History, Restoration of Independence Day, 1st December

Restoration of Independence Day, 1st December


The first of December is a public holiday in Portugal which celebrates the restoration of Portuguese independence after 60 years of Spanish rule from 1580-1640. It all began when Dom Sebastião, the boy-king (he became king at the age of three) made a very misguided attack on Morocco in 1578 resulting in the 24-year-old king’s death, along with 8000 of his troops, including most of the male line of the Portuguese royal family.

‘Portrait of King Dom Sebastião I of Portugal’ by Cristóvão de Morais c.1570-75, in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

This reckless act ultimately resulted in Portugal losing its independence to Spain. After Sebastião’s death his great-uncle Cardinal Henrique became king, but as he was old and childless there was a succession crisis. There were several claimants to the throne, the three main ones being grandchildren of Dom Manuel I: Felipe II of Spain; Infanta Catarina, Duchess of Bragança; and Dom António, Prior do Crato (an illegitimate son of Dom João III’s brother). António was the popular choice and when Dom Henrique died in 1580 António became Dom António I. However, Felipe II invaded Portugal almost immediately and António fled to France allowing Felipe to take the throne and become Filipe I of Portugal.

The 60 years of Spanish rule were ultimately disastrous for Portugal. Relationships with Portugal’s two former allies, England and Holland, were broken as Portugal was seen to be associating with Spain, the enemy of both countries. The English were angry that the Spanish Armada was being equipped in Lisbon and Filipe I forbid Portugal to trade with the Dutch, resulting in the Dutch taking over the spice trade routes that Portugal had monopolized up to that point. During this time a myth developed around Sebastião based on an idea that he wasn’t really dead and would one day return to rule Portugal. Several men claiming to be Sebastião appeared during this time. After Filipe I’s death, the two subsequent kings, Filipe II and Filipe III, showed no interest in Portugal and spent very little time there.

The disenchanted Portuguese, led by João, the seventh Duke of Bragança (and the grandson of Infanta Catarina, Duchess of Bragança), planned a coup and on 1 December 1640 they stormed the royal palace in Lisbon and assassinated the secretary to the governor. This resulted in João taking the throne and being crowned Dom João IV.

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Portrait of Dom João IV, attributed to José de Avelar Rebelo, in the Museu Nacional dos Coches, Belém

However, the Spanish would not give up Portugal easily and a 28-year War of Independence was fought, which finally ended in 1668 with a Portuguese victory. The House of Bragança ruled Portugal until 1910, when the last king of Portugal was assassinated and the Republic was proclaimed.

The 1st December is celebrated in Lisbon with a parade down the Avenida da Liberdade, accompanied by military bands, and a ceremony in the Praça dos Restauradores attended by politicians and the armed forces, where wreaths are placed on the ornate monument to the men who fought in the War of Independence.

Praça dos Restauradores, Lisbon
Praça dos Restauradores, Lisbon
Praça dos Restauradores, Lisbon
Via Catarina Shopping, Porto

Via Catarina Shopping, Porto


The fast-food court of the Via Catarina Shopping Centre in Porto is possibly the prettiest place I have eaten fast-food. Each restaurant is designed to look like a townhouse from the old part of the city, with facades painted in pastel colours on some restaurants and with recreations of the patterned tiles found on many Porto houses on others. The detail on each facade, including balconies with wrought-iron railings and displays of flowers, is impressive. I found myself taking nearly as many photos of these mock houses as of the real houses in the city!

The Via Catarina Shopping Centre is on Rua de Santa Catarina, which is the main shopping street in Porto. The shopping centre has many of the high street shops, spread over three floors, such as H&M, The Body Shop, Intimissimi, Sunglass Hut, Springfield, Pandora, Levi’s and Claire’s. The fast-food court on the top floor has a good choice of restaurants, including Pizza Hut, Kebab & Co, McDonald’s, Vitaminas, Nicola, Pans & Company and Tomatíno Pasta House, and the prices are much cheaper than you would pay at an outdoor café just down the road.


