The Praça de Mouzinho de Albuquerque in Porto is better known as the Rotunda da Boavista (the Boavista Roundabout), as it is in the middle of a huge roundabout where Avenida da Boavista, Rua de 5 de Outubro, Avenida da França, Rua de Nossa Senhora de Fátima, Rua de Júlio Dinis, Rua de Caldas Xavier and Rua da Meditação all meet. The park is named after Joaquim Augusto Mouzinho de Albuquerque, an army officer of the late-19th century who is considered a hero, as he served in the Portuguese colonies and was governor of India and Mozambique at a time when other European powers were threatening Portuguese control of these countries. It is surprising therefore that the monument in the middle of the park isn’t dedicated to Mouzinho de Alburquerque, but instead, the tall, hard-to-miss column topped by a sculpture of a lion crushing an eagle, the Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular (Monument to the Heroes of the Peninsular War), is a memorial to Porto’s victory over the French during the Peninsular War in 1809.
The war began in 1807 when the Napoleonic French army aided by Spanish troops invaded Portugal. The Portuguese royal family, including Queen Maria I and the Prince Regent João (later to become King João VI), plus many members of the nobility, fled to Brazil leaving the country without any leadership and the Portuguese were unable to put up much resistance to the invasion. This changed in the spring of 1808 when a Spanish revolt against French occupation in Spain led to the Spanish troops being withdrawn from Portugal to join the fight against the French, which in turn sparked a revolt by the Portuguese forces against the French troops in the north of Portugal. However, in February 1809 French troops under the command of Marshal Soult invaded northern Portugal and on 28th March 1809 the Portuguese army fought against the French in what would later be known as the First Battle of Porto. This battle was a huge loss for the Portuguese and was made doubly tragic by the collapse of a bridge, the Ponte das Barcas (Bridge of Barges, a pontoon bridge across the River Douro made up of barges linked together by steel cables which was located near the site of the current Dom Luís Bridge), in which it is estimated that over four thousand civilians who were attempting to escape the city drowned. Things started to improve in April 1809 when the British came to the aid of the Portuguese and they formed the Anglo-Portuguese Army under the command of General Wellesley (who later became the Duke of Wellington). A victory at the Battle of Grijó (in Vila Nova de Gaia) on 11th May, immediately followed by a decisive victory at the Second Battle of Porto (also known as the Battle of the Douro) on 12th May 1809 saw the retreat of the French army into Spain and the liberation of the city of Porto.
The monument to commemorate these events is a remarkable piece of sculpture that works on an aesthetic as much as on a patriotic level. It was originally designed by the architect José Marques da Silva (who also designed Porto’s São Bento station and the Serralves Villa) and the sculptor António Alves de Sousa. Work began on the monument in 1909 but it wasn’t completed until 1951 due to financial difficulties (it was eventually completed by Marques da Silva’s daughter and son-in-law, who took over the project after the death of Marques da Silva in 1947). The top of the 45-metre-high Neo-classical monument is a clearly symbolic representation of the strength of the joint British and Portuguese armies (symbolized by the lion) over the French imperial army (symbolized by the eagle). Lower down the granite column are relief figures of the soldiers who led the fight against the French, while behind them are carved scenes of the war. At the bottom of the monument there are large-scale detailed depictions in bronze of some of the events of the war, including the tragedy of the collapse of the Ponte das Barcas and Victory personified as a woman holding a flag and a sword and leading the people of Porto in triumph.
By the end of a week in Porto, most tourists will have seen the ‘must-see’ places, including the Palácio da Bolsa, Sāo Bento station, the Clérigos Tower, the Cathedral, the Majestic Café and even the Livraria Lello (which must be one of the few bookshops in the world where you have to pay to go in!), but these buildings, as beautiful as they are, don’t show you the ‘real’ Porto and how the ordinary ‘Tripeiros’ (the nickname of people from Porto) lived. To do that you need to get away from the tourist zones and walk around the neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city. At first glance they may appear to be just residential streets with rows of ordinary houses, but scratch below the surface and there is a rich social history just waiting to be discovered. By pure chance, I discovered a walking tour company that offers tours around these areas. Run by a group of socialist architects who found their work had dried up as a result of the economic crisis that began in 2008, the self-deprecatingly named Worst Tours was started to offer walking tours that combined their knowledge of architecture and their love for the city of Porto.
