The Siege of Lisbon (also known as the Conquest of Lisbon), which took place in 1147, is a significant event in Portuguese history. That year the newly crowned King Afonso I of Portugal formed an army made up of Crusaders from Northern Europe to overthrow the Moorish presence in Lisbon, promising them the spoil. Despite the attacks on St George’s castle, which enclosed the Moorish city, the Moors held King Afonso’s army off for four months, but eventually the Christian army gained entry, overpowering the Moors, and then going on to ransack the city and murder anyone who got in their way. There is a legend that a knight called Martim Moniz, who was fighting in King Afonso’s army, lay down in the doorway so that the Moors couldn’t shut it, thus allowing the Christian army to enter. Despite being badly injured, the legend goes on to say that he got up and continued fighting until he finally died of his injuries. He is considered a hero in Lisbon and there is a small bust of him on a wall in the castle and he even has a square and the adjacent Metro station named after him in Lisbon.
In the Metro station the story of the Siege of Lisbon is told on the walls of the platforms through stylised minimalist cartoon-like characters created in marble by the sculptor José João Brito (b.1941) in 1997. Characters include two horses; the two bishops, D. João Peculiar (who successfully negotiated with the King of León and Castile for Portuguese independence in 1143) and D. Pedro Pitões (who persuaded the Crusaders to join King Afonso I in his attack on Lisbon); Crusaders, represented by Hervey de Glanvill (the leader of the Crusaders) and Simon of Dover (the leader of the Anglo-Norman forces); D. Afonso Henriques (King Afonso I of Portugal); and, of course, Martim Moniz, shown throwing himself between the doors.
As travellers leave Restauradores Metro station at the Avenida da Liberdade exit they come face-to-face with a large colourful tiled mural by the Brazilian artist Luiz Ventura (b. 1930) called ‘Brasil-Portugal: 500 anos – A Chegança’ (which roughly translates to ‘Brazil-Portugal: 500 years – The Historical Folk Play’). It was completed in 1994 and added to the station to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s discovery of Brazil in 1500. It is a depiction of a symbolic reenactment of the Portuguese explorers landing in Brazil and comments on the impact of the Age of Discovery. The Portuguese colonialists are shown aboard a caravel wearing expensive clothes and holding the navigational tools associated with the 15th– and 16th-century explorations, including a map, a compass and an armillary sphere, as well as one holding a book and pen and another, a soldier, holding a spear. They represent science, culture and military power. Also on board the caravel is a man in religious robes holding an open Bible and looking up to Heaven, representing the Catholic religion that the Portuguese brought to Brazil. Beside him is an angel and in front of her is a devil, symbolizing good and evil. In front of the devil is a chest containing chains and restraints, which disturbingly reminds us of the slave trade. On the left-hand side of the mural, outside of the caravel, are exotic fruits, flowers, plants, a bird, decorative pots and a mask, all representing the differences between the newly discovered Brazil and the old world Portugal. In the background is a caravel sailing towards the Brazilian coast, about to bring major changes to the indigenous societies. Look closely and you will see a ghostly figure on the far left of the group of Portuguese explorers, giving rise to a sense of uneasiness and foreboding.
Travellers using the Metro station at Cais do Sodré are greeted by a series of floor-to-ceiling-high rabbits painted in blue on the white tiles. On one wall the rabbits are running towards the trains and on the other they are running towards the exit. The rabbits, all wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch, are based on the John Tenniel illustration of the White Rabbit character from the children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865), who famously runs down the rabbit hole saying, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ The paintings were done by Pedro Morais (1944-2018) in 1998 when the Metro station first opened, but they were based on sketches that the Surrealist painter António Dacosta (1914-1990) had done for the station before he died. The White Rabbit seems very a fitting image for a busy commuter station, where, like Alice, we follow him down the rabbit hole into the bowels of the station!