Via Catarina Shopping, Rua de Santa Catarina, Porto (nearest Metro station: Bolhão)






Jardim da Cordoaria, Porto

Jardim da Cordoaria, Porto


These charming sculptures can be seen in one of Porto’s loveliest parks, the Jardim da Cordoaria (meaning Garden of the Ropery) on Campo dos Mártires da Pátria. There are four of these bronze and steel benches around the park, which were sculpted by the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz in 2001. The work is called Thirteen Laughing at Each Other, as there are thirteen figures in total. On each bench are two or three almost life-size figures sitting on the top tiers laughing with or at a figure laying upside down on the bottom tier, who they may or may not have pushed over. The sculptures are utterly captivating and look totally at home in this park setting – in any Portuguese park you are likely to see a group of men sitting on a bench talking animatedly and laughing at each other.





São Bento Station, Porto

São Bento Station, Porto


porto-0144_editedThere can’t be many railway stations in the world which double up as an art gallery or museum, but São Bento station in the centre of Porto is one, due to the azulejos (decorative tiles) that cover the walls of the entrance hall. As a result there are as many tourists in the station looking at the tiles as there are people waiting to catch a train.

The station was designed by the architect José Marques da Silva and built on the site of the former São Bento de Avé Maria convent between 1900 and 1916. The beaux-arts-style exterior is impressive, with two clock towers and large arched windows, and looks particularly attractive after dark when it is floodlit.  However, the real attractions are the panels of azulejos inside the station which depict scenes of rural and urban social history and episodes from Portuguese history. They were painted around the time the station was built by Jorge Colaço, who was one of the main azulejos painters in the early-twentieth century. As you enter the station the panels directly in front of you depict images of rural life, including olive picking, an ox and cart crossing a stream, haymaking and a water mill. To the left is a religious procession and to the right a scene of merrymaking. Along the top of the walls are panels of coloured tiles showing the arrival of the railway in a rural idyll.

In the early-20th century large-scale depictions of historical scenes depicted in azulejos were very popular and São Bento station is one of the best examples of this. On the wall to the left are two large panels showing two important historical moments: Egas Moniz presenting himself to the King of León in c.1128 and the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez in c.1140/41. On the wall to the right are two more important scenes from Portuguese history: King João I and Philippa of Lancaster entering Porto to celebrate their marriage in 1387 and Infante Henrique at the conquest of Ceuta in 1415.

Egas Moniz presents himself with his wife and sons to the King of León

porto-0163At the beginning of the 12th century Portugal was under the rule of Alfonso VII of León and Castile. In 1127 he surrounded the castle in Guimarães where his cousin, Afonso Henrique, was making separatist attempts. Afonso Henrique refused to surrender and Egas Moniz negotiated with Alfonso VII on his behalf, acting as guarantor that Afonso Henrique would be obedient to his cousin. But Afonso Henrique didn’t keep his word and invaded Galicia in 1128, so Egas Moniz went to Toledo with his family and offered to die for Afonso Henrique breaking his promise. Alfonso VII was impressed by this honourable act and spared his life. In the azulejos we can see the rope tied in a noose that Moniz is offering to the king.

The Battle of Arcos de Valdevez

porto-0162This battle saw the armies of Afonso Henrique and Alfonso VII fighting on this strategic area between Portugal and Galicia. As depicted in the azulejos, the fighting was done by knights on horseback. Afonso Henrique was the victor and an armistice was signed which later became the Treaty of Zamore (1143), which recognized Portuguese independence and Afonso Henrique as King Afonso I of Portugal.

The entrance of King João I into Porto to celebrate his marriage to Phillipa of Lancaster

porto-0160Philippa of Lancaster was the daughter of John of Gaunt, cousin of King Richard II of England and sister of Henry IV of England and her marriage to João I was important in that it sealed the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance against the Franco-Castilian axis and prevented a potential challenge to João’s reign. The couple were blessed in Porto Cathedral before their wedding in 1387.

Infante Henrique at the conquest of Ceuta

porto-0159Ceuta was a strategic port located in North Africa and was the terminus of the trade routes from the Sahara. In 1415 João I and his sons, including Henrique (later known as Henry the Navigator), made a surprise attack on Ceuta against the ruling Marinid dynasty. The battle was very short-lived, as the town was captured within hours.