Our tour started at the Praça do Marquês de Pombal in the north of the city, a pretty square with fountains, a bandstand and a café selling coffee at non-tourist prices, surrounded by 19th-century townhouses. Approximately ten of us were greeted by Pedro, who arrived holding a large folder containing a plan of Porto which he referred to throughout the tour.
The Praça do Marquês de Pombal dates from the mid-19th century and was built on what was formerly one of the entrances to the city and where goods were taxed as they entered the city. The houses around this square reflected the social status and wealth of the occupants and as well as the rows of tall, narrow middle-class houses in the middle of each street around the square, there was a large house on each corner owned by someone of a higher status.
From here we crossed over to the Rua do Bonjardim, a long road formed in the mid-18th century as part of the urbanization plan, that leads directly into the centre of Porto. Only a short way down the road we stopped outside a large distinctive mansion, which was very different to the surrounding architecture. Known as a ‘Brazilian house’ it is a typical example of how wealthy people, often people who had made a fortune in Brazil (hence the name), built houses that were large and flamboyant. This particular house was built in 1906 in a mixture of Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau styles and was covered with green tiles, topped by a distinctive hexagonal turret and surrounded by a garden which contains plants not native to Porto, such as palm trees. Looking at it, I felt the house had a sense of abandonment and Pedro confirmed that the house was no longer occupied and was standing empty. He also explained that there are no squatter’s rights in Portugal and that almost everyone respects the fact that even abandoned properties have an owner. This has resulted in a lot of empty properties in the city that no one can do anything with. As a result property developers try and find ways around this. Pedro pointed out to us an official-looking notice attached to the wall, which suggested that the property developer had applied for a planning application, but when we looked more closely the notice had not been completed with any information and any development of the property would be illegal.
In total contrast to the ‘Brazilian house’, our next stop was at an area completely hidden away behind the main roads, known euphemistically as ‘Ilhas’ (Islands), a name given to the working-class slums of Porto. In the mid- to late 19th century there was a large influx of people from the rural areas which resulted in a need for cheap housing and the Ilhas were created to meet this need. They were very small dwellings that were built onto the back of a large middle-class house. The middle-class house would face onto the main road and, in what would have formerly been the garden at the back of the house, a row of terraced houses (often back to back) that were accessed by a narrow passage, were built. Each of these houses was approximately 16 metres square and consisted of a living room, kitchen and bedroom. Diseases such as cholera and typhoid were rife, as there was little ventilation or natural light, no running water or sewers and all the families in the terrace shared one communal toilet. The majority of the Ilhas were demolished in the 1940s and the families were rehoused in areas on the outskirts of Porto, a long way from the centre, but some of the Ilhas still exist, as we discovered in a small alleyway in the Lapa district.
Nearby, next to the Lapa metro station, is an example of a 1970s social housing project developed as a solution to the problems of the Ilhas, known as the Bouça Housing Complex. It was designed by the architect Álvaro Siza after the 1974 revolution, when, along with other architects and engineers, he worked for an association known as SAAL (Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local (Local Ambulatory Support Service)), to design community housing projects for families who were being rehoused from the slums. His design was based on light and space, both interior and exterior. The four-storey complex comprised of homes which extended over two floors, with balconies, exterior staircases and walkways, built around a long central courtyard. Unfortunately the government money dried up and a result building materials ran out and the complex wasn’t fully completed until 2007. Its position near to the centre of the city means that local residents can easily get to the centre for work or recreation, unlike many who have been forced out to the suburbs due to the gentrification of the former working-class neighbourhoods of Porto.
Only a short walk, but another world away from the Bouça Housing Complex, is Rua de Álvares Cabral, a long street that leads to the Praça da República. This street is one of the best examples of 19th-century Neo-classical townhouses typical of Porto and the buildings on this road are listed as a group of buildings of public interest due to their coherent architectural features. In the second half of the 19th century new housing was planned in blocks rather than as individual houses and as a result there is a uniformity to the houses on this street. They are narrow and extend over several floors (including the truncated ground floor which was originally intended to be a storeroom) and built around a central stairwell. A skylight was built in the roof to allow natural light to come in to the stairwell. There is also a garden at the back and each house would have been occupied by one family. Even today, it is still apparent that every house in a block has the same basic exterior features: standardized factory-made tiles on the wall, a uniform large decorative panel above the front door and a double front door. However, each owner often added individual elements, such as in the ornate details of the balconies and the skylights.
