I spent Thursday visiting several old buildings in Porto, including several churches and a palace. There is certainly no shortage of attractive buildings to see in the city. Here are the buildings that I visited:
Sé do Porto
The first visit was Sé do Porto (Cathedral of Porto) that was built in the 12th century, in Romanesque style. It underwent several improvements, particularly in the Gothic period and in the 18th century.
The main section of the cathedral is open to the public to visit without charge. It has an attractive interior with some painted ceilings and nice stained glass windows.
For a fee of 3 Euros, visitors can access the cloisters section of the cathedral, which is well worth it. Of particular interest to me were the Chapel of St. Vincent and the Sacristy, which were both very attractive.
Paço Episcopal – Bishop’s Residence
The Bishop’s Residence is a large building that is located next to the Cathedral. It dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries, but underwent a major update in the 18th century based on a design by architect Nicolau Nasoni (who also designed the Clerigos Tower). The update took 99 years, so Nasoni did not get to see his design completed. Together, the Cathedral and the Bishop’s Residence were the two most important buildings in Porto. They date back to a time when royalty had no power in Porto – the bishop effectively ruled the region.
The Bishop’s Residence has only been open to tourists for about one year, and is not advertised. So, despite the heavy tourist presence at the Cathedral, very few visit the residence. Visitors can only view the building as part of a guided tour, that costs 5 Euros per person. There were only three people on the tour that I participated in. The guide was very knowledgeable and explained the different elements of the building and its history. Definitely worthwhile.
The grand staircase entrance is simply beautiful and is worth the price of admission. There are several other rooms that are visited in the tour, each of them with a different function and decor.
Museu de Arte Sacra e Arqueologia – Sacred Art & Archaeology Museum
The Museum of Sacred Art and Archaeology is housed in a 17th Century wing of the former Jesuit College of São Lourenço, located just below the Cathedral. It was closed when I passed by, s I only have a photo of the exterior.
Palacio da Bolsa
The Palácio da Bolsa is located beside the St. Francis Church of Porto, which was once part of the St Francis Convent, founded in the 13th century. In 1832, a fire destroyed the cloisters of the convent, sparing the church. In 1841, Queen Marry II donated the convent ruins to the merchants of the city, who decided to use the spot to build the seat of the Commercial Association. Building work began in 1842. Most of the palace was finished by 1850, but the decoration of the interior was only completed in 1910. (Wikipedia)
The palace was essentially a centre of commerce and not a residence of royalty. Parts of the interior are intricately decorated and it is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can only enter as part of a guided tour. Tours operate throughout the day, at set times, in various languages. When I arrived, the upcoming English tours were fully booked but there was a French tour departing in 2 minutes that had space. So, I embarked on the French guided tour, understanding only the occasional word or phrase. But I got to see the interior of the building and take some photos. At 8.50 Euros, it was the highest entrance fee of the day.
Whilst there were some attractive and interesting rooms in the Palace, the highlight was the last room on the tour – the Arab Room. It built between 1862 and 1880 and decorated in the exotic Moorish Revival style, fashionable in the 19th century, and is used as reception hall for personalities and heads of state visiting Porto.
Igreja de São Francisco – Church of Saint Francisco
Upon leaving the Palace, I went next door to visit the Church of Saint Francisco. This Gothic church dates back to the 14th century. The interior is covered with Baroque golden carvings that have earned the church a reputation as one of the most beautiful churches in Porto. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this golden marvel.
There is an admission fee to enter the church (E4.50, I believe), so visitors are sent to the adjacent Dispatch House building to buy them. There was a long queue for tickets, so I didn’t bother. I was able to slip into the Dispatch House to see that, at least.
The Dispatch House of St. Francis adjoins the church and was built in the mid 18th century. Nasoni designed both the building and some of the decorations inside. The underground floors house the Brother’s Graveyard, a catacomb cemetery that operated between 1746 and 1866. There is also a small window on the floor that gives a view into an ossuary below.
I left St. Francis and headed towards Clérigos church and tower.
Church of Clérigos
The Church and Tower of Clérigos date to the mid 18th century. Designed by Nicolau Nasoni, it is considered to be a Baroque masterpiece.
The tower is 75 metres tall and forms a distinctive landmark in Porto. Access to the tower and parts of the building require the payment of an admission fee, for which there was a long queue. But there is no admission fee to enter the main part of the church, so I popped in there to take a few photos.
My next stop was a re-visit to the Churches of Carmo and Camelitas that, whilst being separate churches, adjoin each other. There is no admission fee to enter either of these churches.
Igreja dos Carmelitas – Church of Carmelitas
This church was built in the first half of the 17th century and brings together the sobriety of the Classic style with Baroque influence gilt carved pulpits and altar pieces.
Igreja do Carmo – Church of Carmo
This church was built in the second half of the 18th century, in the Rococo style. The beautiful tiled panel on the side of the church was added in 1912, designed by Silvestro Silvestri. Another notable feature of the church is the gilt carved main altar piece.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso – Church of Saint Ildefonso
This Baroque style church was built in the early 18th century (completed in 1739). Its twin bell towers and blue & white tiled facade create a striking appearance. Unfortunately, the church is closed between 12.00pm and 3.00pm, and I arrived there at 1.30pm. So, I was unable to see the interior.
Capela das Almas – Chapel of Souls
The Chapel of Souls was not on my agenda for the day, but it is hard to miss this building when approaching the Bolhao metro station.
This chapel was built in the early 18th century. In the 1920’s, the entire exterior was covered with decorative tiles that depict the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catarina – the two saints that are worshipped inside the chapel. The chapel is also referred to as the Chapel of Santa Catarina.
I started my busy day at the Sao Bento metro station and walked approximately 5 miles (8km) between the various attractions until I ended my self-guided tour at the Bolhao metro station. There are still many more building of architectural interest to see in the city, but I managed to see some of the main ones.