Porto: Day trip to Braga and Guimarães
Today, I took a small-bus tour from Porto that included sights in the nearby cities of Braga and Guimarães. I found both cities to be charming and well worth the visits. In fact, I wish I had considerably more time in each.
The tour guide said there is a rivalry between the two cities. Both claim to be the birthplace of Portugal.
Braga asserts that it has history on its side. But Guimarães protests that, because it was the first place in what is now Portugal where the church recognized its sovereignty, it is Portugal’s birthplace.
According to the guide, because of the rivalry, the people of each city hate the people of the other city.
Bom Jesus Sanctuary
The Bom Jesus Sanctuary sits atop a mountain. Halfway up the mountain, steps built of stone pavers climb the rest of the way to the sanctuary. In the accompanying picture, what looks like a fancy, white sculpted roof on the slope just below the sanctuary isn’t.
Some of the upper flights of stairs snake back and forth, with sharp turns. That sounds more frightening than it is. The steps are quite wide. The sharp turns aren’t a problem at all. The low walls beside the steps are white, which is what makes it look like a white roof in a picture taken from below those flights of stairs.
The top of the low, mostly white walls are grey. That’s what gives the appearance of a pattern in the non-roof. So, the apparent roof is an optical illusion made up of parapets beside the stairs.
Then again, I didn’t ask anyone if they too thought it looked like a fancy roof. Maybe everyone except me sees it for what it is. Perhaps I’m just very easily duped. To tell the truth, I have no problem believing it’s the “me being easily duped” thing. Self-esteem is overrated.
There’s another optical illusion in the photo (at least to my eyes). The picture makes it look like the non-roof runs all the way to the sanctuary. A picture taken from one level below the sanctuary and posted here makes it clear that another set of stairs and some landscaping interposes between the non-roof and sanctuary.
The steps pictured above aren’t all of them. Less dramatic staircases lead further down the mountain.
On or near the level of the sanctuary, you can get great views of the city and countryside below.
Small chapels stand on manmade plateaus at various levels on the staircases. They represent the stations of the cross. On two trips within the span of about two months, I came across representations of the stations of the cross; this trip and my visit to Rapallo, where I took a “fabulous cablecar ride to Montallegro.“
I hope the multiple sitings of representations of the stations of the cross aren’t a sign. I wouldn’t want to have to become Catholic. I’d miss chicken soup, latkes, deli, and rye bread. Then again, at least we share guilt feelings.
Pilgrims used to, and some still do, climb all the way to the sanctuary from the base of the mountain to pay for their sins. Personally, I’d rather pay cash. And, if they accept credit cards, even better.
Fortunately, a road runs right up to the sanctuary. The tour bus drove all the way up.
The guide said Bom Jesus translates to “Good Jesus.” To tell the truth, if climbing were the only option, I would have been satisfied with a Meh Jesus Sanctuary halfway up. Or maybe even a Bad Jesus Sanctuary at the base.
The sanctuary itself is not huge, but it’s elaborately decorated. There’s a lot of gold colour on the interior. Paintings and a three-dimensional crucifixion scene behind the altar add to the decorations.
The guide offered the option of riding in the bus down to where the road meets the base of the stairs or walking down and meeting the bus at the bottom of the stairs.
I took the walking down option. I didn’t want to walk up, but, as I said in another post in this journal, gravity is our friend (except in slipping and/or falling situations). Walking down counts as exercise, without going crazy with that nonsense.
The bus then drove to the historical core of Braga for a visit to the Braga Cathedral.
Most of the Braga Cathedral was built in the 11th century, but a gothic front was added in the 14th century.
The Cathedral is tastefully decorated. It’s interior has only a couple of sections with flamboyant wooden decorations. They’re more recent wooden adornments done in the baroque style.
For me, the most pleasing part of the Braga Cathedral is its stately cloister. A picture does a much better job of describing it than my words ever could. So you’d be best to look at the picture below, particularly because I’m not adding any more words about the cloister here.
Braga is the only city in Portugal that rates an archbishop*. One of the rooms in the Braga Cathedral contains a crypt in the floor that contains the remains of the immediate-past archbishop. When the current one dies, the cathedral, or, rather, people associated with it, will move those remains to a crypt in a back room that contains crypts for the other past archbishops. They will then bury the new body in the place of honour.
