The 18th century Torre dos Clérigos is one of Porto’s most visible and memorable buildings, it even appears on the back of the blue cat! MrB and I had avoided it on our visit in March 2017 as it looked busy, but on my recent trip with a lovely friend we could not resist the climb.
This stunning example of baroque architecture is the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Clerics, a Christian mission committed to helping the clergy in sickness, poverty and death. In 1731 they commissioned Nicolau Nasoni, an Italian painter and architect, to design their new headquarters. The location was an awkward stretch of land on Rua de São Filipe de Nery, but Nasoni used it inventively to create a elliptic shaped church, an exuberant bell tower, and an infirmary for the clergy located between the two.
Before you visit the 76metre high tower you are encouraged to visit the upper balconies of the church and museum attached to the tower. Whilst we didn’t stay long in the museum rooms, we did lose track of time exploring the upper galleries of the church of the Brotherhood of Clerics.
You can visit the church without paying, simply walk past the entrance to the ticket office and head down the hill a little bit. You won’t have the opportunity to see the ceiling up close but you will still be able to appreciate this stunning building. And you may even be lucky enough to hear one of the organs.
The infirmary opened in 1755 and cared for sick clergy (whether the clergyman was a member of the Brotherhood or not) until the end of the 19th century. These days it is the Brotherhood museum, and currently houses an exhibition of 200 figures of Christ. Must admit I am not particularly interested in sculptures of Christ, however light and shadows will always catch my eye.
Most visit for the tower views, and on a clear day out of season they are well worth the climb. On weekends and in the peak tourist season I am not so sure. The steep narrow single staircase has 240 steps, and there are no easy passing points for when you meet the numerous other tourists going the other way!
If you do decide it is essential for you to visit even when it is busy, at least stop at the first external access point, the views from here are just as good as from the level above. The added bonus is that you miss the very narrow section and as you can just about see in the photograph below there likely to be far fewer, if any, people spending time at the clock balcony.