I wasn’t too sure where to start with my Lisboa and Porto posts following our trip as I have so much to share after eight days of exploration. However having just reviewed yesterday’s photographs I thought I would begin there, rather than delving into the other 1000 photographs I took over the previous seven days!
Yesterday morning we toured Palácio da Bolsa, its neoclassical exterior giving no indication of the treasures inside.
This building is considered one of the ‘unmissable’ sights of Porto, and unusually for me I completely concur with the guidebooks on this. Palácio da Bolsa is the commercial home of the merchants of Porto. It was built in the 19th century on the site of the ruins of a convent. The building itself only took a couple of years to construct however some of the internal decorations, including the main staircase took a further 60 years to complete. And when you take a glimpse inside you soon begin to realise why, you do though need to go on the tour to really appreciate the vision and craftsmanship that has gone into this building.
The tour began in the Pátio das Nações, an internal courtyard with a wonderful large octagonal glass dome. It was here that the Porto Stock Exchange was housed until the latter part of the 20th century. Below the glass dome are the coats-of-arms of Portugal and all the countries with whom Portugal had commercial and political ties in the 19th century. These paintings explain the name of Nations Courtyard. Nearly everyone on our tour was able to find their country’s coat-of-arms, the exception were two Canadians. Canada wasn’t a ‘country‘ when the dome was constructed and all of this was painted.
Leaving the courtyard we were asked to make our way up the grand staircase. What makes this staircase incredible, apart from its size, is the material it is made out of – granite. As you can imagine granite is very difficult to work with and so it is astounding to see how intricate this staircase and the landing is. Apparently it took 60 years to complete. I’m just surprised it didn’t take longer.
The next room on the tour is the Court Room, again very grand and sumptuous. The glass windows have only recently been restored and as I discovered are not the easiest thing to photograph when on a time-limited tour!
It was then a quick walk along the upper corridors leaving us only with time for glimpses of the Telegraph Room and Gustave Eiffel’s cabinet. I don’t know if this ‘sprint’ is usual but possibly not, we were the last tour of the morning and the guide knew we would all want to take our time in the final rooms so probably was anxious to keep us going. We could I suppose have ambled but the English talk was always first and we didn’t want to miss what she was going to share next. I did manage though to take a few quick snaps.
The first room was the Gold Room, so named because of its gold-leafed ceiling. The room was designed as a meeting room for the Directorate of the Commercial Association of Porto and is still used by these 15 elected members today. Adjacent to the Gold Room is the Association President’s room, no longer regularly used by them but still available for the general public to hire as a venue. In fact all of the public rooms are available for venue hire.
The third room on the tour upstairs is Sala das Assembleias Gerais, and like the Gold Room continues to be used by the Association for its original purpose. It is an unusual room in that it isn’t what it seems. When we first entered I presumed that was a wood-panelled room. However it is all plaster! This technique known as ‘faux painting’ and was very popular at the time as a way of demonstrating the great skill of craftsmen involved. The fourth room also plays optical illusions on you with its 3-D effect floor. Unfortunately it has also played tricks with my camera as both my photographs of the floor and the room have disappeared. I have managed though to hold onto one of the floor at the side and a close-up of the work of the Portuguese engraver Zeferino José Pinto. His marquetry table, created over a period of three years with a pen knife, is beautiful. Just wish I had a picture of the whole table to show you!
I do however have lots of photographs of the final room on the tour, which is regarded as the pinnacle of the tour. It is known Salão Árabe and was the creation of architect Gustavo Adolfo Gonçalves de Sousa. The room is in a style known as ‘Moorish Revival’ and took nearly 18 years to complete. Not really surprising when you look around. As well as the astounding wall coverings and glass work there is a beautiful parquet floor created in mahogany, rosewood, satin-wood, and rosewood. The entrance fee is almost worth it just for this room. It is incredible. My photographs don’t really do it justice, but do click on the gallery below to at least get a feel for its splendour.
The tour ended here, and we were all asked to make our way back down stairs. Once downstairs there were opportunities to stop for lunch, shop and take out time to walk around the lower floor. We did the latter and was worth doing as whilst nothing might be as stupendous as the Salão Árab the everyday decoration downstairs is very beautiful and intricate.
Before I go a few details on the tours. As you are probably aware Porto is the European Best Destination for 2017, which is fabulous news for Porto and Portugal. However there is a downside – the number of tourists! We were one of many many tourists over our few days here, and on a couple of days it felt very overwhelming. Fortunately though each tour of Palácio da Bolsa is limited to 50 persons so it doesn’t feel overcrowded inside. In fact we were lucky on the day we visited as not only did we have a choice of our times available but the one we were on wasn’t full. Each tour is in two languages and the languages for each are determined by whoever books first. You can either book in person or online here.