Perched on hillsides overlooking the Douro River emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, Porto stands awash in grime and history. When thinking back on my time in Porto, the idea of beautiful decay comes to mind. The city came into its own during Portugal’s boom years and has remained largely unchanged since. After its climax, the city has begun to crumble and succumb to layers upon layers of messiness, street art, and new building facades. This urban erosion has created a new and unique beauty and identity to the city that I thoroughly loved. It is a feast for the eyes as Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture are interwoven amongst the sunlit cobblestone streets, overgrown city gardens, ubiquitous palm trees, and multicolored patterned tiles clinging to every building.
Portugal at one time lorded over a vast maritime empire that stretched halfway around the world. Its size was greatly eclipsed by its power and wealth. Nowadays it is a small and beautiful country that has left an indelible mark on the rest of the world. Porto is the second largest city in the country with a population of 2.4 million. Located in Northwest Portugal on the coast, Porto was and remains an important port city. Its beauty in architecture is admired by many and the historic city center is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its varied and numerous examples of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century architecture.
Chelci, Jesse, Mandy, and I spent three days in Porto and it became a welcome introduction to a city I deeply hope to explore further in the future. We stayed in a loft style Airbnb near the famed Clerigos Tower close to the city center, halfway up the hill paved with century old sidewalks. The walk into the city center down the hill from the apartment provided a sweeping view of Porto and revealed the diversity of color and style woven into the tapestry of the mid-rise buildings. Pinks, yellows, blues, greens, and any number of colors wrapped buildings topped with red clay tile roofs perched over the water. The city for me was a sensory overload – details were everywhere. So much was packed into every building - architectural pop outs, rich colors, graffiti, posters, or simply the shops inside the buildings. The streets were crowded as well as worn and dirty from centuries of use.
Our time spent in Porto consisted of walking the streets, climbing the many hills, and taking countless photos. We visited the bookstore which inspired the library at Hogwart’s from Harry Potter, walked through a few public gardens, and admired the cathedrals and train station. We finished our long first day in town with a dinner atop a hill with views of the city lights and a night on the town. The following day was Chelci’s birthday which we celebrated by taking a wine tour of the surrounding Douro Valley which is world famous for its Port dessert wines. While the tour was not quite what we expected, we still made the best of it, had a lot of laughs, and enjoyed the day.
I am so glad we got to share in the experience of Porto with Jesse & Chelci – it is a very special city because it owns a unique vibe and identity. The fact that we experienced Porto for the first time with each other made it all the better. Porto for me is a notable example of the beauty in decay. The grunge, layers, and worn-down nature of the city give it a unique identity and is a reminder that imperfection, asymmetry, and variation can contribute to beauty just as much as their counterparts can and often in a more evocative way. // Jeff