FolkestoneJack's Tracks

24 hours in Porto

Posted in Porto, Portugal by folkestonejack on January 26, 2020

A weekend break to see a Keane concert at the beautifully restored art deco Coliseu do Porto (1941) gave me the opportunity for a day exploring the sights of Porto, the oldest city in Portugal, and plenty of exercise heading up and down its steep streets. At the time I booked I had no idea that it would be my last adventure as a citizen of the European Union, adding an extra layer of poignancy.

The everyday and the sublime: a traffic signal in front of the striking tiled side facade of the Capela das Almas

I drew up an ambitious list of sights and set about seeing how much I could cram in, beginning with sunrise over the Ponte de Dom Luís I. In the end I managed to visit three churches, ride on a vintage tram to the Tram museum, take a guided tour of the Palácio da Bolsa, climb the Clérigos Tower and wander the cloisters of the cathedral. It’s a compact city centre so this was easier to achieve than I expected, even if I hadn’t quite appreciated how steep the streets of the city would be to get from the riverside back up to the top.

The two highlight of my visits would have to be a guided tour of the Palácio da Bolsa and the interior of the incredibly ornate gothic church of São Francisco next door. The church is stunning throughout, but what caught my eye was a stunning three dimensional carved wooden alterpiece (1718) which depicts the family tree of Jesus, decorated with twelve kings of Judah among the branches. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. No photo does this justice – it really has to be seen up close.

The Arab Room in the Palácio da Bolsa

Next door to the church is the Palácio da Bolsa, home to the stock exchange until the 1990s. The clever interior decoration makes great use of painted plaster to create an opulent setting for the commercial activities of the city. Our guided tour through the building impressed throughout, but saved the wow factor for the last room – the exquisite Arab Room which took 18 years to complete.

It was fascinating to wander the city and take in the many churches and cathedral cloisters decorated with blue Azulejo tiles, strikingly different to anything I have seen elsewhere. A ride on the tram, rattling up the steep slopes from the tram museum to the city centre, was quite delightful too.

I was pretty exhausted by the end of the day but satisfied with how much I had seen, even if I didn’t quite make it to the last couple of sites on my list. Still, it’s always good to have something to come back for.