The Lisbon Metro was extended as far as the airport in 2012 when an additional section was added to the red line, finally offering a quick and easy link between the airport and the centre of Lisbon. The artwork on the walls of this station, which was added at the same time, shows caricatures of 50 famous Portuguese men and woman from the late-nineteenth century to the present day, ranging from the worlds of literature, art, music and film to science, politics and sport. Most are unknown outside of Portugal, but they are there as familiar faces to welcome returning Portuguese travellers and also to introduce themselves to curious tourists. The caricatures, which are made of white and black stone, were created by the cartoonist António Antunes and depict: Francisco Sá Carneiro (politician (Social Democratic Party) and former Prime Minister of Portugal, 1934-1980), Álvaro Cunhal (Communist politician who fought against the Dictatorship, 1913-2005), Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (artist and ceramicist, depicted with his most famous creation, Zé Povinho, 1846-1905), Carlos Lopes (former long-distance runner, b. 1947), Paula Rego (artist, b. 1935), Mário Cesariny (surrealist poet, 1923-2006), Duarte Pacheco (engineer and politician who is associated with a number of public works, 1900-1943),
Aquilino Ribeiro (writer, 1885-1963), Júlio Pomar (artist, 1926-2018), Luís de Freitas Branco (composer, 1890-1955), Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (Abstract Expressionist artist, 1908-1992), Maria João Pires (pianist, b. 1944), Virgílio Ferreira (Existentialist writer, 1916-1996), Amália Rodrigues (Fado singer, 1920-1999),
Raul Solnado (comedian, 1929-2009), João Villaret (actor, 1913-1961), António Silva (actor, 1886-1971), Vasco Santana (actor, 1898-1958), Beatriz Costa (actress, 1907-1996), António Sérgio (philosopher, 1883-1969), José Saramago (Nobel Prize-winning writer, 1922-2010), António Egas Moniz (Nobel Prize-winning neurologist, 1874-1955), António Lobo Antunes(writer, b. 1942), Stuart Carvalhais (artist, 1887-1961), Amadeo Souza-Cardoso (artist, 1887-1918), Fernando Pessoa (writer, 1888-1935), Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (artist, 1857-1929), José Cardoso Pires (writer, 1925-1998), Alexandre O’Neil (Surrealist poet, 1924-1986), Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (poet, 1919-2004), Fernando Lopes-Graça (composer and conductor, 1906-1994), Cassiano Branco (architect, 1897-1970), Porfírio Pardal Monteiro (architect, 1897-1957), David Mourão-Ferreira (writer, 1927-1996), Leopoldo de Almeida (sculptor, 1898-1975), José de Almada Negreiros (Modernist artist and writer, 1893-1970), Carlos Gago Coutinho (1869-1959) and Artur Sacadura Cabral (1881-1924) (aviators who made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic in 1922), Natália Correira (writer, 1923-1993), José Viana da Motta (pianist and composer, 1868-1948), Ferreira de Castro (writer, 1898-1974), Calouste Gulbenkian (businessman and philanthropist, he created the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, 1869-1955), Agostinho da Silva (philosopher, 1906-1994),
Eusébio da Silva Ferreira (football player, 1942-2014), Diogo Freitas do Amaral (politician (Social Democratic Centre Party) and former Prime Minister of Portugal, 1941-2019), Eça de Queiroz (writer, 1845-1900), and Mário Soares (politician (Socialist Party) and former Prime Minister and President of Portugal, 1924-2017).
Opposite the lively Time Out Market on Avenida 24 de Julho in Lisbon is the busy Cais do Sodré station, where passengers arrive and leave by train, metro or ferry throughout the day. Commuters and tourists alike travel to and from places such as Belém, Estoril and Cascais by train and Cacilhas, Seixal and Montijo by ferry.
As people hurry through the station concourse, few stop to notice the beautiful Art Deco design of the original parts of the building, which were built in 1928 by the architect Porfírio Pardal Monteiro, to replace the basic station that had been there since 1895. The original features of the Art Deco station include the main facade of white concrete, glass and iron. The top of central section of the facade, which is the main entrance to the station, is curved and at ground level there are large rectangular glass doors in iron frames topped by a large glass arched window decorated with Art Deco features in blue, black and gold, all of which allow light to flood into the station. Over the main entrance is a large steamlined unsupported portico. This central section is flanked by two rectangular sections with decorative bronze columns running down the sides, symbolic bronze Bas-reliefs depicting naked muscular men holding industrial tools and modernist mosaics.
