Dukes of Braganza Palace, Guimaraes

The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza has seen a lot throughout its history.  Originally built in the 15th century as the residence of Afonso, the first Duke of Braganza, it remained in the family until the end of the century, when it was closed.

Several years later the palace was passed to the House of Aziz, when it was given as dowry to Isabel of Braganza when she wed the Infante Edward, the sixth son of King Manuel I.  For many years it remained unused.

Over the next few centuries, the abandoned palace fell into ruins, as stone from the structure was taken to build or repair roads and structures in the area.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the palace was deemed beyond repair.

During the 1930s, plans were created for the restoration of the palace.  The reconstructed palace was based on an analysis of various medieval palaces across Europe.  The restoration was completed and the Palace of the Dukes of the Braganzas was opened to the public in 1959.

The restored palace was probably much more ornate than the original structure.  The palace served for many years as the Presidential Palace during Antonio Salazar’s Estado Novo regime.

The palace is a beautiful place and well worth a tour.  We spend a couple hours exploring the building and its many beautiful possessions.  In addition to the historical rooms and belongings, there are a couple really nice modern art displays, including a Paolo Neves sculpture and an exhibit of art by local artist José de Guimarães.

Here are a few of the photos from our tour.

Great Hall of Acts, Coimbra University

The Great Hall of Acts is arguably the most important space at the University of Coimbra.  Once the Throne Room when the University was the Royal Palace, this room was where all the Portuguese kings of the First Dynasty lived and was where John I was proclaimed King of Portugal in 1385.

Today, the room is where Doctoral candidates face their PhD. thesis defense, a formal oral examination required to obtain the degree of Doctor.  Other ceremonies taking place in the Great Hall of Acts are the Official Opening of the School Year, the Investiture of the Rector, and the awarding of honorary degrees.

The large paintings hung around the room are portraits of the kings of Portugal, beginning with Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.  Interestingly, there’s a 60 year gap in the chronology.  The kings who ruled during the Iberian Union, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV, are not included in the room.  During this period, Portugal was under Spanish control and, 400 years later, this is still a sore spot with the Portuguese people.  Hence, the omission of the three kings.

There are many beautiful spaces in the old University.  A tour of Coimbra University is a required stop on any visit to Coimbra.  It’s well worth the time.Great Hall

 

University of Coimbra, Portugal

The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in the world.  Once the royal palace, the Velha Universidade, or Old University, is the oldest part of the school and is a beautiful place.  We were able to tour the university, starting with the Joanine Library, and working our way through the buildings.  If you visit Coimbra, the Old University is a required stop on your journey.

This photo is from the wide Paço das Escolas, the main square of the Old University.  On the left is the famous bell tower and straight ahead is the Via Latina, which is the entrance to the part of the University that was the royal palace.  As beautiful as the exterior is, the interior is stunning.  The Joanine Library, the Capela de São Miquel, and the Sala dos Capelos are just three of the many beautiful spaces in the Old University.

University

Staircase, University of Coimbra

I tend to be a bit odd when visiting places.  It’s not always the usual touristy things that catch my eye.  Sometimes it’s interesting patterns or spaces that intrigue me.  This staircase is an example.

There’s so much about this space that I like.  I love the curve of the ceiling at the top of the stairs.  I like the way the light comes through the window at the top and highlights the roughness of the walls.  I like the way the stairs curve to the right as they rise.  And I like the contrast between the simplicity of the walls against the colorful patterns of the azulejos.

And all of this from just a simple staircase at the University of Coimbra.

University of Coimbra Staircase

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

Old Cathedral of Coimbra

The Romanesque Sé Velha de Coimbra is almost as old as Portugal itself.  The construction of the cathedral was ordered and financed by Dom Afonso Henrique, the first king of Portugal.  Construction took many years, but the construction was advanced enough by 1185 that the coronation of Dom Sancho I, the second king of Portugal, took place in the cathedral. 

The cathedral’s construction was finished early in the 13th century, with the construction of the cloisters begun around the same time.  While there have been several additions to the cathedral, it is the only Romanesque cathedrals in Portugal to survive relatively intact over the centuries.

It’s a beautiful structure, strong like a fortress.  This photo is of the eastern  façade, with the semicircular apse.  I love the way the wispy cirrus clouds contrast with the angles and edges of the stones.