* UPDATE: A few days after visiting Braga, I visited Évora. While there, I read in a guidebook about the Évora’s cathedral. That entry in the guidebook said Portugal has three archbishops. So, I don’t know who to believe.
Wandering Braga’s Historical Centre
Braga’s historical centre has a long, wide pedestrian street running through it. As happens on commercial streets pretty well everywhere, it is lined with shops, restaurants, and consumer services.
A couple of the intersecting streets also have some pedestrianized blocks.
This makes for a very pleasant, relaxing area.
If you look at the accompanying photo, you might spot some decorations hanging over the street. I think they are temporary. The guide mentioned that Braga is getting ready to celebrate a saints’ festival. I think the decorations were for that.
(By the way, yes, I do know how apostrophes work to form possessives. The city merges the celebrations for three different saints (I forget which ones) into a single festival. So, it is “saints’,” not “saint’s.”)
The Guimarães Castle
The Guimarães Castle sits far from any borders, past or present. Because it didn’t have to defend against attackers, they built it small. It was used it to store things and as a prison.
In addition to being small, the castle is also unimpressive. However, it does offer some nice views from atop its walls.
Church of S. Miguel do Castelo
If you’re the sort of person who would travel to the ends of the earth (if the earth actually had ends) and spare no expense to catch even just a glimpse (if that’s all that’s on offer) of breathtaking art and architecture, don’t go to the Church of S. Miguel do Castelo. Save your trekking and money for an edifice with more, or any, adornment and design elements. A Walmart would fit the bill.
This church is, essentially, an unadorned stone-block box.
Sorry. The “box” part makes it sound like something Amazon ships goods in. I refer only to the shape, not its size. It’s large enough to comfortably accommodate a small group of people. Although, a medium to large horde of people might have to exhale if they all want to go in together. And, even then, with a large horde, some people would have to sit on other people’s shoulders.
Inside, roped stanchions limit visitors to walking a narrow path beside the bare stone walls.
Religious folk see the spot where the baptismal font stood as hallowed ground. I think that’s because legend has it that that’s where the baptism of the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, took place. Some people consider treading on the space to be disrespectful.
The use of the word “stood,” rather than “stands,” in the preceding paragraph is key. The baptism font is not there now. The room is empty. The large portion of floor visitors can’t walk on is little different from the portion of the floor they can tread on, other than it’s a little less worn. Why an empty section of floor, but not the immediately adjacent, indistinguishable section, is sacred escapes me. Religion is funny like that.
Wandering Guimarães’ Historical Centre
If you read this far, then what the heck is wrong with you? I’d strongly recommend getting a life. Apart from traveling, I don’t have one. But I’ve heard people say that a life is good. Who knows? They might be right.
Wait. I don’t think that was where I intended to go with this. Give me a second to get back on track.
Um. Oh, yeah. The point I was going to make is if you’ve read this far you probably think I prefer Braga over Guimarães. If you think that, you are wrong.
Like in Porto, the tour offered some free time to wander around the city. I loved it. Are you familiar with the word “loved?” I loved it.
The buildings looked older than in Braga and exuded more character. And, unlike the pedestrianized commercial street in Braga, which is straight, the pedestrianized commercial streets in Guimarães have some bends to them. And they’re narrower than the one in Braga.
What’s more, I spotted some international chain outlets in Braga. Maybe I just missed the globalized, homogenized stores in Guimarães, but I didn’t notice any.
In addition, unlike in Braga, public squares punctuated the pedestrianized commercial streets in the historical centre of Guimarães. Those squares were well used, with restaurants and bars setting up tables on portions of them.
Thus, while, of the ones I saw, Braga had more impressive tourist attractions, I still preferred Guimarães.
That having been said, the bus dropped us off and picked us up in or near the historical centre in both cities. And we had only 45 minutes in each. It’s possible that if I had the time to explore both farther, maybe into the newer sections, the scales might have tipped the other way. Both were great.
I’ll definitely want to check those two towns out. I wasn’t fooled by the stairs, but they were darn impressive as they were.
What struck me was how empty the streets were when you took pictures of them. Hardly a soul. It looks like the towns needed your tourist bus just to pour a few people into their lovely squares and sights. Was that just coincidence or did the townsfolk hear you were coming? When they found out you weren’t the saint they were waiting for, they just vacated? Maybe you could pull something like that off in a really busy tourist spot like the centre of Florence. Then you and your companions (once word gets out, you will undoubtedly have a following) could have the place to yourself for once.