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City Fact Files - Bristol | Oporto

Oporto fact file - Part 1 | Part 2

Pelourinho and the Sé Cathedral

Se cathedral

This thin, twisted spire is outside the Sé Cathedral. The rope-like architectural style was inspired by the nautical prowess of Prince Henry or 'Henry the Navigator', in the 15th century. His vision made it possible for Portuguese sailors and explorers such as Bartholomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama to travel to Africa and Asia. Prince Henry trained sailors and map makers in the most sophisticated navigation techniques of the time and believed the earth was round at a time when most people thought it was flat.

The Sé Cathedral itself is designated a national monument and was built in Romanesque style in the 13th century. The building has been modified and rebuilt several times. The exterior design was added to during the Baroque era, but it still has the appearance of a church-fortress, situated on the top of a hill.

Inside the cathedral is a silver altar, various paintings and a striking entrance and stairway, all designed by Nicolau Nasoni. One of the most stunning features of the Cathedral is the Gothic style cloister, which is covered in an azulejos, which depicts scenes from Solomon's Song of Songs. Nearby stands a 14th century statue of Our Lady of Vandoma, who is Oporto's second patron saint.

Mercado de San Sebastião

San Sebasto market

There has been a market on this site, in the old part of the city near the Sé Cathedral since medieval times, although this modern building is only about 10 years old. The walls are made of cement and there is a distinctive turf roof with glass pyramids to let in light, and there are even flowers growing on the roof!

The market sells fruit, flowers and vegetables and the turf roof construction helps to keep the temperature cool inside which is good for the produce, and because it uses less energy, it is good for the environment too.

Statue of Vimara Peres

Statue of Vimara Peres

This statue near the Cathedral commemorates Count Vimara Peres. In 868 he led an army of medieval knights up the River Douro and captured the city of Oporto from the Visigoths. The city walls were rebuilt and Oporto was repopulated to become an important trading centre in the region, with new buildings attesting to its growing economic status. Oporto became a Bishopric at the end of the 9th century, and in 1123 the town received its first charter. These were the first steps towards the strong trading links with port cities in other countries that Oporto developed in later years.

Oporto has a long history of wars and occupations, and has many statues like this one, to commemorate the various military leaders. An image of the statue of Vimara Peres has been used in the design of a popular Oporto postage stamp.

Igreja de São Francisco

Igreja de Sao Fransisco

This Gothic style convent is a national monument and dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. From the outside the granite structure of the church is plain and imposing, but this belies its ridiculously ornate 18th-century refurbishment. The church gives you an idea of what Midas would have turned out had he been an interior designer: its three naves drip with gold leaf, covering acres of walls and dozens of rococo wall carvings and sculptures. Pillars and columns within the vault are festooned with gold-gilded cherubs and flower garlands, entwined animals and fruit cornucopia. This feast for the eyes is set off by wide Gothic arches made of marble which soar into the roof.

Inside the main chapel are frescos and Roman tombs, and there is a museum in the catacombs below, displaying paintings, sculptures, furniture and jewellery salvaged from the former convent. Beneath the flags of the cellar is an 'ossario', where thousands of human bones are stored, awaiting Judgement Day.

The Torre dos Clérigos

Torre dos clerigos

This 75m tall granite clock tower was designed by architect Nicolau Nasoni, and it was once the tallest tower in Portugal. It was built between 1732 - 73 by master mason Antonio Pereira and was financed by clérigos, or monks. The tower is now a national monument, and the emblem of Oporto. To reach the top there is a dizzying climb of over 200 steps, and no lift. It towers high above the medieval old town, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, and has splendid views over the Ribeira and the entire city. On a clear day you can see the sea from the top, and it is a conspicuous landmark for sailors.

Cubo da Ribeira

The Cube

This recent sculpture has quickly become the symbol of the most historic part of the 'invincible city'; the Ribeira or riverside. The Cube, which was created by artist José Rodrigues, and is situated by the River Douro in Ribeira Square, was surrounded by controversy and opposition when it was first erected in the 1970's. The sculpture is made of bronze and was an addition to an old restored fountain in the Ribeira Square which dates back to the 17th century, and people thought the old and the new did not blend well. The statue includes bronze pigeons, which are often accompanied by the living variety, who like to bathe in the fountain!

Much of Ribeira has been refurbished and restored and now that the area has a fresh look, it has managed to recover its long-gone prestige. The many historic streets, squares, cafés, churches and other buildings make this a fascinating area for visitors.

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