Skylights of various levels of grandeur can be seen in buildings all over Porto and one particular good example of an ornate skylight can be seen in the large mid-19th-century former mansion, the Palacete das Águias (Eagles’ Villa) (dominating one of the corners of the Praça da República, overlooking the pretty Jardim de Teófilo Braga), which is now the headquarters of the Regional Council of the Porto Bar Association.
From here it was quite a long walk to our penultimate stop at the Neo-Arabian-style Mostruário da Fábrica de Cêramica das Devesas (Devesas’ Ceramic Factory Showroom) on Rua de José Falcão. Built in 1901, this distinctive building, decorated with beautiful Art Nouveau-style tiles, was the showroom for tiles and other ceramics items produced by the Devesas factory, the most important producer of exterior tiles in Portugal up to the 1980s, in Vila Nova de Gaia. The location of the showroom meant that customers could view the tiles in the centre of Porto rather than having to cross the river to visit the factory.
Our final stop was the Avenida dos Aliados, right in the heart of Porto. I had always assumed that the avenue was built in the late-19th century, as the buildings are a mixture of ornate fin-de-siècle Neo-classical and Beaux Arts styles, so I was very surprised to learn that the majority of the buildings were built in the 1920s and ’30s. The avenue was begun by the English architect Barry Parker and completed by José Marques da Silva, who was influenced by the French School of architecture. These grand buildings are nowadays mostly banks and hotels, but the avenue is dominated by one particular building, the stately Neo-classical City Hall with its distinctive clock tower, which is located at one end of the avenue in the Praça do General Humberto Delgado. It was built in 1920 from a design by the architect António Correia da Silva. Here we said goodbye to Pedro and paid him what we thought it was worth, which was a reasonably generous amount, as far from being the worst tour, this was one of the best tours I have been on.
The Worst Tours are run on the principal of paying what you think it is worth at the end and a suggested price is that of what a cleaner in your country would be paid for the equivalent time. When I booked the tour via the Worst Tours website I was asked some initial questions to find out how well I knew Porto and what I was interested in. Based on my reply, that I had visited Porto before and had seen the touristy sights and that I wanted to see the ‘real’ Porto through the eyes of a local and learn more about the social history of the city, Pedro suggested the most suitable tour from their choice of four and promised to show me ‘other cities in the city’. He also warned me beforehand that the tour lasts between three and four hours, with a stop at a café halfway through, and to wear comfortable shoes and dress for all weathers, as the tours go ahead, even if it is raining!
In the grounds of the Serralves Estate in Porto (home to the Contemporary Art Museum) is what is considered to be one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in Portugal, the Serralves Villa. The estate is on what was originally the Quinta do Lordelo estate, which was owned by Carlos Alberto Cabral, the 2nd Count of Vizela, a wealthy businessman who regularly travelled around Europe and who was inspired by the art and architecture saw there. Cabral inherited the estate in 1923 and two years later began planning a new house, while extending the grounds of the estate. Initially he commissioned the architect José Marques da Silva to modify the existing house, but eventually the plans changed to have a completely new house built on the site, designed by the French Art Deco architect, Charles Siclis and developed by Marques da Silva; while the interior was designed by the French Art Deco interior designer, Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann with some decorative touches from other major designers of the time, including Edgar Brandt, Ivan da Silva Bruhns, René Lalique, Jules Leleu, Jean Perzel, Alfred Porteneuve and Raymond Subes. The house was finally completed in 1944 and Cabral and his wife Blanche lived, what I imagine must have been a glamorous lifestyle, there until financial difficulties forced them to sell the house and estate in the early 1950s. At the time of the sale a condition was written into the contract stipulating that the house could not be altered in any way, and thank goodness it was, as the house we see today is virtually the same as it was in the 1940s.
The first thing I noticed as I approached the house is that it is pink, very pink (thanks to Alfred Porteneuve, who was said to have been inspired by one of the galleries in the Machado de Castro Museum in Coimbra), with lots of large windows. It is a streamlined geometric design, with two main facades: the front entrance, which is a semi-circular shape with round columns, and the back entrance which has rounded corners and large vertical windows that give uninterrupted views of the beautiful garden below. As I entered the house, I was slightly disappointed that it is unfurnished, so that all that remains of the original house are the fixture and fittings, restored lovingly in 2004 by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira (who also designed the neighbouring Contemporary Art Museum, which was completed in 1999), and I had to use my imagination and what I knew of these types of houses from films set in Hollywood mansions of the 1920s and ’30s to picture what it must have looked like in its heyday. But a few things have survived.
