Monday, April 27, 2015

Porto: Casa de Musica, Portalegre tapestries, Palacio da Bolsa

This morning we took the Metro to the Casa da Musica, an ultra modern concert hall with perhaps the best acoustics in Europe. Nearby is the Rotunda Park dominated by a 45-metre tall column commemorating the Portuguese, British and Spanish victory over Napoleon in the Peninsular War.

We carried on a little further to the renovated former Bom Sucesso market to see an exhibition of modern wool Portalegre tapestries. For many years the best woollen tapestries were exclusively French or Belgian. But beginning in the 1950s the Portuguese established their own tradition, now world famous. We saw some beautiful examples, some telling the story of Porto. Although the museum was quite small, I don't think that I will ever forget these wonderful tapestries.

After another huge lunch of grouper and sea bream with mounds of gratin potatoes, all for only €4, we had to walk. Heading back downhill towards the water, we were going to visit the Palacio da Bolsa, the old stock exchange built over the ruins of a thirteenth-century convent.

The interior of the Palace, only finished in 1910, was magnificently decorated by several artists. The huge, impressive central courtyard is covered by a metallic, octagonal dome with glass panels, built after 1880. The lower part of the dome is decorated with the painted coats-of-arms of Portugal and the countries with which Portugal had commercial relations in the 19th century. To the back of the courtyard, a sumptuous stairway, built in 1868 leads to the upper storeys.

Several rooms of the Palace - Tribunal Room, Assembly Room, Golden Room - display original furniture and allegorical paintings. We saw the office of Gustave Eiffel who designed one of the famous bridges over the Douro.



The highlight of the Palace is the Arab Room, built between 1862 and 1880. Inside it could be mistaken for a royal palace, and in fact is modelled after Granada's Alhambra Palace. It is now "the grand reception room" of the city where heads of state and other luminaries are received. The decorations include sayings and blessings from the Koran, a little strange perhaps as the room was built for the Portuguese queen at the time, a devout catholic! However, the room was stunning.

The Chamber of Commerce still has its meetings here, and most of the rooms, including the Arab Room can be rented for special events.

We took our final walk along the front at Ribiera before once again boarding the funicular to avoid the long climb back up to the old town. Porto is a lovely city that many people are discovering. I hope that it doesn't get spoiled by tourism.




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