A later Internet search, we find Delphine, a French woman who arrived in Porto out of love for a man, but who would soon succumb to the city’s charms.
Delphine gave us the great pleasure of inviting us on one of the walks she organizes to share the history and culture of Porto. It offers some of them that do not lack originality (Porto at night and its ghosts, Treasure Hunt pirate version…). “The Crossroads: From Fountains to Miragaia”, attracted our attention. Why? Why? Because this visit, beyond taking us to the historic heart of Porto, makes us discover popular districts with unsuspected treasures that are not mentioned in the paper guides.
It is this stroll through the alleys, the anecdotes, the slices of life that I suggest you tell you about.
From Moorish azulejos to the art deco of Batalha Square
The meeting is held on the battle square (Praça Batalha) in front of the famous renovated art deco building that now houses the Moov Hotel. On this same square, while waiting for Delphine, we can admire another beautiful example of art deco with the Batalha cinema now abandoned. More classical, the facade of the national theatre faces the church of Santo Ildefonso, set with deep blue azulejos. The very place of the meeting sets the tone, it will be sumptuous and eclectic, ancient and contemporary.
Delphine arrives, smiling, very gently, she welcomes the group and it is very natural that we follow her with happiness. The walk is really one of them, the step is nonchalant, to give the bodies time to breathe the city, to give the eyes time to decipher this space and to detect the smallest details.
Delphine makes us discover her favourites, a coffee with good sandwiches, a stopover in the oldest garden in Porto and a contemporary artist who combines the tradition of the azulejos with a passion for science.
Delphine quickly captivates us with her ability to alternate small anecdotes, historical accounts and silences conducive to our own reveries and interpretations. Never in a hurry, she invites us to welcome each discovery as a small gift.
And of the gifts, Delphine will offer us many, after this pretty garden and beautiful examples of facades in azulejos decorated with an explanation on the various types and the evolution of this practice, Delphine makes us share one of her fetish places: the public library.
At first glance, nothing seems to distinguish this building particularly well. When we get back, we’d like to have the same library in our city. Its particularity, beyond the fact of being in an old building, is that it houses a collection of azulejos. Over the tiles, it is the story of the azulejos that takes shape. First inspired by Moorish, then Italian and finally Flemish, these few samples offer us a most educational historical fresco.
And if you have an eye you will also discover that cartoonists have not waited for paper magazines to let themselves be mocked a little bit about the men in power.
I felt privileged to discover this little-known place of tourist guides when it has so much to offer. And I was going to continue to feel like an explorer of the city when Delphine took us on a tour of an islet.
From the workers’ islets to the washhouses of Las Fontainhas
In the middle of large arteries with retro facades, a passage that one would think would be hopeless leads us to small alleys lined with tiny houses of 9m2. The common parts are at the bottom, life here is communal. These mini-villages in the city dating from the Industrial Revolution are the past symbol of a certain living together. And their inhabitants intend to keep their habits. The city has tried to “eradicate” these different places, often obsolete or not in line with the idea of today’s city. But these islets, like small Gallic villages, resisted. It must be said that some inhabitants still pay a rent of 20€/month…
These islets also, unfortunately, reflect persistent poverty in Porto.
A feeling of teletransport, when, at the end of the alley, we find the noisy traffic of a large avenue with imposing facades.
A little further on we arrive at the Las Fontainhas district. As its name suggests, many fountains are located along an esplanade. They supplied the inhabitants with water. Below, washhouses with views of the Douro sometimes continue to be used.
In this neighbourhood, we have another image of Porto. Porto here is popular, it struggles a little, it sometimes survives. The houses nestled together on the slopes of the banks of the Douro enjoy a beautiful view that masks the sometimes dark horizon of the social realities of their inhabitants. It doesn’t take us long to grasp the difficulties of living here on a daily basis and see the growing abandonment.
It seems important to me, when the opportunity presents itself, to be able to discover in a certain way the other side of a city’s setting. If the attraction persists beyond the defects, the flirtation becomes a love story.
From the heart of the Sé to the bowels of Miragaia
And of love story, it is a question when we walk along with the church of Santa Clara and the wall of Fernandina.
This place was the scene of the Portuguese version of Romeo and Juliet, namely the haunting passion between Pedro and Ines de Castro (who was murdered for having taken the heart of Pedro, an infantryman from Portugal, who made him his mistress).
No wonder that this sublime view of the Douro and the fragrance of the orange trees were able to intoxicate them and offer a beautiful setting for their love.
They lost their heads both literally and figuratively, for Ines was beheaded, by order of the king, jealous of the influence that the belle’s family could have. This was followed by endless wars and revenge led by Pedro, the inconsolable lover who went mad.
The discreet entrance to the wall is through the convent of Santa Clara, then continue under a porch to reach the stairs of the wall. Be careful if you turn too early you will arrive in the garden of a retirement home! That said, you will probably make some happy people!
As mealtime approaches, culinary questions become more pressing… What are the local specialities? The products to be tested? The brands of port wine can’t be controlled…
Delphine then made us cross the threshold of a small café-restaurant a few cables from the cathedral. Portuguesa de Gema is a unique place where you can nibble on some local specialities while promoting the economic integration of people in difficulty. What a combination of usefulness and pleasure!
Sangria, cold meats, cheeses but also molh ova will wedge our hollowed stomachs from having stumbled so much. We’ve been roaming the streets of Porto for more than 3.30 hours now. Delphine, generous, suggests that we continue this immersion. In the very touristy Ribeira district, she shows us that sometimes it is enough to move from a small street to find yourself alone to walk around.
It is difficult not to succumb to the picturesque balconies filled with white jerseys that dry timidly in the sun.
The walk ends as simply as it began in another popular district, Miragaia, where the inhabitants, in order to gain some space, build between the buildings some kind of habitable footbridges.
A beautiful metaphor to conclude this walk, which was indeed a bridge between the working-class districts and the historic centre, a bridge between history and legends, the link between a traveller and a city to be understood.