A large wrought-iron gate, entitled ‘Les Danseurs’, designed by the French metalsmith Edgar Brandt, decorated with Art Deco-style figures playing musical instruments, opens into two of the main ground-floor rooms, the Hexagonal Room and the Marble Room. Other rooms on the ground floor include the Dining Room, Billiard Room and Library, in addition the chapel, which was the original 19th century chapel with an Art Deco exterior built around it, and the basement which housed the kitchen, pantry and utility areas.
A large black-marble-topped table, designed by Raymond Subes, is affixed to a wall in the Dining Room. A sleek, curved staircase leads to the upper deck of the former library on the ground floor. In some rooms the floor is made of exotic hardwood, in others, marble. Details on the door handles are clearly Art Deco. Rooms have large mirrors on the walls and on cupboard doors to maximise the amount of light. The rooms on the first floor include the Fireplace Room, the Countess’ Bedroom, the Count’s Bedroom, the Guest Room and the bathrooms.
The guest bathroom, in white marble, is the more tasteful of the two bathrooms, with a large marble bath and washbasin, while the master bathroom (designed by Alfred Porteneuve) is done in pink marble and looks a bit more ostentatious.
In the Fireplace Room, on the first floor, two armchairs (the only furniture in the entire house) are placed in front of the balcony to give us an idea of what it must have been like to sit that room in front of the balcony windows and get a perfect view of the two-tiered garden below. The garden echoes the Art Deco style of the house, marked by two straight pink tiered paths with a water channel flowing between them into the pond at the end of the garden. From the pond the eye is led back to the house. The garden is now used for art exhibitions and on the day we visited there was a display of Joana Vasconcelos’ work which, although far removed from Art Deco style, blended in perfectly with the surroundings.
The villa can be hired for business and private events, including wedding receptions and I wonder if the Art Deco theme is extended to the tables, chairs and tableware at these events. I really hope it is!
The Serralves Villa is part of the Serralves Foundation, Rua D. João de Castro, Porto
Opening hours: April to September: Monday to Friday from 10am-7pm; Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays: 10am-8pm. October to March: Monday to Friday: 10am-6pm; Saturday, Sunday and public holidays: 10am- 7pm. Closed 25th December and 1st January (24th and 31st December closes at 4pm).
Full entrance ticket €18. Entrance to the Serralves Villa and park only €12
Bus: 201, 203, 502, 504 On foot: it is possible to walk from the centre of Porto to the Serralves Estate. We did it, but it is quite a long way (from the Palácio da Bolsa to Serralves is approximately 5km and takes around an hour). We walked from the historic centre of Porto via the riverfront road, turning right a few metres after the Arrábida Bridge and cutting through a pretty park (Parque da Pasteleira). We walked back to the centre of Porto via the Avenida da Boavista, which leads to the Casa da Música and the Praça Mousinho Albuquerque.
The cheapest and easiest way to get from Porto airport into the centre of Porto is by the sleek, modern Porto Metro system. The great thing about this journey is that it is overground for the majority of time, giving you a chance to see parts of Porto you would not normally see. The Metro station is located just outside the airport terminal and is served by Metro E (the purple line). The trains start and finish here, so you don’t have to worry about getting on the wrong train or being on the wrong platform. Trains run every 30 minutes and the journey into the centre of Porto takes 30 minutes.Tickets are bought from the automatic machines at the entrance to the station. Before buying a ticket you need to check which zone you will be travelling to; all the stations are listed on the ticket machine and next to each station is a z number (z2, z3 or z4) which shows you how many zones you have to go through to reach your destination, for example, the airport is in zone N10 and Campanhã is in zone C1 and to get from N10 to C1 the train passes through 4 zones (N10 C5, C2 and C1), so a ticket to Campanhã is a z4 ticket. Once you have found the z number, the instructions on the ticket machine screen are self-explanatory. The ticket you will buy will be the Andante Azul card, which is similar to the Viva Viagem card that is used on the Metro (and other public transport) in Lisbon, however, it is a bit more complicated than the Lisbon system. Like the Lisbon Viva Viagem card, the Andante Azul card is rechargable, so you will be charged 60 cents for the card when you buy it. What makes it more complicated than the Viva Viagem card is that you can only put journeys on the card for one zone at a time. You can only change zones when the card is empty. When you first arrive, I suggest you just buy a one-way journey on the card, which to the centre of Porto will cost around €1.95. Once you know how you intend to use it you can add more journeys to it in the correct zone. During your stay, if you wish to use the metro, public buses and local trains (but not trams) you can buy an Andante Tour card which is designed for tourists and allows you to make as many journeys as you wish during a specific period of time: Andante Tour 1 lasts 24 hours and costs €7 and Andante Tour 3 lasts 72 hours and costs €15.
