Porto Stories and Tips

Architecture as Art

Sao Bento Train Station Photo, Porto, Portugal

Porto offers a feast for anyone who appreciates architecture. Medieval, Baroque, and Neo-Classical styles—they're all here. One of the first things you notice is Porto’s sixh six bridges that span the Douro. The Maria Pia, built in 1876 and now used for trains, was even built by Gustave Eiffel before he constructed his famous tower in Paris. The double-decker bridge, Dom Luis, in the Old Town area, is perhaps the most famous.

One of the city’s most famous bridges lives on only in the hearts of local residents. Along the busy Casis da Riberia at the Douro waterside, a bronze plaque memorial with burning candles pays tribute to people who died on March 29, 1809, while fleeing the invading French. The wooden bridge they were using collapsed, plunging them to their deaths in the Douro River below.

Churches, of course, have had a profound influence on architecture. Visit the cloisters of the Sé Cathedral, the Casa do Cabido, and the Igreja (church) de Massarelos, which honors Portugal’s outstanding navigational discoveries, to appreciate the architecture as well as more of Portugal’s famous tiles.

Porto’s Church of São Francisco, on Rue do Infante D. Henrique is also an important city landmark and cultural center. It was built, along with an adjacent monastery, in 1383 by Franciscan monks. The monastery was burned in the early 1800’s, but the church, with its magnificent gilded sculptures, has some 450 pounds of gold guilding - that will dazzle your eyes.

Next to São Francisco, where the monastery once stood, the Plácio do Bolsa or Porto Stock Exchange offers visitors quite a surprise. Don’t think of this as a trading center, but a lavish display of wealth of the powerful commercial class, as well as one of the most extensive displays of craftsmanship that you’re likely to find in one location. Behind this neo-classical façade, you’ll be overwhelmed with elaborate ornamentation.

From the somewhat somber atmosphere of the Sala do Tribunal or Commercial Court Room to the overwhelmingly opulent Salão Arabe or Arabian Room, with its rich Moorish style modeled on the Alhambra, the Plácio do Bolsa is a treasure-trove of art and architecture that no one should miss.

São Pedro dos Clérigos, a Baroque church designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, is a famous Porto landmark because of its 246-foot tower, which was once used as a navigational aid. If you’re feeling ambitions, you can climb the tower’s seemingly unending granite steps and be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city and surrounding area.

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