The original entrance hall which leads into the modern main concourse is a clean light space with a light-reflecting marble floor and angular marble columns and marble walls with entryways to the main station. Covering the entire back wall of the upper level is another window which mirrors the one on the facade, but (reminding people that this is station and time is of the essence) this one has a clock in the middle of it. The walls are decorated with panels of blue geometric-patterned tiles and the arched ceiling is decorated with black, grey and white square tiles within larger black rectangles, with a border of coloured semi-circles below. An Art Deco-style wrought-iron balcony surrounds the upper level.
The design of this part of the station creates a clean, streamlined, stylish, modern effect which symbolised train travel in the 1920s. Unfortunately this design doesn’t extend to the main concourse where you are transported back to the 21st century with a jolt!
In 1383 King Fernando I of Portugal died without a male heir, leaving the door open for the King of Castile to sieze the Portuguese throne. However, only two years later the Portuguese throne was safe and plans for a monastery at Batalha were begun, in celebration of the decisive battle where Fernando’s illegitimate half-brother defeated the Castilian army and ensured that Portugal would remain independent for almost two hundred years.
At the time of Fernando’s death his daughter, Beatriz, was married to King Juan I of Castile and after Fernando’s death she was named Queen of Portugal, but many Portuguese people were not happy with the situation as they feared the Castilians would take control of their country. Juan proved them right by entering Portugal with an army and marching towards Lisbon. Opponents of Beatriz began to support the illegitimate son of King Pedro I, João (1357-1433), who formed an army led by the great military commander Nuno Álvares Pereira to fight against the Castilians. The two armies met on 14th August 1385 on a battlefield at São Jorge on the outskirts of Aljubarrota and the Castilians were defeated at what became known as the Battle of Aljubarrota. João was proclaimed King João I of Portugal and began plans to build a monastery at Batalha to fulfil a promise that he had made in 1385 during the Battle of Aljubarrota, in which he vowed that if the Portuguese troops defeated the Castilians he would build a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary of the Victory (Santa Maria da Vitória). (Outside the monastery, opposite the main portal, is a large statue honouring the real hero of the Battle of Aljubarrota, Nuno Álvares Pereira, sitting proudly on his horse with his sword at his side.) The town of Batalha (which means ‘battle’ in Portuguese) was founded at the same time.
The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória at Batalha is one of the best examples of Gothic and Manueline architecture in Portugal and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The exterior of the Dominican monastery is of a light gold limestone decorated with spires, gables and ornamental crenellations that overwhelm the eye. It was begun in 1386 by the architect Afonso Domingues, who designed the Gothic arches in the Royal Cloister (to which the Manueline decorations of ropes, exotic flowers and crosses of the Order of Christ were added later by Diogo de Boitaca, who also decorated the cloister at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém) and the nave of the church.
The more flamboyant elements of the church were added by the architect Huguet, who took over from Domingues in 1402, including the high ceilings and the intricate late-Gothic-style main portal, which includes statues of the apostles on either side, God on his throne above the entrance and at the very top a depiction of the crowning of the Virgin Mary.
Huguet was also responsible for the Founder’s Chapel (which João ordered to be built as a royal pantheon for the House of Aviz and in which are the tombs of João and his wife, Queen Philippa of Lancaster (1360-1415), in the centre of the chapel, placed side by side holding hands, and the tombs of their four younger sons, in niches, including Prince Henrique (1394-1460, better known in English as Henry the Navigator, the man behind Portuguese exploration in the first half of the 15th century). Above the tombs of João and Philippa is a delicate octagonal lantern ceiling, with coloured-light-reflecting stained-glass windows, which acts as a symbolic canopy over them.
The church was one of the first churches in Portugal to have stained-glass windows as part of its design and it became a centre of stained-glass production throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, however, very little remains of the original stained glass that was put in in the mid-15th century. The two main artists responsible for the original stained glass were Luís Alemão and Francisco Henriques, who was the court painter to King Manuel. There was a major restoration of the building carried out in the 19th century and most of the stained glass was replaced by Mouzinho de Albuquerque during this time and since then further restoration work has been carried out by the National School of Arts and Crafts of Batalha. Through this programme the monastery has been able to preserve what UNESCO refers to as its authenticity.
