Internacional

RIBEIRA

DISTRICT OF RIBEIRA

“Whether in dark alleys or in luminous squares, in the district of Ribeira every corner has a story to tell.” The sentence impeccably summarizes the spirit of Ribeira, one of Porto’s oldest and most emblematic districts and also one of the main tourist destinations in the city. Of a unique and monumental beauty, it stands on the Douro River’s right bank and it is a part of the Unesco World Heritage Historic Centre, where the brown tone from the pier’s granite contrasts with the colourful buildings.

A crucial centre of the city since its foundation, the deep changes of Porto’s life in the 19th century led to the decline of Ribeira. However, from the 1970’s, an ambitious recovery plan has resulted in the classification of Unesco in 1991. On the occasion of the European Capital of Culture, in 2001, the area between the Don Luis Bridge and the Cais da Estiva was remodeled, in a project of the architect Manuel Fernandes de Sá, who turned Ribeira into Porto’s illustrated postcard.

Nowadays, the district of Ribeira has a great amount of bars, restaurants and hotels, besides the luminous street cafés. Its squares, streets and alleys teem with activity, in a great affluence of people and cultures. It’s mandatory to visit it; it seems that we are entering a time warp: if there were no unmistakably contemporary elements, we would call ourselves in the Middle Ages.

Dominated by the granitic magnificence of the Ribeira Square, also known as Cube’s Square, due to the José Rodrigues’s sculpture in the center, reasons for visiting Ribeira abound. Here, we merely propose to suggest an itinerary of some monuments, almost always framed by the dazzling and unique Douro’s landscape, in a pleasant walk that can be done in a part of a morning or an afternoon.

The tour can start at Casa do Infante, on Rua da Alfândega, called that way because Prince Henry was born there. Just below, on Largo do Terreiro, you can visit the “Nossa Senhora do Ó Chapel”, dated from the 17th century. Inside, a carved altarpiece from the early 18th century, of João da Costa’s authory, stands out.

Walking along the river, towards the Don Luis Bridge, you can enjoy “Postigo do Carvão”, the only one of eighteen doors or shutters of Fernandina Wall (Muralha Fernandina) that remained till our days. Next, it can also be seen the Cobertos da Ribeira Wall, also the single one left of Fernandina Wall, which separated the Ribeira Square from the Douro River. – These were the gateways to the river.

In the heart of the Ribeira Square where, in the 80s, a 17th century’s fountain was discovered (which after reconstruction would be crowned with the famous cube of José Rodrigues) lies another important contemporary sculptural piece: the Statue of São João Baptista, in the niche of the Ribeira Square’s fountain, by the authorship of João Cutileiro.

Nearby, at nr 5 of Rua de Baixo, you can see the building Barredo Tower, the civil architecture’s oldest example of Porto’s medieval period, which construction dates back to the 13th century.

Returning to the pier, next to the Don Luis Bridge, stands the Pillars of the Suspension Bridge (Pilares da Ponte Pensil), which was inaugurated in 1843, even though it was considered insecure, being eventually deactivated 44 years later, in 1887, and replaced by the Don Luis Bridge. The only remains are the two obelisk-shaped pillars.

In the past, there was the Barges’ Bridge (Ponte das Barcas - barges moored to each other connecting Porto to Gaia), which was tragically marked by hundreds of people’s deaths who, to escape the Napoleonic troops during the French invasions, rushed at it causing its sinking (1809). A low relief sculpture, by Teixeira Lopes, points out the tragedy where, even today, the residents light candles in memory of the victims.

Beside the Don Luis Bridge also stands out the Duque da Ribeira Square, which honors an emblematic figure of the city, famous for saving, over many decades, countless people from dying drowned in the river. The Duque died in 1996, at 94 years old, and the posthumous tribute includes a tombstone with bust, by José Rodrigues’s authorship. Slightly above, the Miradouro and the Ribeira Square lead to the Infante D. Henrique Street and allow a privileged view over the Don Luis Bridge, the Cais da Ribeira, the Serra do Pilar Belvedere and the Ribeira de Gaia.

Ribeira has an intense and own brightness, to which the river’s “mirror” greatly contributes, radiating the reflected light of the sun; but it’s equally black, as Julio Resende so well classified it in the imposing tile’s panel on the lower roadway’s exit of the Don Luis Bridge. – This bridge is also worthy of special contemplation, where we can admire its sight of Ribeira.

Black or dark is also the tunnel that leads us to the Infante D. Henrique Street and to other justified visits’ motives, beginning in the Old Stock Traders building, from nr. 47 to 53. This building has the King João I’s shield on its frontage. The King gave it to the merchants, in 1402, for the first Stock Exchange of Trade of the city.

Just ahead, you can see the English Trading-Station (Feitoria Inglesa), designed by John Whitehead in a neopaladian style and built, between 1785 and 1790, to serve as a meeting point of Porto’s English merchants. It’s an integrant place of the Urban Wine Route.

Next stays the Infante D. Henrique Square, dominated by the monument to the prince, of 1894, authored by Tomás Costa. Above, the Ferreira Borges Market building, a remarkable example of the 18’s century iron architecture, which currently houses the Hard Club, also an essential visit for those who seek art in all its manifestations, with particular focus on music.

In the proximities, on Ferreira Borges Street, is the Porto and Douro wines’ Institute, a neo-classical building and another integrant place of the Urban Wine Route, with a wine shop and a tasting room. Then, you can see the beautiful Palácio da Bolsa, where you can find the Tasting Wines’ Room of Porto, a place for knowledge and education about the Portuguese Wines.

Almost in front, again on Infante D. Henrique Street, stands the S. Nicolau Church, representative of the city’s religious architecture from the late 17th century, in a maneirist style with a baroque tendency. In the nave, the distinction goes to the altar of St. Eloi, the Jewelers’ patron saint. You can also visit, across the street, the magnificent St. Francisco church, the main gothic temple of the city with the richest interior of all Porto’s churches.

There is much more to see in the surroundings, and this will be subject of other itineraries. We could go now, for instance, to the Sé Cathedral, for those who are eager of cultural discovery, or we could choose to do it later and enjoy drinking a Port Wine while usufructing the landscape in one of the Ribeira’s inviting street cafés, or even choose a restaurant – there are plenty of them for all tastes and wallets – and enjoy lunch or dinner relishing the fine Porto’s gastronomy watered with the excellence of a Douro Wine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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