São Bento station, Praça Almeida Garrett, Porto (nearest metro station: São Bento)
Train lines: Minho, Douro, Braga, Guimarães, Caíde/Marco de Canaveses and Aveiro lines

Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009), Portuguese cinema

Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009)

Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura) (2009) is a curious film that breaks several rules of commercial filmmaking: at only an hour long, it is very short; the opening scene is a static shot down a train carriage following a ticket inspector inspecting tickets; while the story is based on a late-nineteenth century short story, it is set in the modern day, but retains a period feel. The lack of regard for the conventions of filmmaking is not totally surprising, bearing in mind the director is the grand seigneur of the Portuguese film industry, Manoel de Oliveira, who was 101 when he directed this film. It is carefully constructed and nothing is superfluous. The opening scene of the film moves from a shot of the train carriage to a close up of two strangers who strike up a conversation when the young man, Marcário (Ricardo Trêpa), feels compelled to tell his sad story to the woman sat next to him (Leonor Silveira). De Oliveira has Marcário narrating part of the story in a way which is not quite conversation and not quite voiceover. The woman responds with suitable interjections from time to time, but her eyes stare blindly past Marcário and she retains a benign smile on her face and the viewer feels slightly disconcerted.

The short story by the nineteenth-century realist writer Eça de Queiroz is a tragic one of Marcário, who falls in love with Luísa (Catarina Wallenstein) whom he sees gazing out of the window of an apartment opposite the office where he works as an accountant for his uncle (Diogo Dória). He is seduced by the fan she languorously waves in front of her face and his obsession with her leads to his downfall. He resigns from his job when his uncle, making reference to poor people (meaning Luísa and her mother (Júlia Buisel)) entering his shop and a large amount of his stock being stolen, refuses to let him marry Luísa. Marcário is nearly penniless when he is offered a job in Cape Verde, where he makes a lot of money doing a job it is implied may not be totally legitimate. He then loses the money to an unscrupulous business man (Rogério Samora), but finally his uncle agrees to give him his job back and he is able to marry Luísa, but  then discovers his uncle was right about her being a thief.

Marcário and Luísa are nineteenth-century characters living lives that aren’t touched by the twenty-first century: Luísa has nothing to do all day except look out of the window waving a fan; Marcário has to ask his uncle for permission to get married; they go a salon to listen to a musician playing a harp (Ana Paula Miranda) and an actor (Luís Miguel Cintra) reciting poetry. Even the interiors of the buildings are from another century, untouched by modern decor and furnishings. De Oliveira skilfully conveys the depressing, claustrophobic life Marcário lives through sets that appear as if they are from a painting. The tiny room that Marcário is forced to move into when he is reduced to penury is reminiscent of a van Gogh room in Rembrandt browns.

Catarina Wallenstein won the Best Actress award at the Portuguese Golden Globe awards for the role of Luísa and the final scene of Luísa sat with her legs apart and her head hanging down is an image that captures all the shame and despair that she is feeling and expresses it far more succinctly than any words could do.

Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto, Porto

Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto


The Livraria Lello & Irmão (Lello & Brother Bookshop) is now one of the ‘must-see’ places on a trip to Porto and has become more famous for its interior design than for its books. As a result, the bookshop has started charging visitors an entrance fee. Paying to get into a bookshop was a first for me, but as the entrance fee was refundable against any purchases, I was able to buy two of the books on my shopping list at one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal and not just be one of the many tourists who come in to take photos and leave without even looking at the books. Of course, I blame J. K. Rowling for the surge in popularity. Rowling was living in Porto when she conceived the idea of the Harry Potter stories and a myth has developed that the staircase in Lello & Irmão was the inspiration for the Grand Staircase in Hogwarts.