You will need to buy a different card for each person in your group and each card needs to be validated by holding it against the black circle on the yellow validation machine before you go up the steps to the platform. You also have to validate it if you change lines during the journey. More information can be found on the Metro do Porto website. A further tip is to carry some coins for the ticket machines, as they often have problems accepting notes.
By day the historic centre of Porto displayed its wonderful Baroque, Gothic, Romanesque and Neo-classical architecture and justified its UNESCO World Heritage Site title. By night, however, the city took on a different appearance, as buildings, squares and statues were lit up, giving everything a golden glow. The tourists had made their way back to their cruise ships and their hotels and we could walk around the quiet streets marvelling at the regal splendour of the area around Campo dos Mártires da Pátria (for the Palácio da Justiça and the Clérigos Tower); Largo Professor Abel Salazar (for the Museu do Centro Hospitalar do Porto); Avenida dos Aliados and the two squares at either end, Praça da Liberdade and Praça do General Humberto Delgado (for very grand commercial buildings, the nearby São Bento station and two charming statues, A Juventude (the naked woman, 1929) and A Abundância (the cherubs, 1931), both by the sculptor Henrique Moreira); the Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique (for the statue of Prince Henry the Navigator); the Ribeira quarter (for the Dom Luís I Bridge and the Serra do Pilar Monastery and Church on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river); and Vila Nova de Gaia (for views of Porto, including the Palácio da Bolsa, São Bento da Vitória Church, the Clérigos Tower, the Episcopal Palace and the Cais da Ribeira). Porto by day is for the tourists, but Porto by night is for the romantics.
The Ribeira (Riverside) quarter of Porto is steeped in atmosphere, with narrow, winding streets and colourful painted and tiled houses with washing hanging from the balconies, harking back to a time when this part of the river was a working port and the quarter was a working-class district. Local children swim confidently in the murky waters of the Douro, while tourists drink and dine at the large number of restaurants and bars in the old arcades along the Cais da Ribeira (riverfront) and on the back streets. Clearly visible from the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river is the Elevador da Riberia (also known as the Elevador da Lada), an iron lift which transports people from the Cais da Ribeira to the Barredo quarter, avoiding a climb up the steep hill.
Praça da Ribeira
Cais da Ribeira, Porto
Cais da Ribeira, Porto
Cais da Ribeira, Porto
Cais da Ribeira, Porto
At the heart of the Ribeira quarter is the Praça da Ribeira at the bottom of Rua de São João, where old tiled townhouses line a riverfront square, at the centre of which is a fountain comprising an original stone fountain with a controversial huge 1970s cube (O Cuboda Ribeira) suspended above it, created by the artist José Rodrigues. In a niche of an eighteenth-century fountain built into a wall, a statue of John the Baptist, the patron saint of Porto, was added by the sculptor João Cutileiro (who also sculpted the statue of Dom Sebastião in Lagos) in 2000. Today the square is full of pavement tables and is a popular place to sit and have a drink or a meal, while enjoying views of the boats sailing by on the River Douro and Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the river. The view is particularly lovely after dark when the Dom Luís I Bridge and the Serra do Pilar Church are lit up.
O Cubo da Ribeira, Praça da Ribeira, Porto
Statue of John the Baptist, Praça da Ribeira, Porto
Largo de São Domingos was ‘our square’: the place where we sat at a pavement café drinking a glass of cold beer and watching the world go by after a long day of sightseeing. The square is at the end of one of my favourite streets in Porto, the busy and vibrant Rua da Flores, right in the heart of the old city. It links Largo de São Domingos (near the Palácio da Bolsa) to the Praça de Almeida Garrett (in front of São Bento station). The pedestrianized street is a lovely place to wander, while looking in the windows of the diverse shops; admiring the Baroque beauty of the Nasoni-designed Igreja da Misericórdia and the eye-catching sculpture on the front of the neighbouring Museu da Misercórdia do Porto; being surprised by the artwork on the outside of the ever so slightly sinister-looking Museu das Marionetas (Puppet Museum); and stopping for a drink or a bite to eat at one of the many little cafés. Many shops and cafés have taken the name of the street (Flower Street) to heart and have decorated their exteriors with flowers, ranging from a vertical flower garden on the exterior of the Ourivesaria Alliança jewellery shop, flower patterns on the table tops of a pavement café and delicately painted designs on several shop windows. Even the more dilapidated buildings along the street have been painted on by street artists and give the street a certain bohemian quality, where free-spirited locals sit slightly uncomfortably alongside well-heeled tourists.