Old Cathedral

Arched Stairs

In March we visited the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza in Guimarães, Portugal.  A beautiful structure, it’s hard to believe that a century ago the palace was in ruins.  It was renovated based on an analysis of other European palaces of the 15th century.  The newly reconstructed palace was opened to the public in 1959 and once served as an official residence of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

The palace is full of interesting rooms with priceless antiques and paintings, but this arched staircase, with a simple wooden door at the bottom, caught my eye.  It’s primitive and elegant at the same time.

Arched Staircase

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.

 

Braga, Portugal, March 2018

Older than Portugal by more than a century, Braga is the country’s oldest city and the spiritual capital of Portugal.  It’s also the rainiest city in the country.  We spent two soggy days in Braga.

Braga’s history spans several millennia, getting its name from early Celtiberian settlers called the Bracari.  When Rome conquered the area around 136 B.C. the city was renamed Bracara Augusta in honor of Roman Emperor Augustus.  Over the next centuries the city passed through the hands of the Suebi, the Visigoths, the Moors and the Gallicians before Portugal ultimately won its independence.

Our hotel was just two blocks from Avenida da Liberdade, the pedestrian-only thoroughfare that leads to the heart of Braga, Praça da República.  Avenida da Liberdade is a wonderful mixture of old and new, with high-end stores and historical sites like the Baroque Raio Palace and the 1st century Fonte do Ídolo, a Roman fountain built during the time of Roman Emperor Augustus.  Despite the grand old age of the city, Braga has a cosmopolitan feel.  Brightly colored buildings and storefronts line the avenue, including the fantastic Theatro Circo.

Avenida da Liberdade
Avenida da Liberdade

At the top of of the avenue is Praça da República.  Located at one end of the Jardim da Avenida Central, the Praça da República is a great place for people watching.  The Arcada, at the end of the Praça, features two old cafés, Café Vianna and Café Astoria, and a central fountain.  We had breakfast at Café Vianna and enjoyed the view; from the Arcada you can see all the way to the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, 5km away from the city’s center.

Praca da Republica
The Arcada.  You can see the top of the Torre behind it.

From the Arcada we wandered through the Jardim da Avenida Central.  Braga is a religious center and it seems that everywhere you look there’s a church or monument celebrating the city’s faith.  The park is no exception.  You’ll find the huge Convento dos Congregados, the tiny Igreja da Penha and the modernist monument celebrating Pope John Paul II’s visit to Braga in 1982.

Monument to Pope John Paul II
Monumento ao Papa João Paulo II

At the far end of the park there’s a view that epitomizes the dedication the city has to its faith.  The azulejo-covered Igreja de Nossa Senhora-a-Branca catches your eye first, but a few blocks behind the stone Igreja de São Victor is just as beautiful.  It seems that everywhere you look there’s a church.

Street Scene
Igreja de Nossa Senhora-a-Branca and Igreja de São Victor

While we’re at this end of Central Avenue, there’s a little park that I loved.  Jardim da Senhora A Branca features one of Braga’s Cruzeiros, a monument topped with a cross, and beautiful orange trees.  I love the fact that you see fruit trees in the middle of the city.

Jardim a Senhora da Branca
Jardim da Senhora A Branca

Now, back to the churches.  There were churches and chapels of all sizes and religious monuments throughout the city.   The , or Cathedral, is probably one of the best known and a highlight on any tour of Braga.  First built in the 12th century, the Cathedral underwent several renovations resulting in the gothic and manueline structure that exists today.  A national monument since 1910, the Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Braga.

Braga Cathedral
Braga Cathedral

We stumbled across the tiny Capela de São Bentinho while out looking for a lunch spot.  Tucked down a narrow little lane, it’s a beautiful little chapel.

Capela de Sao Bentinho
Capela de São Bentinho

Scattered throughout Braga are Cruzeiros, or crosses.  This one is located near the Arco de Santiago.

Cruzeiro
One of Braga’s many cruzeiros

On the other side of the Arco de Santiago is this beautiful monument.

Statue in Braga
Dom Frei Bartolomeu dos Martires

Finally, we always try to find a restaurant or food that’s unique to the city.  Most of our dining in Braga was at pubs or cafés.  Braga is known for its frigideiras, or meat pies.  One of the best places for them is Frigideiras do Cantinho, a small restaurant near Braga Cathedral.  While the food was good, the interesting thing about Frigideiras do Cantinho is that the floor is glass and the restaurant is built over Roman ruins.  It’s quite unique.

Frigideiras do Cantinho
Frigideiras do Cantinho

Despite frequent downpours, resulting in soggy shoes, we enjoyed our visit to Braga.  It’s a beautiful city with a lot to recommend it.