Brothers José and António Lello opened the bookshop in 1906, at a time when booksellers were part of the cultural, intellectual and artistic circles and were even involved with public affairs. It was designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves in a delicious mixture of art nouveau and neo-gothic styles. The exterior of the shop is an extravagant design in white, reminiscent of an over-decorated wedding cake. Sadly it was covered with scaffolding when we visited in June 2016, so I was only able to catch a tantalizing glimpse of this through the tarpaulin. Inside, the shop is surprisingly very small and cramped and it is like stepping back in time. The ground floor is decorated with dark wood panels and columns and in some places, such as the ceiling and the decorative features under the staircase, plaster painted to look like wood. Above the bookshelves are glass cases which contain rare books and first editions and along the floor are tracks where a wooden cart used to run to transport books from the back of the shop to the front. The Lello Brothers are depicted in bas-relief on the walls of the ground floor, along with some major Portuguese writers, such as Camilo Castelo Branco, Guerra Junqueiro, Antero de Quental, Tomás Ribeiro and Teófilo Braga. At the back of the ground floor is a bust of another great Portuguese author Eça de Queiroz and another of the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes,  both sculpted by Abel Salazar.

The shop is dominated by the staircase, with its carved wooden handrail and red painted stairs, that leads to the first floor, dividing voluptuously into two staircases and giving views over the ground floor. The highlight of the first floor is a large art nouveau stained-glass skylight with the Latin phrase ‘Decus in labore’ (‘Dignity in work’) in the centre. This allows light to flood into what otherwise would be a dark and gloomy shop.

The majority of the books are in Portuguese, but there is a section of books in English, Spanish and French on the ground floor. The ground floor also has a large selection of children’s books and souvenirs. On the first floor there are travel, cookery and design sections. There is also a section of language learning books and dictionaries.


Livraria Lello & Irmão, Rua das Carmelitas, Porto (nearest metro stations: São Bento and Aliados)

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am-7.30pm; Sat 10am-7pm; Sun 11am-7pm

Entrance fee:  €3 (as of June 2016) purchased from the booth on the opposite side of the road. The entrance fee is refundable against any  purchase in the bookshop.

Porto, Porto's narrowest house

Porto’s narrowest house

Igreja do Carmo (right) and Igreja das Carmelitas (left)

On Rua do Carmo in the centre of Porto is what appears to be a very large church with a split personality: the wild Rococco style on the right and the Classical style on the left. Look very carefully and you will see a section between the two halves, no more than a metre wide, with a doorway and windows, and it starts to become clear that these are in fact two separate churches separated by a third building, known as the hidden house. The Carmo Church (Igreja do Carmo) on the right was designed by the architect José Figueiredo Seixas in the 18th century (it was completed in 1768) for an order of Carmelite monks.

DSC00445_DxO Igreja do Carmo
Igreja do Carmo

On the side of the building is an impressive azulejo (tile panel), designed by Silvestro Silvestri, depicting the creation of the Carmelite community on Mount Carmel in Israel in the 13th century.

The Carmelite Church (Igreja das Carmelitas) on the left was  completed in 1628 for an order of Carmelite nuns. The former convent is now used as the headquarters of the Porto branch of the National Republican Guard.

DSC00570_DxO Igreja das Carmelitas
Igreja das Carmelitas

It is very unusual to see two churches next to each other in Portugal, despite the high number of churches in every town and city. The reason is that a law existed decreeing that churches could not share the same wall, so when these two churches were built a house, which must be one of the narrowest houses in the world, was built between them.

The narrow house

What was the reason for this law? The most likely answer is that it was to prevent fraternization of the nuns and the monks. Despite the obvious limitations of the house, it remained lived in until the 1980s. Nowadays it is open to the public and you can see for yourself what it must have been like to live in such a narrow house. Surprisingly the rooms aren’t very small, but there is only one room on each floor and none of them have windows, so there is no natural light.

As an interesting aside, J. K. Rowling was living in Porto when she conceived the idea of the Harry Potter stories and this narrow house may have been the inspiration for the invisible house that is used as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix in the books.


Igrega das Carmelitas and Igreja do Carmo, Rua do Carmo, Porto (nearest metro stations: São Bento and Aliados)

Tickets for the house and the Igreja do Carmo (including the catacombs, the great hall and the sacristy) can be bought from the entrance to the house and cost €3.50. Open:  Mondays 12pm-6pm; Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm

The Igreja das Carmelitas is free to enter