Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) is a simple and austere building, comprised of a Romanesque exterior dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, dominated by two square towers topped with eighteenth-century cupolas, and a dark and sombre interior, brightened up by a thirteenth-century stained-glass rose window, an ornate altarpiece and a bronze bas-relief of the baptism of Christ by the sculptor José Joaquim Teixeira Lopes (1837-1918) in the baptistery.
Beside the main church there is the gilded Capela de São Vicente, fourteenth-century Gothic cloisters and, on the first floor, a chapterhouse which has a collection of sacred art and a room with an impressive ceiling painted by Giovanni Battista Pachini with Saint Michael in the centre. Both the cloisters and the chapterhouse are decorated with azulejo (decorative tiles) panels, depicting bucolic scenes, episodes from mythological stories and the story of the Virgin Mary.
In the eighteenth century the building was renovated and Baroque features were added, under the guidance of Nicolau Nasoni. José Saramago in his wonderful travel book Journey to Portugal (Viagem a Portugal), published in 1990, notes what the physiognomy of Porto and the north of Portugal owes to Nasoni, the Italian architect who also designed the Baroque Clérigos Church and Tower and Igreja da Misericórdia on Rua das Flores. It is fair to say that his involvement in the alterations to the Cathedral and the neighbouring Episcopal Palace (Paço Episcopal) in the 1720s and 1730s have resulted in the buildings we see today. He added the Baroque loggia to the side of the exterior of the Cathedral and inside the Cathedral he designed the frescoes on the walls of the apse and the staircase to the chapterhouse. He drew up designs for the Episcopal Palace building, which was to replace the existing twelfth-century palace, although his original designs proved too expensive to complete and what we see today is a scaled-back version. The Palace, which was the former palace of the Bishop of Porto, dominates the Porto skyline, particularly when looking at Porto from the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river. Positioned on the higher part of the city, above the Ribeira area, the white rectangular building with distinctive tall windows with rococo frames is attractive in daylight, but even more spectacular when lit up at night. It makes a fitting backdrop to the São João fireworks in June. I had been informed that the building is not open to the public, so we did not visit it, but I have recently learnt that it now offers guided tours around the interior and I will definitely visit it on my next visit to Porto.
In front of the Cathedral is a large bronze statue of a man sitting on a horse carrying a sword and shield in one hand and holding a flag in the other, created by the sculptor Salvador Barata Feyo in 1968. The man is Count Vímara Peres, a Portuguese hero who reconquered northern Portugal from the Moors in the ninth century, although he was Spanish and Portugal was not independent at the time. He was made administrator of Portucale (what is now the Minho and Douro regions) and the territory he and subsequent counts administered continued to extend south to become the territorium Portugalense, until Portugal finally gained independence in 1137.
In the fourteenth century the Cathedral and Episcopal Palace witnessed the politically strategic marriage of Philippa of Lancaster to Dom João I, the king of Portugal. The marriage was blessed in Porto Cathedral on 2nd February 1387 and the wedding celebrations were held at the Episcopal Palace. The celebrations lasted several days, as the marriage brought about an important Anglo-Portuguese alliance against the Franco-Castilian axis.
From the terrace in front of the Cathedral are great views, beginning with the Barredo quarter, immediately below the Cathedral, where houses are stacked in intimate proximity to each other. Further afield the Clérigos Tower dominates the skyline to the north, with São Bento da Vitória Church and Monastery and the Centro Português de Fotografia clearly visible near to it.
Sé do Porto, Largo do Terreiro da Sé, Porto
Entrance to the Church is free, but there is a fee of €3 to enter the museum and cloisters
Summer: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.30pm and 2.30pm–7pm; Winter: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.30pm and 2.30pm–6pm; Closed: Christmas Day and Easter (afternoon)
Museum and cloisters
Summer: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.15pm and 2.30pm–6.30pm; Winter: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.15pm and 2.30pm–5.30pm; Closed: Christmas Day and Easter (afternoon); Sundays and religious holidays (morning)
Paço Episcopal do Porto, Largo do Terreiro da Sé, Porto
For a virtual tour visit the website: http://www.diocese-porto.pt/visitavirtual/
Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 9am–1pm (last admission 12.30pm) 2pm–6pm (last admission 5.30pm)
Entrance fee: €5 or €6 (depending on the type of visit)