Largo de São Domingos, Porto
Living statue, Largo de São Domingos, Porto
Palácio das Artes – Fábrica de Talentos (a centre supporting young artists and showcasting their work), Largo de São Domingos, Porto
Farmácia Moreno, Largo de São Domingos, Porto
Igreja da Misercórdia, Rua das Flores, Porto
Igreja da Misercórdia, Rua das Flores, Porto
Museu da Misercórdia do Porto, Rua das Flores, Porto
Museu das Marionetas, Rua das Flores, Porto
Rua das Flores, Porto
Flower-patterned table top,Rua da Flores, Porto
Painted shop window, Rua das Flores, Porto
Pavement café, Rua das Flores, Porto
Street art on Rua das Flores, Porto
Rua das Flores from Praça de Almeida Garret, Porto
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
The Majestic Café was busy and noisy at breakfast time. The sounds of a coffee machine hissing, crockery clinking and voices speaking animatedly gave us a sense of what the café must have been like in the 1920s, when it became a hub for the fashionable elite, businessmen, intellectuals and bohemians. It opened in 1921 and its original name of ‘Elite Café’ was quickly replaced with ‘Majestic Café’, as it was felt that the word ‘elite’ had too many connotations with the former monarchy. Portugal had become a Republic in 1910 and in 1921 most sectors of society still had feelings of hatred for the former monarchy. The name ‘Majestic’, in contrast, conjured up an image of the belle-époque era.
The café fell out of fashion and into disrepair in the second half of the twentieth century, but in 1994 it was refurbished and reopened. It retains much of João Queiroz’s original opulent Art Nouveau decor of dark wood with ornate plaster sculptures on the walls and ceiling, leaded-light interior windows and large, slightly aged mirrors which give a sense of space, patterned-leather benches, marble tables, and metal and glass light fittings. The front of the building is elaborately decorated above the door with marble panels, sculptures, small wood-framed glass panels and the café’s name in gold. There is a small seating area on the pavement in front of the entrance to the café on the Rua Santa Catarina shopping street, which is always busy. There is also a very small courtyard at the back of the café with a pretty plants and more art nouveau touches, including a staircase flanked by two goddesses, a wrought-iron washbasin with filigree detail and a pretty stained-glass doorway and windows.
Nowadays, well-dressed customers sit alongside tourists dressed in shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps and carrying the obligatory ‘selfie-stick’, but the standards of the café are still high, with attentive, immaculately dressed waiters and waitress in crisp, white, long-sleeved jackets with silver buttons and long black trousers. The coffee was good and strong and the pastel de nata (custard tart) was large enough to be a meal in itself! Compared to similar breakfasts we had in other cafés in Porto it was quite expensive, but a visit to the Majestic Café isn’t just about the food and drink, it is also about a sense of stepping back in time.
Majestic Café, Porto
Majestic Café, Porto
Majestic Café, Porto
Majestic Café, Porto
Majestic Café, Porto
Courtyard, Majestic Café, Porto
Courtyard, Majestic Café, Porto
Courtyard, Majestic Café, Porto
Majestic Café, 112 Rua Santa Catarina, Porto
Open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-midnight for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and cocktails.
We are big fans of the open-top bus tours that exist in most European cities, as they are a great way of getting a feel for the layout of the city and which places are worth returning to. So, on our first trip to Porto we bought a two-day ticket which gave us unlimited access to the two routes known as ‘Historical Porto’ and ‘Porto Castles’. The buses are hop-on and hop-off at any of the 28 or so designated stops per route and while we were on the bus we were able to listen to a really informative commentary about the area through the earphones which were provided.
