Inspired variations of blue and white azulejos create a unique color palette in the city of Porto.
Porto is well known for its steep streets and we felt that we were rewarded for traversing those hills each time we came across a church clad in its glorious blue and white azulejos.
Azulejos is the Portuguese word for ceramic tiles and they are adhered to both the exteriors and the interiors of buildings. Introduced more than a thousand years ago by the Moors, Portugal began producing their own decorative tiles in the 16th century. The blue and white tiles from the Baroque era are the most treasured but there are also amazing designs and pictures using multiple colors.
Estação de São Bento
In the 1870’s this Benedictine convent was converted into Porto’s colorful train station. This impressive station is a work of art, filled with more than 20,000 decorative hand-painted tiles. It was one of the very first sites we visited in the city and it left a lasting impression.
Igreja dos Carmelitas and Igreja do Carmo
What may look like Porto’s largest church is actually two churches connected by an extremely narrow house. (Note the white framed windows.) Carmo Church is on the right and Carmelitas Church is on the left.
Carmelitas Church (left) was a convent built in the 17th century with a classical façade and was occupied by nuns. Carmo Church (right) was built in the 18th century in the ornate Rococo style and was occupied by friars. The magnificent blue and white tiled façade telling the story of the founding of the Carmelite Order was added to Carmo’s side exterior in the late 19th century.
Porto’s narrowest building, named the Hidden House, which connects the two churches, was originally built to ensure the friars and nuns remained separate. We enjoyed an excellent self guided tour of the churches and the Hidden House. Over the years the Hidden House has been used as a chaplain’s residence, a place where visiting doctors could stay and both a secret meeting place and religious hideout during Porto’s more turbulent times. Most recently it was occupied by the Sacristan and caretaker of the church. We were told the caretaker and his wife raised 9 children in this teensy building.
MMIPO – Museu da Misericórdia do Porto
Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto or The Holy House of Mercy of Porto was a private Catholic Church approved brotherhood, founded in 1499, that focused on the physical care, social assistance and charity of the community. Headquartered in the Misericórdia church, it offered support and assistance to the elderly, disabled and those suffering from poor health. It also provided housing, education and vocational training for the poor.
From the 16th century until 2013, the hospital operated and was managed by Misericórdia Church. Today Misericórdia Church has a small but impressive museum that focuses on this legacy. The exhibits showcase the historic work of the city’s most important charity as well as a superb collection of paintings, sculptures, gifts and donations from its numerous benefactors. Services are still held in the chapel with prayers for the ill and for those already passed.
Porto Cathedral was built overlooking the city and the Douro River in the 12th and 13th centuries on the former site of a much smaller church. The most striking elements are the two towers and the beautiful 13th century rose window.
Like so many Cathedrals we have been in, we saw amazing sculptures, historical paintings and ancient panels throughout. There was also a 14th century gothic cloister decorated with 7 large panels of azulejos, we admired, that represented scenes from Solomon’s Song of Songs.
Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina
In English this translates to the Chapel of Souls of Saint Catherine. This church is famous for its striking exterior of nearly 16,000 brilliant blue & white tiles painted with scenes from the lives of St. Catherine and St. Francis of Assisi. The first time we found this church, it was difficult to see the tile details for all the smoke in the air created by the carts of roasting chestnuts.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
Proudly perched on the crest of a hill, this church was built between 1724 and 1730. The tile panels were added in 1932. In front of the church is a small daily street market that sells Portuguese-made, jewelry, leather and cork souvenirs. Each time we walked past, we had to stop for a moment or two to admire this pretty church and its setting.
Igreja Monumento de São Francisco
Because of the opulent gold covered carvings in Porto’s 13th century Church of St. Francis, it was once referred to as the ‘Golden Church’. The richly decorated Baroque altars, pillars, vaulted ceilings and walls are covered in carved wooden birds, cherubs and vines and gilded with more than 450 pounds of gold (200kg).
It was stunning to see and it is said to be one of the most lavish examples of gilded carved wood in Portugal. Our blog <Gracias Granada> has a few pictures of The Basilica of San Juan de Dios in Granada, Spain, which was also heavily gilded and absolutely breathtaking.
We were able to take photos in St. Francis’s museum and catacombs but sadly no photos were permitted of the interior of this magnificent Golden Church.
Igreja Matriz do Bonfim
We stumbled upon the Church of Bonfim not more than a few blocks from our apartment on one of our final afternoon walks in Porto. This church was built between 1874 and 1894 and is one of the more majestic churches we visited in Porto. There is also a large beautiful cemetery right next door.
Mosteiro de São Bento da Vitória
This was another location where visitors are required to book a tour and guide to access this site.
Building began on this Benedictine monastery in the late 1500s. After its completion the Monastery quickly became an important monastic destination, especially for its music school. We were able to visit the upstairs and get up close to the two magnificent organs. We especially liked the organ pipes pictured below with their detailed gold paintings.
In 1835 following the Religious Orders’ expulsion, the monks were expelled from the monastery. The property was reclaimed by the city and used as a military court and prison. In the last part of the 20th century it was restored to its original structure in preparation for a new Benedictine congregation.
A portion of the former monastery was also prepared for the use of the Porto National Orchestra. The cloister was covered with an acoustic shell and a wooden floor was installed. This site is now used for concerts, theater and other special events.
Igreja e Torre dos Clérigos
Italian born architect Nicolau Nasoni (1691-1773) moved to Porto in the 1720’s. He is credited with re-decorating many of the city’s palaces and churches in the Baroque style. His crowning glory was when he designed and built the Clérigos Church (1732-1749) and its Tower (1763). At nearly 250 feet (75 m) Clérigos Tower became the tallest bell tower in Portugal and an icon of the city.
We chose not to climb the 240 steps to the top of the tower. Instead, we visited the Church of Clérigos taking in its magnificent granite, marble and gold carvings.
Memories take us back; dreams take us forward. Let us all dream.
Saúde from these Portuense,
Ted + Julia