospital and church underwent a major renovation designed by Braga architect Carlos Amarante, who also designed Bom Jesus do Monte, the famous sanctuary and pilgrimage site located just outside Braga.

The late baroque/ early neoclassical structure is topped with life-size statues of the apostles.  In a niche above the center door, a statue of Saint Mark watches over everyone who enters the building.  By the way, the purple banners are to announce the upcoming Semana Santa, or Holy Week.

Church of San Marcos

 

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