A city of many faces. Historical facades interweave with modern interventions, art installations, and memorabilia of the industrial age. What kind of face will the city put on this time?
Located at the Duoro river, Porto is an eclectic and bustling city that is constantly changing. The medieval walls of monumental buildings are marked by numerous past reconstructions, while its historic architecture is a mosaic of artistic interventions of contemporary artists. Nothing here is permanent and sure, maybe apart from the rich flavour of the famous local wine that has made Porto famous worldwide.
Famous historical monuments:
The Church of Saint Francis, The Clérigos Church, Palacio da Bolsa, Casa da Musica, The Sé do Porto Cathedral at the top of Pena Ventosa hill.
The most interesting architecture styles:
The Baroque style, the Manueline style.
A breakthrough moment in history:
Signing the Methuen Treaty in 1703, that established trade relations between Portugal and England, as well as brought about an active development of Porto region due to the export of wine to English markets.
The most famous for:
Production of excellent wine – port; it is advised that you visit some of the local wine bars located mainly at the river in Vila Nova de Gaia district.
One definitely needs to:
Climb to the top of the Clérigos Church’s tower and enjoy a beautiful view of the whole city.
Mercado do Bolhao, a market full of fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish.
A place for a walk:
The gardens of The Crystal Palace (Jardim do Palacio de Cristal).
Off the beaten track:
Foz do Duoro, a walk along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Fernao de Magalhaes (Ferdinand Magellan), António Carvalho da Silva Porto, João Marques de Oliveira.
What to see?
When going on a sightseeing tour of Porto, it is best to start from Ribeira coast – the lively historic heart of the city. The district, which used to be home for lower class citizens, is an enchanting maze of narrow streets leading to a river and a bustling promenade called Cais da Ribeira. The boardwalk, surrounded by colourful tenement houses, is a touristic city centre and one of the most popular and photogenic sights of Porto. It is the best place for trying local dishes and having a glass of port – all while enjoying beautiful view of Vila Nova de Gaia, a town located on the other bank of the river, where in the past this famous vine was stored in basements. All the same, Ribeira is only a part of the historic centre of Porto that entered on the UNESCO
World Heritage List. It also includes a medieval district located within 16th century city wall and the area on the south from the Liberty Square reaching as far as Vila Nova de Gaia. It is in this part of the city that the most important monuments of Porto, such as the Gothic-Baroque Church of Saint Francis, the neoclassical Palacio da Bolsa, or the fortress like Sé do Porto cathedral on Pena Ventosa hill are located. On another note, the hill is also a wonderful place to admire a beautiful view of Ribeira. It is worth visiting the cathedral, particularly because of its beautiful, richly ornamented altar and monumental cloister with blue azulejos. Panorama of Porto and the Douro Valley can also be admired from the Baroque tower of the Clérigos church – one of the city’s symbols.
The Belle Époque
The industrial revolution reached Porto in the 19th century and left many marks on the architecture – among others, the double-decked Dom Luís I Bridge designed by the student of Gustave Eiffel. Another unique monument of this period is the ever-popular Café Majestic located at Rua de Santa Catarina, with magnificent, richly ornamented Art Nouveau interior that attracts thousands of tourists.
Lovers of the Belle Époque splendour will be charmed by Livraria Lello & Irmao, arguably one of the most beautiful bookstores in Europe (or even the world). Located in a historic neo-Gothic building, it boasts a remarkable book collection and interior design with monumental stained glass windows and an original winding staircase in the centre of the store. It is said that it was one of the inspirations for J. K. Rowling to create a colourful description of Hogwarts’ interiors
Following the azulejos
It is impossible to miss them in Porto. These painted ceramic tileworks that serve as decorations of building facades are a token of the past decorative art and one of the distinguishing marks of the city. One of the most impressive examples is the Sao Bento train station, whose walls are covered with panels of blue azulejos with a total area of over 500 square meters. The paintings presented on 20 thousand tileworks depict Portugal’s five historical events. However, it is not the only place where one can admire craftsmanship of the Portuguese artisans. There is also the facade of 18th century church of Saint Ildefonso and the Chapel of Souls (Capela das Almas) that amaze with their blue azulejos.
Even today, azulejo art does not remain unnoticed. In 2015, at the initiative of a group called “Locomotiva”, the facade of one of the tenement buildings at Madeira street was covered with their modern version. New azulejos are the work of local artist who tried to answer the question “Quem és, Porto?” (What are you, Porto?). As a part of this original initiative, 3 thousand tiles that cover the area of 135 square meters were created and have quickly become the city’s new tourist attraction.
What are you, Porto?
There is no one definite answer to this question. Especially because it is not the first interference of modern art into the classic urban fabric. Historic buildings are subject to continuous artistic experiments, which add a new dimension to well-known places and change their reception. One of them is “Metamorphosis” – a gigantic metal installation that resembles a net spread between the elegant facade of Sao Bento and the decaying walls of the neighbouring building. The scaled form asks a question about the architectural harmony and future development of empty spaces characteristic for the city. “Metamorphosis” is a work of an inventive group called FAHR 021.3 that has created many innovative projects in the city.
The latest is a big circular installation in the heart of the historical square known as Largo Amor de Perdição, created to commemorate the 20th anniversary of listing Porto on the UNESCO list. Its modular structure, sharply contrasting with the monumental neighbourhood, forces you to review your perceptions of this place. Was this the intention of the 17th century rulers of the city who rebuilt the Romanesque cathedral and other medieval monuments in the Baroque style? Perhaps, but one thing is certain: Porto is a fascinating organism that is subject to continuous transformation, and any creative interference in its tissue creates a unique microclimate not found in any other city.
One-day trips from Porto
Praia de Matosinhos – a beach reachable by bus (Line 500) or the underground in 20 minutes (blue line, stop: Matosinhos Sul). A great place for surfing and bodyboarding enthusiast. Rua Herois da Franca is the place to go if you want to try the best seafood. It is also a good idea to visit the fish market (located opposite the harbour).
Braga – a city an hour train ride away from Sao Bento station, famous for its festive celebration of Holy Week. While there, be sure to visit Paço Episcopal Bracarense palace and Jardim de Santa Bárbara garden behind it.
The Douro Valley – accessible by boat. A place famous for its picturesque slopes and an abundance of vineyards. Best visited during the harvest season. It is good idea to take a bike (or rent one at the place) and explore the area on two wheels.
with its enchanting narrow streets and amazing architecture of constricted and colourful tenement houses.
a 2000-calorie sandwich made with a few types of ham, bacon, sausage, and beefsteak; with a fried egg, beer sauce and a lot of cheese on top, as well as a side dish of chips.
FC Porto Football Club
fans may visit the local stadium called “Dragon Stadium”.