Arrived in Porto this morning and are docked a considerable way from the town which is the second largest town in Portugal. Porto is a historic and varied city, from the warren of narrow streets that make up the ancient Ribeira district through to the grand plazas of the Avenida dos Aliados. The region is famed for the production of Port, which is still stored in the vast cellars that stretch along the banks of the mighty Douro River. The birthplace of that world famous fictional character,Harry Potter- author J. K. Rowling was living in Porto as an English teacher when she started writing her first book - the bookshop (Livraria Lello) is famous for starring in one of the movies (clearly I am not a great fan!).
If I thought Lisbon was steep then Porto took it to a whole new level. The city is extremely hilly, with many buildings built into a cliff face that overlooks the river. Stairs cut into the stone run up and down the cliff face and offer a laborious but rewarding walking tour. Known as the "city of granite" many of the buildings are dark and the laneways can appear mysterious. Take your time; wander through the mazes and alleys of the city. Take in the old, bohemian spirit of the city and enjoy the contrast of the different districts.
Take time to enjoy the local foods and be sure to taste the cod cakes which I watched being made. Naturally as this is the home of port wine it is obligatory to sample the local produce.....it would simply be rude not to!!
Sights to see in Porto include;
The Carmo and Carmelitas churches look like the biggest church in the city but in fact, they are two churches separated by one of the world's narrowest houses. This house was built to make all contact between the nuns and the monks impossible. Carmelitas Church was part of a convent in the 17th century. The building has a classical façade with a single a bell tower and a rich gilded interior. The church was used as barracks during the French Invasion of Porto (1808-1814). Carmo Church was built in the 18th century and is an amazing example of the baroque architecture. Outside, you will find a magnificent panel of blue and white tiles, representing the Brown Scapular imposition on Mount Carmel. The panel is rich in details, perspective and color and was designed by Silvestro Silvestri.
The Palacio da Bolsa is a 19th century building and it now works as a stock exchange but remains the headquarters of the Porto Commercial Association and is mainly used for major events, such as events and official receptions. In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II was received in Palácio da Bolsa, in a great ceremony. It was built in 1842, over the ruins of the former St. Francis convent, which was burned in 1833, during the Civil War. Between 1833 and 1842, Porto's businessmen made their trade on the streets, because they didn't have any building to do that.
The Ribeira district (a UNESCO site since 1996) is the oldest district of the city which is filled with colourful ancient houses, narrow cobbled streets and numerous family owned restaurants, cafes and bars. Take in the market along the Duoro river (river of gold).
While in the area check out the Casa do Infante - House of the Prince. It was originally built in 1325, by Afonso IV, to house the royal warehouse and the customs services. All the goods that enter the Douro river, especially those coming from Venice and Northern Europe, were stored here. In 1387, King John I of Portugal married Philippa of Lancaster (daughter of John of Gaunt, and granddaughter of Edward III of England, the Black Prince) and, in 1394, Prince Henry, the navigator, was born also in the Alfândega, called, since then, Casa do Infante (House of the Prince). In 1924, the building was classified as national heritage.
Avenida dos Aliados - At the top of the avenue stands the Town Hall, a palatial building with a tall bell tower (70m high). Made of granite and marble, its design was influenced by municipal architecture of Flanders and France. At one end of the avenue is Praça da Liberdade, a square adorned with a statue of King Pedro IV on a horse.
The Clérigos (Clerical) Tower is indisputably Porto's most iconic landmark. Built during the first half of the seventeenth century by Italian Nicolau Nasoni the tower is the city's most important Baroque building. If you have time climb the 240 odd steps to get a great view of the city.
SÃO Francisco Church. What from outside looks like an ordinary 14th century Gothic and Baroque monastery church, has the most extraordinary interior in Porto and unquestionably one of the most fabulously opulent in all of Europe. The extensive 17th and 18th century baroque decoration is a profusion of gilt wood carvings in the vault pillars and columns: cherubs, plants, and animals dripping with gold (it is said that there is 400kg of it here) as well as the wide-ribbed Gothic arches made of marble. This is one not to miss.
LUIS Bridge is an ironwork showpiece that was originally to be named Dom Luis bridge but because King Luis did not appear for the opening they dropped the formal "dom" from the name!! Porto's iconic bridge opened in 1886, when it held the record for the longest iron arch in the world. Today the metro crosses the upper level, while the lower level is used by cars and pedestrians to cross the river between the centre of Porto and the spectacular city views and port wine warehouses of the municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia. The middle of the bridge offers a great photo opportunity to cach the houses of Riberia.
There are five other bridges in the city (soon to be another one), best seen on a Douro River cruise. The most famous of all is the impressive Dona Maria Pia Bridge, also an iron railway bridge, completed in 1876. Designed by Gustave Eiffel before he built the famous Paris tower, and named after King Luis I's wife, it held the world record for the largest span for seven years. It remained in service until 1991 but today it stands as a national monument (it has also been designated an "International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" by the American Society of Civil Engineers).
The other bridges are Ponte do Infante (whose central 280-meter reinforced concrete arch is the world's longest), the triple-arched Ponte de São João, and Arrabida Bridge -- the least attractive of the city's bridges, but representing a mean feat of engineering: spanning 270 meters, and supported by a single arch. It was the largest such reinforced concrete bridge when inaugurated in 1963.