Huguet was also commissioned to build a royal mausoleum, separate from the main church, by King Duarte (1391-1438, João and Philippa’s eldest son) in 1434, but it was never completed, as his grandson King Manuel I (1469-1521) moved the royal pantheon to the Jerónimos Monastery in the early-1500s. As a result, the seven chapels in the open-roofed octagonal space are known as the Unfinished Chapels. They house the tombs of King Duarte and his wife, Queen Leonor of Aragon (1402-1445). Work on the Unfinished Chapels was taken over by the Manueline architect Mateus Fernandes at the beginning of the 16th century and the space is most notable for his 15-metre high portal with Manueline motifs dating from 1509. The portal is topped by an Italianate Renaissance balcony added in 1533 by Miguel de Arruda.
Huguet’s other great achievement in the monastery is the audacious unsupported ceiling in the Chapterhouse, of which there are several legends, including one that says that the original ceiling, designed by Afonso Domingues, collapsed twice killing many people, so it was finally rebuilt based on a design by Huguet and prisoners were used to do the work with the promise that they could go free if it didn’t collapse. Another version of this story is that Huguet had to sleep in the Chapterhouse under the ceiling for several nights to prove that it wouldn’t collapse. The Chapterhouse nowadays houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb contains the bodies of two soldiers from the First World War, which are guarded by two soldiers and watched over by the Christ of the Trenches crucifix, on which Christ has lost a hand and the bottom half of both legs. The symbolic importance of this crucifix to Portuguese soldiers dates back to the First World War as it is all that remains of the crucifix from a church in Neuve-Chapelle which was destroyed in a battle of 1918 and it was later donated to Portugal by the French government in recognition of the Portuguese soldiers’ bravery during this battle. The only other object in this vast room is the Flame of the Nation sculpture, designed by António Gonçalves and forged in iron by Lourenço Chaves de Almeida in 1924, depicting three soldiers from different eras of warfare (one with a spear, one with a sword and one with a bayonet) and with an eternal flame burning at the top.
The former refectory which is just off the cloister is now used as a small military museum and outside the refectory is an ornate fountain dating from 1450 where the monks would wash their hands before eating.
Due to the careful conservation and restoration programmes, the monastery has retained most of the original features from its original inception, when King João I made his promise to the Virgin Mary. I think he would be pleased.
Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, Largo de Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha
Opening hours 16th October to 31st March 9am-5.30pm; 1st April to 15th October 9am-6.30pm (closed 1st January, Easter Sunday, 1st May, 25th December) Ticket: €6
Public transport Bus: the Rodoviária do Lis interurban bus service runs between Batalha, Figueira da Foz, Leiria, Marinha Grande, Ourém, Pombal and Porto de Mós, but be warned that we tried to travel to Batalha from Leiria by bus at the most disorganized bus station I have ever encountered. Giving up on getting any useful information from the bus station staff, we finally decided to cut our losses and take a taxi. Bus fare from Leiria to Batalha €2.15 Taxi from Leiria to Batalha €14 and from Alcobaça to Batalha €21
I’d like to share with you two videos of Carvoeiro that we filmed in July 2019: one of Algar Seco and Boneca Bar and another showing a walk via the boardwalk from Algar Seco to Rua do Barranco in the centre of Carvoeiro.
The western area of the Algarve has a coastline of limestone cliffs which have been eroded by the wind and sea. Algar Seco (meaning ‘dry sinkhole’) is one of these. It is a stunning rock formation one kilometre east of the town centre. There are steps leading to rocks which consist of grottoes and sinkholes. At dusk the colours of the rocks change as the sun sets. There is a lovely bar and restaurant hidden among the rocks at Algar Seco, called Boneca Bar, named after one of the rock formations that is thought to look like a doll (‘boneca’ in Portuguese) – it looks more like a giant’s head to me! The walk down a steep flight of steps is worth it to sit with a glass of wine and look at the sea.
The walk along the boardwalk which goes over the cliffs from Algar Seco to the pretty white church of Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, where the boardwalk ends, takes you by the Escadinhas (steps) which, although steep in places and with dangerous drops, are worth climbing down to see the rock formations. The steps go through the cliff and lead to caves and narrow pathways. From the church, which is the best place in Carvoeiro to watch the sun set, we walked down the steep Rampa da N. Sra. da Encarnação to the town square by the town beach, which has several excellent bars and where there is live music every evening throughout the summer. The town is a former fishing village which was built around this square and the five roads leading off it, which nowadays house the majority of restaurants and bars. The walk finishes on one of these roads, Rua do Barranco (also known as the ‘out road’, as it is the road that leads to Lagos and the A22 motorway). As you will see, the town has retained a lot more of its charm than many of the other resorts on the Algarve, as the white buildings built on the hills around the town centre have remained low-rise and in keeping with the traditional buildings of the area. I hope you enjoy watching this walk as much as we enjoyed doing it!
The Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar (Monument to the Overseas Combatants) is an important war memorial which pays homage to all those who died in the Portuguese Colonial War which ran from 1961 to 1974 and it is the Portuguese equivalent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (both honour the people who died in controversial wars). The Colonial War (also known as the Overseas War) was a dark time in recent Portuguese history in which the right-wing dictatorship led by António de Oliveira Salazar (who was Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968) wanted to maintain Portuguese control of the African colonies, namely Angola, Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) and Mozambique, against the growing independence movements in these countries. Salazar’s reason was two-fold: the income from the colonies helped to support a financially impoverished Portugal; and through the idea of the Empire he aimed to remind people of Portugal’s glorious past and divert attention away from the difficult situation at home where his economic policies had left many people in poverty. In order to suppress the rising African nationalist movements Salazar embarked on a bloody and expensive war that would involve, at its height, approximately 217,000 members of the armed forces (mainly young men who were conscripted for three years military service, totalling over the 13 years of the the war almost 1 million conscriptees) and resulted in the death of around 10,000 of them (the large majority of whom were in the Army). There was a growing opposition to the war, but any signs of dissent were met with arrest, torture and often deportation. Portugal was also being sanctioned by other countries that opposed the war (and in some cases even supported the nationalist movements). The war finally came to an end in April 1974 when a group of army rebels comprised of left-wing officers from the MFA (Armed Forces Movement) held an almost bloodless revolution that overthrew the dictatorship. The new government almost immediately withdrew the military from the African territories and agreed to give these countries independence.
The Monument to the Overseas Combatants, which was inaugurated in 1994, is located next to the Combatant Museum at the Forte do Bom Sucesso in Belém. It was designed by a team of architects led by Francisco Guedes de Carvalho and is marked by its peacefulness and simplicity. The main focus is a striking abstract triangular sculpture made of stone, metal and mirrored glass, which sits over a pool of water and in the centre of the sculpture is a burning flame. There are two small guard huts in front of the sculpture which are manned by various sectors of the armed forces. At six o’clock every evening there is a simple but moving changing of the guard where the guards honour the dead servicemen. In 2000, plaques with the 10,000 names of all the people who died in the conflict were added to the walls that surround the monument, separated out into year and alphabetical order within each year. It is quite sobering to see how many people died as the names continue around the three sides of the Monument. The memorial wall also includes names of people who died in peace and humanitarian operations and there is also a separate sculpture commemorating these people to one side of the Monument. On Portugal Day (10th June) former combatants of the Colonial War gather at the monument to remember their fallen comrades.
Behind the Monument is the Capela do Combatente (Combatant’s Chapel), a small chapel which is accessed through a doorway in the memorial wall. The chapel has a simple marble altar, above which is the ‘Mutilated Christ’, a wooden sculpture that survived a battle of 1916 in France and on the back wall there is a replica of the maimed ‘Christ of the Trenches’ crucifix in which Christ has lost a hand and the bottom half of both legs (this watches over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Batalha Monastery and the symbolic importance of this crucifix to Portuguese soldiers dates back to the First World War, as it is all that remains of the crucifix from Neuve-Chapelle which was destroyed in a battle of 1918 and was later donated to Portugal by the French Government in recognition of the Portuguese soldiers’ bravery in the battle). A small passageway leads to a room lit by natural light from a skylight. This room houses the tomb of an unknown soldier whose body was brought back from the Colonial War in Portuguese Guinea and over the tomb is a suspended Christ, symbolically risen from the dead.
The Monument is surprisingly close to the very popular Belém Tower, where large groups of tourists gather all day long, but thankfully they don’t tend walk as far as the Monument to the Overseas Combatants and it remains a tranquil place to pay homage to the 10,000 people who died in a war that should never have happened.
Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar, Forte do Bom Sucesso, Avenida de Brasília, Belém Open daily, free access. Public transport: Tram 15; Buses 714, 727, 729, 751
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.