Day one: Historical Porto
On the first day we chose to do the Historical Porto tour, joining the bus at the stop nearest to the Baroque Clérigos Tower. The church and tower were built in the 18th century and the tower is 75 metres high, with 240 steps to the top. The climb is worth it for the aerial views of Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia and the River Douro. Nearby are two pretty gardens the Praça de Lisboa, constructed on the roof of a shopping arcade, and the Jardim da Cordoaria with its lovely sculptures. Standing at the entrance of the Praça de Lisboa is a statue of the former Bishop of Porto, António Ferreira Gomes (d.1989). The statue by Arlindo Rocha is a tribute to a man who opposed the Salazar dictatorship. Nearby is the charming bookshop, Livraria Lello & Irmão with its mixture of art nouveau and neo-gothic styles.
Clérigos Tower and Praça de Lisboa, Porto
statue of the former Bishop of Porto, António Ferreira Gomes, Praça de Lisboa, Porto
Jardim da Cordoaria, Porto
The bus took us down the busy Rua dos Clérigos hill and into the Avenida dos Aliados with its impressive statues and architecture, mainly from the nineteenth century. At the south end of the avenue is the Praça da Liberdade with an imposing statue of Dom Pedro IV on a horse in the centre of the square. The bus continued along the Avenida dos Aliados to the Porto City Hall building, at the north end of the avenue in the Praça do General Humberto Delgado, a building which dates from 1920 and was designed by the architect Correia da Silva.
Avenida dos Aliados, Porto
Avenida dos Aliados, Porto
Avenida dos Aliados, Porto
Porto City Hall, Porto
The bus then went by São Bento station, famous for its azulejo (decorated tile) panels inside the entrance hall, and continued up to Porto Cathedral and the Paço Episcopal (the former Bishop’s Palace). The earliest parts of the cathedral date from the twelfth century and the stunning rose window is from the thirteenth century. Behind the cathedral is the Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro, which is the former home of the nineteenth-century poet, Guerra Junqueiro, who collected the artefacts on display.
The next stop was the Praça da Batalha, to the east of the cathedral, which houses two distinctly different, but attractive, buildings, the São João National Theatre and the Santo Idelfonso Church. The neo-classical theatre was designed by the architect José Marques da Silva and opened in 1920. It is Porto’s main theatre. The Baroque Santo Idelfonso Church has a stunning azulejo-covered façade.
São João National Theatre, Porto
Santo Idelfonso Church, Porto
The bus then went past Praça D. João I and along part of Rua de Santa Catarina and Rua de Passos Manuel, which are in Porto’s main shopping area, which includes the lovely Art Nouveau Majestic Café, and passes by the Carmo Church and the Carmelitas Church, which are separated by a very narrow house. The two churches are very different in style: the Carmo Church has distinctive azulejo panels on the façade, whereas the style of the Carmelitas Church is more restrained.
Majestic Café, Porto
Carmo Church and Carmelitas Church, Porto
The bus passes the Santo António Hospital, a late-eighteenth-/early-nineteenth-century, neo-classical-style building designed by the British architect John Carr, which houses the Porto Hospital Centre Museum, showing the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century medicine and pharmaceuticals.
Near here is the pretty Jardim do Carregal and the Soares dos Reis National Museum, a museum and art gallery which dates back to 1833, in the former Palácio das Carrancas. The bus continued along Rua D. Manuel II to the entrance of the lovely Jardins do Palácio de Cristal and we could see the distinctive dome-shaped Rosa Mota Pavilion.
The bus then went around the Rotunda da Boavista, where we could clearly see the column with a lion crushing an eagle on the top, which was built to commemorate the Portuguese/British (represented by the lion) victory over the French (represented by the eagle) in the Peninsular War (1807-14) and the bus continued along the very long Avenida da Boavista where we passed the modern-looking Casa da Música concert hall as well as many hotels and restaurants.
As the bus turned into Avenida do Marechal Gomes da Costa we entered a very desirable part of Porto, passing the Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art set in pleasant grounds and also drove past beautiful houses on tree-lined streets. The bus came onto the sea-front at Foz do Douro, a beach area at the mouth of the River Douro. Here we saw the lovely neo-classical Pérgola da Foz, a structure built along the promenade in the 1930s, and the sixteenth-century São João da Foz do Douro Fort (also known as ‘Foz Castle’).
As we made our way back into Porto along the riverfront road we passed the pretty Passeio Alegre gardens, the Tramcar Museum, the Port Wine Museum and the Word of Discoveries. The Tramcar Museum, housed in an old tram shed, as the name suggests, tells the history of the tram and has old trams on display. The Port Wine Museum, housed in a former warehouse, tells the history of and gives information about port. The World of Discoveries is an interactive museum which re-enacts the journeys of the Portuguese navigators. As we approached the Dom Luís I Bridge we passed the gothic São Francisco Church, the Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique, with the statue of Prince Henry, the Navigator pointing out to sea and the Casa do Infante, which was possibly the birthplace of Prince Henry, the Navigator, but nowadays houses the city archives. Nearby is the Palácio da Bolsa, the former stock exchange building dating from 1842.
Serra do Pilar Monastery and Dom Luís I Bridge, Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia quay
Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia
The bus climbed the hill by the Cockburn’s port lodge on Rua de Serpa Pinto and at the top passed the Casa-Museu Teixeira Lopes, an art museum dedicated to the late-nineteenth-century artist who lived in Vila Nova de Gaia. The bus made a stop at the huge popular department store, El Corte Inglés, then passed the Romantic-style Vila Nova de Gaia city hall before turning right at the Jardim do Morro so that we drove along the front entrance of the former Serra do Pilar Monastery, which is now army barracks, complete with tanks on display and a sentry on guard duty; this area was the least inspiring of the whole tour. The bus took us back into Porto along the modern Infante Bridge from which we got a good view of the Dom Luís Bridge to the left and the Maria Pia Bridge (which looks like the Dom Luís Bridge with the lower deck removed) to the right. The bus returned to the Clérigos Tower repeating part of the route from earlier in the day.
Day two: Porto Castles
The rather misleadingly named Porto Castles tour covered some of the same places that we had already seen on the Historical Porto tour, namely the Clérigos Tower, Porto Cathedral, the Praça da Batalha, Praça D. João I, the Carmo and Carmelitas Churches, the Jardim do Carregal, the Tramcar Museum, the riverfront, the São João da Foz do Douro Fort, the beach area in Foz, the Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art, Avenida da Boavista, the Casa da Música and the Rotunda da Boavista. The main difference with this tour was that it took us all the way out to the beach and port area of Matosinhos (to the north-west of the city), starting with the strangely named Castelo do Queijo (Cheese Castle), a star-shaped fort dating from the fifteenth century, whose actual name is São Francisco Xavier Fort. The nickname derives from the cheese-like boulders that it was built on.
The bus went on to the Sea Life aquarium and then past the wonderful sculpture of a huge fishing net known locally as ‘Anémona’ (‘Anemone’), but whose proper title is She Changes, a sculpture from 2005 by the American artist Janet Echelman.
We then continued into Matosinhos, past the very modern-looking Matosinhos City Hall building designed by the architect Alcino Soutinho in 1987 and then past the stunning early Baroque-style Bom Jesus de Matosinhos Church, dating from the early-eighteenth century, and the white and glass building of Matosinhos market dating from the 1930s. The market is still very much a working market and is famous for its fresh fish.
We then continued to the Porto Leixões Cruise Terminal, which on paper doesn’t sound very interesting, but is of architectural interest due to the white, tilted, spiral structure on the top of the terminal, designed by Luís Pedro Silva in 2015. We continued back towards Porto via Matosinhos’ beaches.
We then turned into Avenida da Boavista past the Parque da Cidade, which is the largest park in Porto. Opposite the Parque da Cidade is the Dr. António Cupertino Miranda Foundation, a modern white building which, among other things, contains the Paper Money Museum. We continued on to the Praça da República, a pretty square with trees and sculptures surrounded by former mansion houses. Near here is the neo-classical Nossa Senhora da Lapa Church, built between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. An interesting fact about this church is that the graveyard, which was built as a result of a serious cholera epidemic, is the oldest in Portugal. As with the Historical Porto tour, the bus returned to the Clérigos Tower via a city centre route it had covered earlier in the day. We got off the bus with a really good sense of the geography of the city and environs and set off to a bar to make a list of the places we intended to return to and spend more time at.
We went on two tours with the Yellow Bus company, but the City Sightseeing company also does similar tours.
A two-day ‘hop-on and hop-off’ ticket costs €15 (as of June 2016) and gives access to two routes: Historical Porto and Porto Castles (each tour takes 1 hour 50 minutes). There are approximately 28 stops on each route. The ticket includes a free tour and tasting at the Cockburn’s port lodge, plus discounts on entrance to certain attractions.
Historical Porto tour: runs October to May 9.30am-5.30pm and June to September 9.15am-6.15pm daily; buses run every 30 minutes.
Porto Castles tour: runs 10am-5pm daily; buses run hourly.