I was quite surprised by how much I had seen of Porto in my first full day so did a little planning the night before on a general route I would take the next day. I headed out in the general direction of the Crystal Palace via an old church (there are so many), unfortunately the church was closed, by the looks it hadn’t been open in many year – there are so many little chapels and churches around many are still used or in the least open to the public for tourist purposes, the great large and grand one’s are still working churches.
The Crystal Palace was a bit of a disappointment, having not read up about it I was expecting a grandiose structure mostly of glass but alas it isn’t; it’s a concern hall/structure. A nice structure nonetheless but not what I was expecting so I felt rather let down however the trip was not all lost; Crystal Palace is located in a large park area which I wondered around for some time it is a little (big) oasis with lots of hidden gardens and open spaces. It must have been established for quite some time with huge trees everywhere and if you go off the main paths old structures long abandoned now fitted snug amongst lush green shrubbery with blooming flowers dominated by a lilac flower which scented the air giving a simple walk through a park a kind of therapy session. The park seemed filled with people taking a break from the confines of this old city where buildings were built on top of one another and where the hard slogging of day to day life for generations has left its toll in their DNA, this is a place to forget, recharge and surround yourself with nature.
I passed through the park at a ambling pace taking in the many views and then headed down the hill to the river passing what I thought could be the same people’s homes who I had just seen in the park, two different worlds, along the way right on the river I stopped at a church constructed in 1394 (Parish Church of Massarelos), not even on the tourist map!
Clérigos Church / Torre dos Clérigos
Back in the heart of the city I passed a huge cathedral the previous day, I was all touristed out then so had it on my list for the day. Clérigos Church and even more so the Torre dos Clérigos (which is the tour of the church) cannot be missed either by sight, it is on top of a hill and with its huge structure and tower making it an imposing building. The vast majority of the churches are built out of granite and have a gothic design therefore not the prettiest of churches/cathedrals as they are void of frills and spills. The granite over the 100s of years has soaked up the grit and grime of the city hiding any of the glint the granite once had. They must have been very impressive in their time and did what they were built to do; impose itself upon the city and advertise not only the wealth of the city but also that of the church’s and residence of the City. The church was the highlight of my day, between that and the Port tasting (the next day) I would say the highlight of my time in Porto. I’ll break down the three things I took away from the church 1. The macabre, 2. The views, 3. Baroque.
If you weren’t reading the signs and headed down the stairs into the vast underground vaulted ceiling basement you can’t help to notice the floor is divided intentionally and equally into wooden segments almost the same size as doors with only stone which is cut out of the ground dividing them, they are even numbered. Yes, these are graves; of those who worked for the church (priests, monks etc.) and they are everywhere and even occupy all the spaces against the wall but at least those are stoned/concreted up. I doubt the designers or planners thought about it at the time but inevitably at some stage every nook and cranny was filled so their solution was to exhume the old to replace them with the new, dead. The old were removed and their bones were placed in a huge pit which can still be seen today through three small looking glass’s on the floor – I couldn’t get a picture because of everyone wanting to look, pity. I’ve been to many churches where people are buried under the floor but all those were under concreted or stone so somehow it feels easier to walk on/over them. The sound of the wood underfoot and knocking against the stone gave me a slight uneasy feeling, I even saw people walking on the thin stone dividers but eventually had no alternative but to walk on the wood.
You can climb up the tower to two levels the top one as you would expect offers the best views of the city. It’s such a hilly city that even at the top you most certainly are not at the highest point in the city, even so it is a unique view and perspective of down below. As you would expect to get to the top you need to climb the stairs; rather narrow staircase but with a squeeze and willing participants you can have two way traffic but at a slow speed – it’s a square spiral (if that makes sense) with a small landing every 10 or so steps, the last little stretch is more narrow but not claustrophobic at all; I had more than enough headroom and there is plenty of ventilation from windows all the way up.
From my visit to the old stock exchange the day before where I got a glimpse of the quality of wood craftsmanship it was to pale in comparison on what was on display here! Porto must thank their lucky stars that Greenpeace wasn’t around back in the day, I’d hate to think of how many trees were cut down for this church alone, and after all the other churches I visited them too! The conciliation is what they did with the trees, wow! I would have loved to have seen the finished product before the gold guilting. The volume in size and quantity then you add the intricacy leaving you with a phenomenal result! Not only here but also so many of their churches they have religious relics of saints body parts (bones, organs etc.) which were used to attract people from far afield and reason for many pilgrimages to Porto which in turn added to the commercial strength of the church and city. That aside I cannot remember if I’ve ever seen so much baroque on display in one place and if you add all the rest on display in such a small city I wouldn’t be surprised if this alone isn’t a unique trophy that Porto can claim! I took so many photos and could easily have taken more, the lighting in the churches isn’t great and the kindly ask you not to use flashes, so I didn’t.
Porto…don’t judge a book by its cover
Just like going to an art gallery you can’t take it all in at once and end up getting numb so I left on a very positive note. My walking pace was back to normal and walked around the city and many alleyway streets. One thing I had learnt from my short time here is that in many cases the façade of the building can seem dreary but behind the doors can hide something quite the opposite. Even my guest house from the outside looks uninviting but behind the front doors leads to marble stairs. Fair enough the place is no palace but once must have been a grand house as so many other places in the street and the city. The quality of the past is still there, now you may need to look past the vast layers of paint or rickety doors but spend a brief moment and you can’t miss the quality of the past.
If you missed Part 1 of my time in Porto take a look at the first link, and the second link for the rest of my time in Porto: