That’s exactly how I can describe Porto – it really was very pretty. And it was also very windy. What I imagined it to be was the azulejos city on hills. Special explanation for The Clueless: azulejos are those painted, glazed tiles associated with Portugal, classical version being white and blue. In other words – Porto seemed like a perfect place to test my new old camera.
There’s this old saying going around: “Porto works, Coimbra studies, Braga prays and Lisbon has fun.” Porto works? Yeah, right. It seems more like it’s leeching off of tourists. Maybe it used to work, when it was an important port for Douro valley wine trade and a starting point for Prince’s Henry the Navigator world discovery ambitions. To be fair – those huge steel bridges, copyright by Eiffel and his protege-whose-name-no-one-remembers, are impressive and give the city somewhat industrial flair. The life under the bridge seems pretty real too.
For some magical reason (new Prima Aprilis holiday?) Porto was filled with tourists. And photographers – which was great. I got to snoop on other people’s work. Kinda like free workshop. There was one place that didn’t feel so touristy though – the old market hall and surrounding old shops. The falling off paint, wet walls, farmer market’s trash and shops working on a basis: tell what you want -> get a piece of paper with a number on it -> pay and go.
Speaking of azulejos, the most famous ones are in the hall of Sao Bento railway station (built on the spot of a burned-down 16th century Benedictine monastery) and Igreja do Carmo (the most Instagrammable wall in Portugal). Curiously, the word azulejos has Arabic origins, at first was used only for North African tiles and Seville in Spain was the center of their production. And yet – they are mainly associated with Portugal. Wider use? More advanced technology? Better marketing?
There’s more going on on Porto’s walls (and not only walls) than just azulejos. When it comes to street art, what fueled the creativity and growth was… surprise, surprise – a rebellion. The Street Tailors described it a whole better than I ever could. In short: a stiff former mayor created the Anti-Grafitti Squad. And when they covered one of the famous artist’s work, people in protest started painting one straight black line and a sentence: “Continua a pintar” (keep painting) on those walls cleaned by the squad. Over and over again.
As for “Quem es, Porto?”, that’s an art project by Locomotiva – 3,000 tiles with Porto’s residents’ answers to just that question: Who is Porto?
Next time – tram-huggers, what else is going on on Porto’s streets and where to pray at the beach (or, you know, just stare at the picturesque chapel at sunset).