Everybody who has read one or two stories here on this page, could probably observe that I am more the „German fussy traveller“ than a romanticizing and phrases-from-travel-guides reciting person.
Nevertheless one weekend has been enough for me to fall in love with Porto. This city with its 238000 citizens is vibrating like a swarm of bees, is extraordinarily vivid – not like an Indian chaotic city, but like a beautiful, orderly funfair.
In the upper photo you can see the „Ribeira“, which simply means „riverside“ in English. It is the common designation for this part of the historic old city, which is on the riverside of the Douro.
But before I start a subjectiv chorus of praise, please some historical facts!
The ancient Greeks founded this port, after it had been in Roman hands; the Visigoths have been here, the Moors as well. Since 1092 Porto is, after the Reconquista had happened, in the Christian area of influence.
Porto can easily be named one of the cultural and economical centres of Portugal. Various industries (like oil, chemistry, metal, luxury foodstuffs, textile) are going well; airport, port, trainstations and such make Porto the most important intersection of Northern Portugal. There is a big university, plenty of museums, theatres, operas etc. But all this almost every bigger European city knows to offer. So what makes Porto so special?
Very charming are the ships that you can see everywhere on the river. They actually don’t have a practical use anymore apart from attracting tourists and to look beautiful. But they are a important part of Porto’s history and evolvement. A so called „Barco Rabelo“ is a small ship which used to transport the barrels of port wine from the growing and production area „Vila Nova de Gaia“, which is situated on the opposite side of the river, to Porto itself. Mostly this ships used to flow with the river’s current and on their way back they used to be hauled.
Eventually Porto has not became world famous because of its perfect geographical situation close to the river’s mouth to the Atlantic ocean, or it’s beautiful houses or the good weather, but of course because of the evergreen export highlight, the port wine. Boozing, let’s be honest, was always one of the pillars of European culture. So culture interested people, or people who pretend to be so, get the chance here to get pissed absolutely legitimately. The port wine is very tasty and effective!
Ting-a-ling here comes a railway, a very significant part of Porto’s core, because a big part of the tracks are set above ground. Since the 1980’s the idea of a metro existed and has been extended and changed until today. You can also go to other parts of the city and across the „Dom Luís Bridge“ to the other side of the Douro. There is not more to mention about the metro. But for me especially the ting-a-ling is a very likeably trait of Porto.
You certainly can discover the old city (since 1996 UNESCO World Heritage) with the metro but everything is close and I recommend to simply walk around. It is hard to get lost, because there are many orientation points like the Igreja dos Clérigos, rise and falls of important streets and the river. One worth to visit point for orientation is the cathedral „Sé do Porto“ (right picture).
The Via das Flores (left) is a very busy pedestrian zone and the place for good bars, restaurants, shops and plenty of street artists, which are a important part of the city’s appearance. Also the Rua Santa Catarina (right) is a famous touristic goal, especially when Tom, Dick and Harry go shopping. You can find the typical big name shops here like in every European city, but some smaller shops and again street artists make this crowded street charming.
On the left photo you can easily see how tasty the Pastéis de Nata are, because even though I take photography seriously and I would like to have taken a photo of this little pies served with cinnamon , it was impossible for me to click before this little sweet had entered my mouth in preferred combination with a Café com Leite.
For this reason, it was a smart decision of the shop owner to present his port wine in closed bottles behind glass (right photo), in such way to enable me to proceed my walk trough the city and not being stunned by all the liquid culture.
A historical icon of Porto is the „Igreja dos Clérigos“. In the end of the 18th century it was constructed with granite and marble and the church shows baroque ornaments on the in- and outside. Especially the 75 m high tower is fascinating plenty of tourists everyday and the 240 steps are worth to scale, because on top you will be rewarded by a fantastic panoramic view. This tower is not only a beautiful icon of the city, it also used to have a practical use: Sailors used it for orientation.
All the colourful facades are a feast for the eyes. You will see these house walls decorated with small tiles everywhere in Porto.
A unique facade presents the Livraria Lello (Library Lello), which is often mentioned as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Mostly you will find a long queue in front of the entrance. All these people want to see the Art Nouveau Interieur and the big selection of Portuguese and international literature. You don’t have to be a fan of literature; the facility and furniture fascinates everyone. Highly probable is also that Joanne K. Rowling has found inspiration here for her Harry Potter novels, when she was living in Porto and spending time in this beautiful library. A small entrance fee will be charged but if you buy a book, this fee will be calculated.
Those colourful tiles I spoke of above, are very characteristic for Portugal. The different coloured houses are already nice to look at, but it gets even more intersting, when you see the mosaics, which are illustrating historical happenings or genre scenes. This form of art is called „Azulejo“ and has got its origin in the Arabic art. This is why you find this form of art especially in Portugal and the South of Spain, where Arabic and European were able to combine and reach new levels.
This Azulejo art makes the entrance hall of the train station São Bento in the heart of Porto to a special place. Thus many tourist are scrimmaging here, which don’t have anything to do with arriving or departing trains.
The conquering of Ceuta (today Spanish territory in Morocco), a royal wedding and a prostration are illustrated. There are also some landscape and genre scenes. The illustrated topics are for me less important than the way of the presentation, because it makes the entrance hall a big, blue masterpiece.
People in Porto like to sit on their balcony or on a stool. In doing so they like to have a drink or to lean on their head. Both I could capture with my camera.
But there are also more radical people who don’t like to sit around, but to do risky actions and gain some money. This upper clique is working together, some are animating the tourists, some are collecting the money and, well, there is this one guy who has to jump from the bridge. He is rewarded by enthusiastic applause and some bucks. Smoking a cigarette, saying a little prayer and then the guy is ready for the jump into the cold water. He is doing that twelve times a day!
The „Ponte Dom Luís I“ is an arche bridge, which does not remind of the Eiffel Tower accidentially. The ingenieur of this framework, François Gustave Théophile Seyrig, had been a longterm business and construction partner of Gustave Eiffel. Before the construction of this bridge, they both went sperate ways and thus this bridge is only the work of Mr. Seyrig.
In the summer heat there is always a big fire danger. A fire can extend very quickly, because all the buildings are placed so close to each other. Don’t throw your cigarette anywhere, nobody wants to be held responsible for a burning city, especially not such a beautiful one.
Like in every big city, there is an important scene of street and graffiti artists. I only present two photos in this post to conclude with some art, which is original, modern and real. The seeking and finding of street art in Porto was a big party for me. So go out and party hard!